By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Mike McGuire is preparing to walk away from his job as a Sonoma County supervisor and run for the state Legislature, a move that would trigger a political shake-up in the north county.
Freshman Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom beat him to the starting line Tuesday, announcing her entrance into the race to succeed North Coast state Sen. Noreen Evans.
McGuire, who declined to confirm his plans, has notified supporters that he intends to run for the 2nd District seat that Evans will vacate next year.
The moves are a jolt to the state Senate race, which had already attracted two candidates from opposite ends of the sprawling district, stretching from the Golden Gate to the Oregon border.
McGuire, 34, a former Healdsburg mayor and school board member, would be an immediate frontrunner in the current field, some political observers said. They cited his name recognition, support among a cross section of political camps and substantial campaign coffers.
“He has the ability to leap in and really make a splash,” said Sonoma State University political scientist David McCuan.
Several people notified of McGuire’s decision last week said they expected an announcement soon on his bid for the Senate seat.
“That’s the word I got,” said Herman Hernandez, a Guerneville real estate broker who said he’d been told of McGuire’s plans by Jason Liles, one of the supervisor’s main political advisors and his appointee to the county Planning Commission.
In an interview, McGuire said only that he was “having conversations with supporters and folks throughout the (Senate) district about this issue.”
“I will make an announcement at the appropriate time,” he said.
McGuire’s first term representing the north county ends next year. If he runs for the Legislature, it would open up a seat on the Board of Supervisors in the June primary, unsettling a race that once seemed predictable with an incumbent on a clear path to reelection.
Carlstrom’s situation is different. Unlike McGuire, she can run for higher office without risk of losing her current seat on the Santa Rosa council, which is up for election in 2016.
A 30-year-old attorney who has been in city office less than a year, Carlstrom had previously said she was considering a run. She made it official two weeks ago, filing paperwork with the California Secretary of State, but did not announce her candidacy until Tuesday afternoon after McGuire’s reported plans became public.
The timing appeared to be an attempt to stake out a space for her campaign in a growing field. It strongly linked the birth of her first child Saturday to her interest in running for the Senate seat.
“Now, more than ever, I understand the full meaning of public service,” Carlstrom said in a written statement released by her campaign. “I always knew that my advocacy and votes impacted future generations, but looking at my son, that knowledge is now personal.”
Natalie LeBlanc, an advisor with the Oakland-based consultancy managing Carlstrom’s campaign, said the timing of the announcement was meant to allow Carlstrom “some quiet time with her baby.”
Carlstrom is currently on maternity leave from the Santa Rosa council and LeBlanc said she would not be available for an interview. Her statement said she plans to return to public duties Nov. 5 and hold a campaign kick-off Nov. 13.
McGuire and Carlstrom would join two other candidates who have announced their bids for the North Coast seat: Chris Lehman, a 36-year-old Arcata resident and longtime state Senate staffer, and Eric Lucan, 32, who was elected to the Novato City Council in 2011.
All four are Democrats.
Potential Republican challengers include Lawrence Weisner, a Santa Rosa resident who ran against Evans in her successful bid for the seat in 2010.
Evans, a Santa Rosa Democrat and former state Assembly member, announced in August that she would not seek reelection next year.
Under redistricting, the 2nd District includes all of Marin, Mendocino, Lake, Humboldt, Trinity and Del Norte counties. In Sonoma County, it takes in Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Windsor, Healdsburg, Geyserville and Cloverdale.
Voter registration in the district is heavily Democratic. The majority of its more than 1 million residents are centered in the more urbanized south, including Sonoma and Marin counties.
McGuire, a Healdsburg High and Sonoma State graduate and former marketing director at KFTY-TV50, dominated his 2010 race for the north county supervisor’s seat, beating out his opponent, Windsor Town Councilwoman Debora Fudge, by more than 20 percentage points.
He has since consolidated support among her backers, including environmental groups, and added to his network in organized labor, agriculture and business circles.
When he kicked off his reelection campaign for supervisor in August, McGuire said he had already raised $160,000. The funds could be transferred to his Senate campaign under state rules governing such moves.
Some of his chief donors have known for months about his interest in the Senate seat.
“I would be very excited to have a strong advocate for working people in the race,” Lisa Maldonado, executive director of the North Bay Labor Council, said of McGuire. “I’m pretty optimistic that he’s going to announce soon.”
McCuan, the Sonoma State political scientist, said McGuire’s interest could complicate the race for other contenders, making it more difficult for them to raise funds and secure key endorsements.
“What’s interesting to me is he’s a very cautious political guy, and this is a bit of a leap,” McCuan said. “But he immediately becomes a favorite if he enters the race.”
Carlstrom, in contrast, could represent a potential “wild-card” entry, McCuan said, though she could see a boost for being the only woman so far in the race.
“She’s new to the (Santa Rosa) council, new to the (Senate) district and unknown to a large swath of voters,” he said. “She’s going to be spending a lot of time introducing herself.”
But Herb Williams, a Santa Rosa political consultant who has emerged as a fan of Carlstrom, said he didn’t see her relative lack of political experience as a handicap. He called her a “consensus builder” on the Santa Rosa council, where she has maneuvered between two opposing camps, one supported by business and development interests and the other backed by environmental and neighborhood groups.
“I don’t think political experience is the answer. It’s not the bellwether. It’s what kind of person you are,” Williams said. “She’s a breath of fresh air as far as I’m concerned.”