End of Career Politicians

Apparently dissatisfied with their lot, many state legislators seek higher office at the first plausible opportunity. Are the ones in your state doing well so ...
by | June 26, 2006

Apparently dissatisfied with their lot, many state legislators seek higher office at the first plausible opportunity. Are the ones in your state doing well so far during this election season?

If you live in California, the answer would be no. Voters turned down legislators seeking higher office every chance they got during primaries earlier this month.

Having some time on my hands Saturday night (how pathetic is that?), I looked over the California secretary of state's official candidate page.

No fewer than 15 sitting legislators sought higher office, but only four of them have made it to the general election.

Of the four, one was unopposed (Chuck Poochigian, who will likely fall victim to Jerry Brown's return to statewide office in the attorney general's contest); one essentially was, running against a no-name filer (Tom McClintock, looking to become Arnold Schwarzenegger's lieutenant governor); and two more, in essence, prevailed as the lesser evil by cleverly running against other legislators.

Josh Goodman noted at the start of the year how just about every statewide elected official, save Arnold, was running for some other statewide office as part of the "term limits tango." Clearly, term limits had their effects on the thoughts of legislators as well. They grasped for any chance they could find.

Half the members of Congress are former legislators, but that was still no excuse for state Assemblymen Joe Nation and Juan Vargas to challenge two members from their own party who were in no political trouble. Conversely, state Senator Bill Morrow must have figured he had nothing to lose by entering the fray as one of 10 Republicans seeking the seat vacated by Randy "Duke' Cunningham, a congressman convicted of corruption. (The wide-open primary was held on the same day as the heavily covered special election to fill out Cunningham's term. Brian Bilbray, who had been a former congressman, won both races.)

Aside from Congress, legislators lost their shot at practically every other post you can name -- treasurer, controller, and lieutenant governor. (Two Democratic senators lost in their party's LG primary against John Garamendi, California's answer to Harold Stassen).

Ray Haynes, a Republican assemblyman, even managed to lose the GOP nomination for a seat on the obscure, albeit powerful, Board of Equalization to Michelle Steel, an equalization board member's deputy whose Web site claims she'll soon be the highest-ranking Korean American in U.S. public office.

"It's actually kind of tough for legislators to make the jump to statewide office, but it doesn't keep them from trying," says Tim Storey, elections guru for the National Conference of State Legislatures.