By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
North Coast political circles are all abuzz about who will seek the state Senate seat held by Santa Rosa Democrat Noreen Evans, who announced she will not seek re-election in 2014.
However, predictions that the field will be crowded and include some heavy hitters so far don’t seem to be panning out. Several big-name candidates rumored to be interested in the job all but ruled out a run in interviews with The Press Democrat.
That includes three-term state Assemblywoman Patty Berg, 71, who said last week from her home in Eureka that she can’t foresee being able to campaign in the vast 2nd District while recovering from upcoming hip surgery.
“It’s a timing issue for me,” she said.
Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane expressed no interest in the job, as did Marin County Supervisor Susan Adams, who said she is focused on fending off a recall effort.
Mike McGuire would not rule out making a run, although he said his focus at the moment is “on my work as Sonoma County supervisor.” McGuire, who hosted a campaign event Sunday tied to his re-election bid to the county board, said he has $160,000 on hand.
Santa Rosa Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom, who has been in elected office nine months, is “considering” a run, saying the 2nd District includes “a strong legacy of female leadership from the area.” She did not give a timeline for making her decision.
Likewise, San Rafael councilman Damon Connolly also said he’s mulling the opportunity. “Right now I’m weighing several options,” he said.
One-term state Assemblyman Michael Allen, who is said to be in the mix, did not return several phone messages seeking comment.
For now, 36-year-old Arcata resident Chris Lehman is the only person to have filed paperwork with the California Secretary of State to create a campaign committee and start fundraising for the Senate seat.
Lehman is a longtime Senate consultant who has never held elected office, and as of last week, had yet to raise any money. But he has the endorsement of state Assemblyman and former state Senator Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, as well as that of Berg and Senate President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.
Lehman said his greatest challenge will be getting his name known in the 2nd District, which under redistricting spans a territory from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border.
“I’m going to work my absolute tail off to meet all the stakeholders and understand the issues in all seven counties,” said the father of two.
Granted, the March filing deadline for the November 2014 election is months away, leaving plenty of time for some surprises. And it’s only been two weeks since Evans announced that she is stepping down to focus on her law practice.
Evans said last week that she has not endorsed a potential replacement. Whoever succeeds her, she said, will need a solid staff in order to meet the needs of the 2nd District.
“That’s the only way to manage a district of this size and serve your constituent’s interests in the state Capitol,” she said.
As for rumors Evans may be interested in running for the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors for the seat currently held by embattled west county supervisor Efren Carrillo, Evans said, “I’ve not ruled anything out, but I have no immediate plans.”
The Sacramento Bee reported that Evans hosted a fundraiser at her Santa Rosa home last Thursday night for those willing to give at least $1,000 to her 2014 re-election campaign. Terry Price, Evans’ campaign consultant, told the Bee she needs the money to pay off ongoing expenses such as bookkeeping and office supplies.
David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist, said the person who prevails in the Senate race will have their hands full in what he called a “dog’s breakfast” of a district because of its size and range of competing interests.
He said the race will be won or lost in Sonoma County, and that a female candidate would get an automatic 5 to 8 percent bump in the polls.
He said if Allen enters the fray, the race could turn into a slugfest between powerful Sacramento interests, given Allen’s close ties to Assembly Speaker John Perez, and Lehman’s to Steinberg.
The door also could be opened to a Republican contender under the state’s relatively new voting system, which sends the top two vote-winners in the primary to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.
One person who is not running for the 2nd District seat is Congressman Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale. The Secretary of State’s website listed LaMalfa as having created a committee in order to run for the seat. However, a staff member for LaMalfa on Monday attributed that to a clerical error and said the congressman has no interest in the Senate seat.