Political Déjà Vu
Simón Salinas may return to state politics; Butch Lindley considers county supe post.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
The June 3 ballot will ask voters two questions. First: “Shall Jeff Denham be recalled (removed) from the office of state Senate District 12?” The next item on the ballot asks voters to choose a candidate to replace Denham. Only one name will appear – Monterey County Supervisor Simón Salinas.
The campaign window is short, but it won’t be cheap. Denham’s campaign strategist says Denham will spend millions to defeat the recall. Nor will the abbreviated campaign be easy, particularly considering Salinas’ long, well-respected record history as a Salinas city councilman, a county supervisor and an assemblyman.
District 12 encompasses parts of Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, San Benito and Monterey counties.
Termed out of the Assembly in 2006, Salinas decided to run for a seat on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors instead of challenging Denham in the state Senate race. A sick father and a son entering high school were factors in Salinas’ decision.
Salinas’ circumstances have changed. His father died. His son is headed to Cal Poly in the fall. And Salinas wants back in the state game. “These are tough times,” Salinas says. “I want to work with the Legislature and the governor to get things back on track. We can’t ignore the fact that over 66,000 people signed a petition to recall Denham. Voters want representation at the state level they’re not getting now and I can give them that.”
Much ado has been made over Denham’s lackluster performance during his tenure. In 2007, Denham pitched or co-authored 18 bills. Most were extensions of existing laws, few were taken seriously by the Legislature and even voted on, and three became law.
Denham’s camp argues that the recall has nothing to do with Denham’s performance, and that it’s simply about Denham’s choice last summer to vote against the budget, stalling millions of dollars. “He voted his conscience, and that’s what he was elected to do,” says Tim Clark, Denham’s political strategist.
Still, there’s evidence that the recall campaign has gotten Denham’s attention. In the past 12 weeks, he has pitched or co-authored 20 bills, a career high. They deal with state properties, wastewater, public records and education.
It’s too little, too late, says Gary Robbins, who led the campaign to get Denham’s name on the ballot to be recalled. “All we have to do is tell the truth about Jeff Denham; that’ll speak for itself,” Robbins says.
If Denham is recalled, he’ll be forced to leave office as soon as the election is certified – no more than 35 days after the election. Salinas will step in immediately and serve out the duration of Denham’s 2 1/2-year term, leaving an empty chair on the Board of Supervisors.
That seat would then be filled in the November election, but the governor may appoint an interim supervisor. (Last month, in what was considered a highly partisan move by some, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed former Marina Mayor Ila Mettee-McCutchon to the Board of Supervisors, filling a vacancy created by Jerry Smith’s death last November.)
Former supervisor Butch Lindley says he’s been asked to do another stint on the board. “For the record, I’m hopeful Mr. Denham is not recalled,” Lindley says. “But if it were to happen, the day after, I’d probably seriously consider taking the job.”
Greenfield Mayor John Huerta and Soledad Mayor Richard Ortiz are also on the short list. Ortiz, who’s unsuccessfully run for the seat twice – against Lindley and Supervisor Lou Calcagno – says he wants the job.
Changes in the Assembly may also affect Monterey County’s General Plan Update, scheduled for release in August. “It’s important to me that whoever comes in recognizes we need to move forward on this,” Salinas says. “But even if I end up in Sacramento, I’ll still be working for the people of Monterey County.”