By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Unwilling to face one of his fellow Democratic legislators in a 2012 election, Santa Rosa Assemblyman Michael Allen announced Thursday that he will move to Marin County and run for re-election next year in the new 10th Assembly District.
The district encompasses all of Marin County and parts of southern and western Sonoma County, including a portion of Santa Rosa. It resulted from changes approved in July by the state’s Citizens Redistricting Commission.
Those changes posed perhaps the greatest dilemma for Allen, 64, one of several North Coast Democrats searching for a new seat amid the state’s redrawn political lines. His current 7th District was effectively split in two by the changes.
The commission lumped most of his territory, including portions of Sonoma and Solano counties and all of Napa County, into a new district that also encompasses Lake and Yolo counties. His house in Oakmont, meanwhile, was placed in a district spanning the coast from Santa Rosa north to Oregon.
A run in either area would pit him against fellow Assembly Democrats, including Mariko Yamada of Davis to the east and Wes Chesbro of Arcata to the west. Yamada had announced her run for re-election and Chesbro is expected to do so within the next few days.
Allen on Thursday defended his move south, into a redesigned district where the incumbent, Assemblyman Jared Huffman, is termed out in 2012 and is running for Congress.
“I did not want to run against another Democratic party incumbent,” Allen said. “The (7th) District left me, not vice versa.”
A long-time Santa Rosa resident, Allen touted his four decades living in the North Bay, and said the Marin-centered district was a good fit for his liberal politics. He said the move would help, not hurt, his election chances next year.
“I could have just moved a couple of miles” into the district, he said, adding that the move into Marin — likely to San Rafael — would prove he was committed to serving the area in state office.
“You can always learn more by being in the community,” he said.
Allen’s announcement immediately qualified him as the frontrunner in the District 10 race, political observers said.
The only official challenger so far is San Rafael Councilman Marc Levine. San Rafael Councilman Damon Connolly and Petaluma Councilman Mike Healy have said they are considering a run for the seat.
Healy conceded that Allen’s move would make waves in the race, though he denied it would affect his own decision.
“Everyone was waiting to see where he would land, obviously,” Healy said.
Political watchers said Allen’s strengths continue to be his ties to organized labor — he has led both the area’s largest public sector union and the largest labor coalition, the North Bay Labor Council.
His work as district director for former Sen. Pat Wiggins and his current role as assistant majority leader in the Assembly also give him heft in the local Democratic Party.
That influence could clear the deck of major contenders, said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist. “I would assume that if Allen is running for that seat that he has the blessing, to avoid Democratic fratricide.”
Still, despite his years on the local political scene and roles on regional bodies such as the Citizens Oversight Committee for the SMART train, Allen remains a relative unknown in Marin, said Dick Spotswood, a political columnist for the Marin Independent Journal.
Allen’s union alliances could also hurt in an election year when public-sector pay and benefits could figure as a hot-button issue.
“He’s the favorite,” Spotswood said. “But Allen will be perceived as a union-oriented Democrat. I don’t think that’s the strongest position to be marching into an election with in Marin County.”