In Closed Session

You do know there's an election next Tuesday, right?

I know. It kind of snuck up on me too — and I'm supposed to watch for these things.

Our lack of awareness could be excused, at least a little, in this case. It is, after all, a special election with only one position at stake. 

I don't know about you, but I'm still recovering from those giddy midterm elections last November. Clearly those newly ascendant Democrats in D.C. are having the same problem — outside of a splashy hearing or two, not a lot has been accomplished so far. We'll see.

Back to Tuesday's election. It is the result of those midterm elections, too. The state senator for most of Long Beach, Ricardo Lara, decided he wanted a bigger job and got himself elected state Insurance Commissioner. (It really is a thing, and a pretty important one, too.)

By most accounts, Lara did a pretty good job representing Long Beach up in Sacramento. He reflected the city's left-leaning profile. That's good or bad, depending on your point of view. Still, he was popular, and get some things done.

But like many politicians, he ran for higher office while he still had some time left on his term. It's a job security thing — if he had lost, he could have continued as state senator.

Now we have to fill his seat, and democracy that we are, that means another election. We're special in that we who live in the 33rd State Senate District are the only ones who get to have an election on March 26.

Apparently, that state senate thing is a pretty good gig. Twelve people went to the trouble to file as a candidate, and 11 are still in the hunt. (Al Austin, Eighth District City Councilman, bowed out early. His name still will be on the ballot, though.)

Lena Gonzalez, currently Long Beach's First District City Councilwoman, has been out front from the get-go. The announcement of her campaign included the endorsement of the previous office holder — Mr. Lara, if you weren't keeping track. Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia wasn't far behind in his support for Gonzalez.

Garcia and Gonzalez have history together. She worked in his office when Garcia was the First District representative, and had the mayor's support when she ran to replace him.

Gonzalez rolled on, gathering endorsements and donations at a pace her fellow candidates could not match. Labor threw its weight behind her. Many business owners did too.

Other candidates for the 33rd District seat cried foul when the media pointed to Gonzalez's many endorsements. Long Beach might be the biggest city in the district, but it is far from the only one. And several politicians from those smaller cities saw a chance to jump into a bigger pond — if they could just nudge Gonzalez out of the way.

A few of those candidates gained some traction. Leticia Vasquez Wilson, a Democratic board member at the Central Basin Water District and former Lynwood mayor, made the most noise, primarily with attack rhetoric. Denise Diaz, South Gate, and Ali Saleh, Bell, also got some ink.

Jack Guerrero, a Cudahy council member, is one of two Republicans in the race, and says he thinks he can make the runoff because all those other Democrats will split the vote behind Gonzalez. The conventional wisdom is that with 11 candidates on the ballot, even the Gonzalez juggernaut can't get the 50 percent plus one it would take to win the election outright.

I'm not so sure. With a single question ballot, it's a virtual guarantee election day turnout will be abysmally low. That means it is a mail-in ballot election, and strong campaign organizations have a leg up when it comes to getting people to turn in mail-in ballots.

If that conventional wisdom prevails, the top two vote-getters will face off in yet another special election — this one on June 4. That gives the final two another two months to make their case. By-the-by, whoever wins will have to start running again pretty much right away. The seat will be up for election again in 2020, this time for a full term.

So what happens if Gonzalez does become the next state senator, either this month or in June? You guessed it — a special election.

I can't wait. How about you?

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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