Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, made it official Friday; he will seek the state Senate seat left vacant by Abel Maldonado, who was recently confirmed for the post of lieutenant governor.
Former state Assemblyman John Laird, a Democrat from Santa Cruz who previously planned to run for the 15th District seat, said he would make “some kind of an announcement” Monday.
Nipomo resident Jim Fitzgerald also has pulled papers to run for the seat as an independent. The deadline to file is May 10.
But regardless of who joins the race, the special primary and general elections will be expensive for the cash-strapped counties included in the district.
Friday morning, with his wife, Kara, by his side at his San Luis Obispo home, Blakeslee said running for Maldonado’s vacant seat is something he didn’t take lightly and gave careful thought to.
“California is facing a daunting challenge,” he said, adding the state is experiencing one of the worst unemployment crises ever and has a broken budget system that needs reform.
He said he believes the biggest challenge facing Sacramento now and in the future is the “partisan divide” that he will work to bridge, if elected.
“I see myself as a pragmatic problem solver,” he said.
Blakeslee also said Sacramento needs to understand the values — preservation of agricultural and natural resources and rural ways of life — that Central Coast residents embrace.
“It’s time for the state to be more responsible and responsive to its constituents,” he said.
Laird had planned to run for the 15th District Senate seat when Maldonado first was nominated for the state’s second-in-command.
But when Maldonado’s initial confirmation failed, making it more likely the Senate election would take place in August, Laird said he was “not thrilled” about entering the race.
Political observers believe the August special election will make it harder for a Democrat to win, because special elections typically have a low turnout, and low turnouts traditionally have favored Republican candidates.
Blakeslee said he is concerned about the high cost of the special election but will do everything he can to ensure the counties are repaid.
That cost could be considerable. Rather than consolidating the Senate District 15 election with the already scheduled June 8 and Nov. 2 elections, a special primary will be held June 22, with the special general election set for Aug. 17.
“That’s a new election for five counties,” Santa Barbara County Clerk Joe Holland said.
Preliminary estimates indicate the cost for Santa Barbara County will range from $1 million to $1.2 million for the two special elections.
San Luis Obispo County Clerk Julie Rodewald said the cost for the special elections in her county are expected to total $1 million.
The combined total for all five counties is expected to be $7 million, Holland said.
Although Blakeslee pledged to seek reimbursement for the counties, Holland noted there’s no guarantee that will ever happen.
“There are no provisions in the law for the state to reimburse the counties for special elections,” he said.
So Santa Barbara County will have to cover the cost through a budget revision, and the supervisors will have to decide where to find those funds.
“One obvious source would be the strategic reserve, but, of course, that’s up to the supervisors,” Holland said.
Rodewald said although she plans to deliver a report on election costs to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, she has not yet worked with the administrative department to determine where the funding might come from.
But she noted that in a county that already has struggled to meet a $19 million budget shortfall, the money would likely come either from contingency funds or by cutting more services.
“Obviously, the cost of the elections for the county is enormous, but the logistics of conducting two elections within 14 days ... is just overwhelming at this point,” Rodewald said. “And the governor obviously doesn’t particularly care.”
She noted vote-by-mail ballots for both primaries will be sent out at about the same time, which will confuse some voters, and polling places for the two primaries will likely be different.
“It’s so unprecedented and so uncharted, I don’t think anybody understands what’s involved,” Rodewald said.