Millions of special interest group dollars permeated California legislative races ahead of Tuesday’s primary election, prefiguring general election battle lines. Realtors, apartment interests and dentists joined the energy industry and education groups – both charter school advocates and organizations that have fought teachers unions over teacher employment policies – in opening their wallets.
In many cases, those interest groups invested in solid Democratic districts, seeking to get a favored centrist Democrat to a November runoff – ideally against a Republican, a recipe for success in safely liberal districts.
That wasn’t the outcome in the 3rd Senate District, host to more than $2 million in spending by nonunion education groups and business interests in favor of Assemblyman Bill Dodd, D-Napa. Dodd and former Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, also a Democrat, advanced to the runoff as Yamada beat out Republican Greg Coppes for the second spot.
But voters in the nearby 4th Assembly District will be choosing between a Republican and a Democrat favored by oil companies and school reformers. Republican Charlie Schaupp secured the top spot, followed by Winters Mayor Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, a Democrat whom outside groups lavished with over $2 million in campaign spending. Two Democrats, Davis Mayor Dan Wolk and Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor, were shut out.
Education groups saw their chosen Democrats advance in the 30th Assembly District, where just under $1 million in pro-charter-school spending helped propel Democrat Anna Caballero to a spot on the Nov. 8 ballots against Democrat Karina Alejo. Charter-backed Madison Nguyen advanced from a six-Democrat melee in the 27th Assembly District, with union-supported Democrat Ash Kalra and Republican Van Le vying for the second spot. Business-and-charter-ally backed Democrat Tim Grayson and Democrat Mae Torlakson led in the 14th Assembly District, but the race remained too close to call.
As climate change has vaulted to the top of the Sacramento agenda, oil companies have flexed their financial muscle. They spent millions to vanquish an effort to halve petroleum use last year, joined by a bloc of centrist Democrats.
One of those business-friendly Democrats, Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, faced a liberal backlash as a result. Labor and environmental groups supported a challenger to Brown, Eloise Reyes, in a rare attempt to replace a Democratic incumbent with another Democrat. A massive cash influx followed, with oil companies, charter schools and business groups backing Brown. She and Reyes will face off in the general election.
A similar fault line ran through the race in the 15th Senate District, where Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, battles a challenge from termed-out Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose. Oil companies spent around $350,000 to buoy Campos. They were countered by over $1 million from NextGen California, a climate-focused group funded by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, Realtors and unions who backed Beall. He and Campos will face off in November.