By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo has confirmed he is “seriously investigating” a run for the state Assembly seat for the North Coast to be vacated next year by Wes Chesbro.
Carrillo would join two other local candidates, Jim Wood, the Healdsburg city councilman, and John Lowry, the former executive director of Burbank Housing in Santa Rosa, both of whom have said they are running for the Assembly seat. All three are Democrats.
Carrillo, 32, who won his second term on the Board of Supervisors in November, said he had not “committed either way,” but suggested a decision on his political future could come within the next few months.
“I do believe that before the summer time frame, folks are going to have to make a decision to be in there or not,” Carrillo said of the Assembly race.
Republican party officials in the region said no declared candidates have come forward on their side in the race.
The 2nd District stretches along the coast from the northern half of Santa Rosa to the Oregon border and includes all of Mendocino, Humboldt, Trinity and Del Norte counties.
Chesbro, a veteran state legislator, is termed out of office at the end of next year. The field lining up to replace him — and Carrillo’s interest especially — signals what could be the start of a “generational shift” in state representation for the region, said David McCuan, a political science professor at Sonoma State University.
He called the upcoming period of decisions “the invisible primary” before formal contests start for next year’s June primary and November general election.
“People are locking up elites, locking up dollars and locking up organizations,” he said. “It’s not that the political season ever ends. It just takes a pause, and now we’re back into it.”
Noreen Evans is the wild card in the mix.
The Santa Rosa Democrat is in the middle of her first term as a state senator. But apparently she is undecided about whether to seek re-election next year, though her campaign is raising money for that purpose, with a birthday fundraiser set for April 28.
The uncertainty about her plans — echoed by Evans’ friends and Democratic party insiders last week — has left some to wonder if Carrillo wouldn’t prefer her Senate seat if she decided not to run.
Carrillo said he wasn’t currently considering that prospect, but would weigh running for the seat if Evans didn’t.
“What she (Evans) decides triggers a whole bunch of moves down ballot,” said McCuan, the SSU political scientist.
Evans, 57, last week called questions about her political future “very premature,” saying she wouldn’t make a decision until September, at the end of the legislative session.
“I’m busy concentrating on my legislative package,” she said.
She has long been interested in a judgeship but wouldn’t say if she was still considering that option or any other career move. Chatter about her plans isn’t getting to her, she said.
“Nobody has come to me and said ‘I’m interested in your seat, back off,’” she said.
Chesbro is keeping even closer guard over his thoughts about the future of his Assembly seat. Carrillo and Wood both said they’d talked with Chesbro about the office and 2nd District issues.
But Chesbro declined an interview through a spokesman last week. “He doesn’t want to talk about any potential successors to his seat,” said Andrew Bird. “He just wants to stay away from that.”
Wood, 53, is a dentist who has served six years on the Healdsburg council. He was first into the contest late last year and had raised $51,000 by December, campaign finance reports show.
He added $30,000 or so recently, he said, and garnered endorsements from a handful of Sonoma County officials, including two of Carrillo’s fellow boardmembers — Mike McGuire and Susan Gorin — and District Attorney Jill Ravitch.
“I want people to see I’m serious about this,” Wood said.
Lowry, 65, who retired in September after 14 years leading Burbank Housing, the low-income housing developer, said he intends to launch his campaign in June.
The Assembly race also has drawn interest from at least two other North Coast figures: Hezekiah Allen, a Mendocino County environmentalist who leads the Mattole Restoration Council and Humboldt County Supervisor Mark Lovelace.
Lovelace, who holds Chesbro’s former seat on the Humboldt County board, said last week that he had not ruled out a run but that he was not “actively considering it.”
Carrillo said he was approached by “a few individuals and groups, both locally and out of Sacramento” about the race. He declined to say whom.
Sources said polling has been conducted in the sprawling district on his behalf, testing his name recognition among likely voters. Carrillo said he was not aware of any polling but did say that he has “looked at” likely voters in the region. The majority are clustered in Sonoma and Humboldt counties.
“Anybody who comes out of Sonoma is going to have work to do getting out to know those communities (to the north),” Carrillo said.
Wood said that was one of the reasons he entered the race early.
“I hope to erase any disparity with hard work and shoe leather,” he said.
(You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)