Now that Susan Jordan, the environmental activist from Santa Barbara and wife of Assemblyman Pedro Nava, has made it official she will seek to replace Nava when he is termed out in 2010, it's time to start seriously analyzing those two Assembly seats in the county that will come open in the next election season.
I spoke briefly with Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal last week and, although he was noncommital, he clearly has a strong interest in making the race. Carbajal was just re-elected to a second term last year, so he would have a free ride for the office, meaning he could run and lose without giving up his seat on the board. His Latino surname would likely be an asset, given that the district was 32 percent Latino when it was drawn back in 2001 and the percentage has in all likelihood grown since then.
Jordan, of course, would have the benefit of Nava's support, which will be of particular importance in trying to secure endorsements and financial support from Sacramento-based interest groups. It also helps generally in a two-person Democratic primary to be a woman running against a man.
Then there's the question of whether having two candidates from Santa Barbara might invite a Ventura County Democrat to take a second look at the seat. Supervisor Steve Bennett would be the strongest candidate, but the defeat of former Supervisor John Flynn last fall has given him a new lease on his current job. Since Flynn had long been a nemisis on the board, expect Bennet to now stay put.
Ventura City Councilman Bill Fulton would be another logical possibility, since he has spent much of his career studying and commenting upon state policies in such areas as land use and water supply. He might be intrigued by the idea of being the only Ventura County candidate in a three-person race. Still, Fulton is hardly the kind of fiery partisan who could be counted on to excite base Democratic voters in a primary.
In the east end of the county, Jeff Gorell of Camarillo may escape without competition in the Republican primary to replace outgoing Assemblywoman Audra Strickland. He has a dream resume for a candidate: businessman, Afghan war veteran and a former prosecutor. In addition, as a former junior staffer for ex-Gov. Pete Wilson, Gorell has a solid network of Republican contacts around the state and can expect fund-raising help from his former boss.
Democrats will be looking hard for a candidate because, although the district has been represented by a Republican since it was created, there are some indications it could be competitive with the right Democrat on the ticket. Strickland won by just 4 percentage points last fall, and the district will be one of five open seats now held by a Republican that was carried by Barack Obama in the presidential voting.
Here again, the strongest candidate would be an incumbent supervisor: Kathy Long of Camarillo. In the past, Long has shown no great ambition to seek state office, but the idea must have some appeal to someone who has been so active in the statewide supervisors' association.
The Democrats' best bet in that district would be a moderate with environmental credentials. That's the kind of candidate who would have a chance of faring well in Thousand Oaks -- especially if conservatives field a strong challenger against Supervisor Linda Parks in 2010 and Gorell, to demonstrate his conservative bona fides, backs her opponent.