In Closed Session

There's an election next Tuesday. But you knew that, right?


Well, I suppose some of you might be forgiven, since the election doesn't impact parts of Long Beach. Specifically, the June 4 vote will decide who will be the next state senator from the 33rd District.

That district includes a fair chunk of Long Beach as well as a bunch of surrounding smaller cities — Bellflower, Bell, Carson, Cudahy, etc. There were a dozen or so candidates on the March primary ballot, and we got a bit of an unusual result in this "Top Two" California world — a runoff between a Democrat and a Republican. That's unusual because Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than four to one, and all but three (two Republicans and a Green) were Democrats.

Which actually is why Cudahy City Councilman Jack Guerrero managed to get into the runoff. All those Democrats split the vote to the point Lena Gonzalez could only come up with a little more than 30 percent of the vote.

Why are we conducting an election for one position (and only half a term, at that)? Thank Ricardo Lara, who ran a successful campaign to become California's new Insurance Commissioner. That's undeniably more powerful than state Senator, but Lara left behind two years of his four-year term. And the moment he resigned to move up, the scramble began for others to move up, too.

If you haven't noticed, this leaving half a term behind is a very, very common thing in our political system. Here's why.

Lara ran for a year to get his new job while still sort of doing his old job as state Senator. If he had lost (which never was very likely), he would have licked his wounds, then gone back to his Senate job for another two years. Think of it as full employment.

It happens even more often on a national level. After all, Kamala Harris was a freshman U.S. Senator with less than two years under her belt when she announced she was running for president. Even if she hangs in to the November 2020 election, then loses, she'd have two more years in the Senate to prepare for re-election. She's far from the only one in the herd of Democratic candidates doing the same thing.

Sorry, back to the things that matter — the local election. Tuesday is when the polls open to vote between Gonzalez and Guerrero, but it's likely the majority of votes have already been cast. I mailed my ballot in several weeks ago, and I am far from the only one.

So around 8:30 Tuesday, or whenever the Los Angeles County Clerk and Recorder's office releases the already-counted mail-in ballot tallies, Long Beach's First District Councilwoman will be state Senator elect.

All of my Republican friends just let out a yell. But they know it's true.

I did mention Democrats outnumber Republicans more than four to one, right? Then there's the fact that Guerrero spent less than $10,000 — not enough to crack the name recognition barrier, much less convince Democrats to vote against their party.

Gonzalez ran a bit of a Rose Garden campaign, using her reputation, her big war chest and her volunteers to get her name out. To be sure, her record is clear from her votes on the City Council, but I think even she would admit she didn't try to engage the opposition a lot.

So now what? Gonzalez just won re-election last year. Another two-year seat awaits.

In the past, that would automatically mean another special election to fill that position. But a joker has been thrown into the pack.

Long Beach's next municipal election will happen in March 2020, to line our elections up with the state. That's just nine months away — a blink of the political eye.

A special election to fill the First District seat would take at least three months to set up. True, it would be a winner take all instead of the runoff-if-you-don't-get-50-percent-plus-one of regular elections. But those elections don't put themselves on and the cost a pretty penny.

There is an option. The City Council could agree to a caretaker approach, with the mayor's office taking control of the First District for a few months. Then the First District vote could get lumped in with the others next March. Lots cheaper.

Our Mayor Robert Garcia represented the First District once. Just sayin'.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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