After the 2011 California congressional redistricting maps were unveiled, it appeared that Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA-31) would not be a member of the 113th Congress. But, he defied the odds and, in a rather stunning turn of events, won “re-election” from a district containing none of his previous constituents. Now representing a San Bernardino County seat that is the most pro-Obama district (57.2 percent) to elect a Republican congressman, it looks like unfolding developments may again play to his good fortune.
On the surface, Rep. Miller was dealt a bad hand in redistricting because he was originally paired with Rep. Ed Royce (R) in the new 39th District. But, in the adjacent new 31st CD where then-representatives Jerry Lewis (R-CA-41) and Joe Baca (D-CA-43) were paired, things began transpiring that would later open the door for Miller.
First, Rep. Baca rather surprisingly announced he would run in new District 35, a seat where he represented about 61 percent of the constituency but a place containing none of his home base of Rialto, a city of just under 100,000 people who had elected him to the state Assembly, Senate, and, for 13 years, Congress. Baca went to the 35th even though he knew state Sen. Gloria McLeod (D) would oppose him. She is his bitter political rival, and someone who represented more of the new district than he. (California state Senate districts are actually about 25 percent larger than congressional districts.)
After that, veteran Rep. Jerry Lewis announced that he would retire after 34 years of congressional service. Lewis could have conceivably run in new District 8, since he represented a large portion of the area, but his home town of Redlands, a city he represented throughout his entire congressional career and for 10 more years in the state Assembly, was placed in CD-31.
Overnight, District 31 had become an orphan open seat. Miller, seeing his opportunity, jumped into the “Lean Democratic” district and declared for the San Bernardino seat, even though he spent a career representing Orange County.
When the voters created the California Citizens Redistricting Commission via initiative, they also simultaneously enacted a new primary law that allows the top two vote-getters, regardless of political party affiliation, to advance to the general election. Though the 31st should routinely elect more Democrats than Republicans, Miller and then-state Sen. Bob Dutton, a fellow Republican, overcame the mathematics and placed 1-2, thus leaving the top Democrat, Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, out in the cold. Miller then went on to score a 55-45 percent victory in the double-Republican general election.
Now comes 2014 and ex-Rep. Baca, after first declaring he would seek a re-match with Negrete McLeod after losing rather badly (56-44 percent) to her last November, decided instead to come back to CD-31. His problem is that Aguilar, even after bungling his 2012 effort, is also back for another try. Attorney Eloise Reyes (D) is also running, and there is a fair chance that she could become a factor. It is reported that Reyes is likely to soon score the potent EMILY’S List organization endorsement, for example.
Just this week, the list of California Democratic congressional members endorsing Aguilar over Baca has grown to a dozen, six of whom are freshmen (see list below). None have endorsed Baca.
The most recent developments suggest that a highly contentious jungle primary is going to unfold among the Democrats in this district. Since there is unlikely to be another strong Republican joining the field of candidates, it is clear that this time Miller will draw a Democratic general election opponent. But with most of the delegation lining up behind Aguilar and at least one major liberal organization soon to be backing Reyes, thus fracturing the vote even more, it may even be more likely that Baca qualifies for the general election since he has superior name identification and a long history of representing the heart of the district.
If the Democrats remain in a contentious state throughout the primary election, Miller could draw a damaged Democratic opponent, thus giving him another legitimate chance to win an unlikely victory. The situation evolving in California District 31 provides us evidence that Democrats, too, can become embroiled in divisive primary circumstances.
The following California Democratic House members have already endorsed Mayor Pete Aguilar over former Rep. Joe Baca:
- Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA-15)
- Rep. Julia Brownley (CA-26)
- Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27)
- Rep. Adam Schiff (CA-28)
- Rep. Henry Waxman (CA-33)
- Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod (CA-35)
- Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37)
- Rep. Mark Takano (CA-41)
- Rep. Janice Hahn (CA-44)
- Rep. Loretta Sanchez (CA-46)
- Rep. Alan Lowenthal (CA-47)
- Rep. Scott Peters (CA-52)