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Wednesday, May 22 2013 11:00 PM

MARK MARTINEZ: Kern's 'Manchurian Candidate' cost Democrats 3 seats

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    Mark Martinez

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In Richard Condon's book "The Manchurian Candidate," the son of a prominent family ends up working for the communists during the Cold War. Since the book came out in 1959, several movies have been made. They've helped the story line evolve so that a Manchurian Candidate can now be any official who publicly supports or belongs to a party but then uses his privileged position to help the opposition.

While it's impossible to make the claim that Michael Rubio set out to become Kern County's Manchurian Candidate, the political trail of the former state senator offers plenty of fodder for those who like a good conspiracy theory. Consider the following.

In 2010, Rubio ran for a state Senate seat and won. With a Democratic governor entering office, Rubio could've stalled or held off his swearing-in as state senator until Gov. Jerry Brown was sworn in. This would have given Brown the opportunity to appoint another Democrat from the district to fill Rubio's supervisor seat in Kern County.

Enter Manchurian Candidate Rubio.

Rubio was asked if he would delay his swearing-in as state senator. He flatly refused. He wouldn't even consider it. Republican Karen Goh became outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's choice to fill Rubio's heavily Democratic district seat.

Then we have the 21st District seat in the House of Representatives. It was effectively redrawn in 2010 to fit Rubio's political profile. He was considered the front-runner in the 21st District from the moment it was created. (Almost all elected districts are drawn to fit political profiles these days; another story for another day.)

Enter Manchurian Candidate Rubio.

After raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, Rubio declined to run for U.S. Congress, citing family reasons. Then he failed to make an effort to find a viable Democratic replacement candidate (there are several). For many people, the worst thing Rubio did was what he didn't do. He didn't offer to shift funds from his congressional war chest, nor did he offer assistance, to the 2012 Democratic candidate in the 21st Congressional District.

To be sure, Republican David Valadao ran against an extraordinarily weak and unappealing Democratic candidate. But the fact remains that Valadao won in a district that Rubio -- or any viable Democratic candidate with help -- could have won in a sleepwalk.

Then we have Rubio giving up his Senate seat in February, again for family reasons.

The result, as we all know, is that Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez ran for Rubio's vacated 16th Senate District seat, losing Tuesday's special election to Republican Andy Vidak. The district is heavily Latino and dominated by Democrats. This seat should never have gone to Republican Andy Vidak.

But it did.

For those of you keeping score at home here's what we have. In Rubio's political wake, we have three high-profile public positions -- county supervisor, U.S. Congress and state Senate -- that are in heavily Democratic districts. They all ended up in the hands of the Republican Party.

One person stands in the middle of it all. Michael Rubio.

Again, I'm not one for conspiracy theories. Nor am I suggesting that Rubio is a Republican Manchurian Candidate. But the reality is the Republican Party couldn't have acquired this many Democratic-leaning seats on its own.

So the follow up question is: What happens next?

Another attempt to win the 16th District seat, or any other seat, by Leticia Perez over the next two years will surely encourage someone to run in Kern's 5th Supervisorial District.

I can see the campaign slogan now: "I Want to Represent You ... And I Plan on Staying."

I know. Not very strategic. But in this scenario probably effective.

Then, the Democrats still have some cleaning up to do when it comes to winning David Valadao's 21st District congressional seat (Valadao represents the interests of that district as much as I represent Kevin McCarthy's congressional district).

Over the next few weeks and months, there's sure to be a good deal of finger-pointing in Democratic circles over who lost the 16th District seat. But the reality remains. Michael Rubio gave up his state Senate seat, which was lost to a Republican -- again.

Manchurian Candidate or not, you can't ignore the story line results.

Mark A. Martinez, Ph.D., is a professor of political science at Cal State Bakersfield. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.

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