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How many California lawmakers will pick their own successors?

PUBLISHED MAY 12, 2022 12:00 A.M.
California lawmakers on the state Assembly floor on Jan. 31, 2022.
California lawmakers on the state Assembly floor on Jan. 31, 2022. Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters


In a year of unprecedented turnover in the California Legislature, several lawmakers are trying to bequeath their seats to relatives and staff members. Critics say they’re trying to game the system.

Bulmaro “Boomer” Vicente knew his campaign was a long shot. 

A 26-year-old Democrat with no elected experience and little name recognition, he had made an against-the-odds decision to take on Democratic Assemblymember Tom Daly, who has represented Anaheim in the Legislature since 2012. Ballots across California are full of slim-chance candidates like Vicente. The state Legislature is not.

But for Vicente, the utter unlikeliness of his victory was part of the point. His campaign, he said, was about “changing the narrative” of what it meant to be a legitimate political player in his hometown of Santa Ana. The message he hoped to convey: “You don’t really have to follow this pipeline.”

Then on March 10 — a day before the candidate filing deadline — came the one-two punch. First, Daly announced that he would not be seeking reelection. Vicente’s phone blew up. All of a sudden, politicos across the district were “taking a second look” at his candidacy, he said.

But hours later, the second punch landed: Daly’s district director Avelino Valencia, an Anaheim City Council member, entered the race with the backing of his boss. A new presumptive frontrunner had entered the race, fresh from the “pipeline.”

There is nothing unusual about outgoing incumbents endorsing their would-be successors. Nor is it unusual for them to support candidates with whom they share personal and professional ties. The last-minute timing of Daly’s withdrawal from the race and subsequent endorsement is also a common maneuver — and a perfectly legal one. 

But this year’s bumper crop of vacancies in both the Assembly and Senate means there are an unusual number of departing legislators doing their best to bequeath their seats to chosen successors. It’s a trend that highlights just how small and insular the Legislature can be.

Where such behavior can cross an ethical line is when a lawmaker effectively “denies other candidates a fair shot…by essentially gaming the system,” said John Pelissero, a senior scholar with Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

Just to name a few more examples from this year: 

  • Democratic state Sen. Bob Hertzberg is termed out of his seat in the San Fernando Valley. As he runs to be a Los Angeles County supervisor, he’s throwing his considerable political weight behind Daniel Hertzberg. Connection: That last name is no coincidence. The two are father and son.
  • In late January, Democrat Autumn Burke departed the Assembly early to take a job with a lobbying firm. The next day, she endorsed Robert Pullen-Miles for her Inglewood seat. Connection: Pullen-Miles is Burke’s former district director.
  • Democratic U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier announced her retirement last November. A few weeks later she backed San Mateo Assemblymember Kevin Mullin to take her spot. Connection: He served as her district director, and Mullin’s father was a close political ally of Speier’s.

    Read ‘How many California lawmakers will pick their own successors?’ on CalMatters. is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.


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