Local Politics

Friday, Mar 15 2013 01:30 PM

Fran Florez announces state Senate candidacy; Autry mulling bid

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Shafter City Councilwoman Fran Florez dropped her candidacy for the vacant 16th Senate District seat Wednesday.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

One big name Democrat joined the race for the 16th Senate District Friday and a big name Republican said he was very interested in running.

Shafter City Councilwoman Fran Florez announced Friday via Twitter that she's running for the post, which Michael Rubio vacated last month citing a need to spend more time with family.

And the Fresno Bee reported that former Fresno Mayor Alan Autry, a Republican, is "seriously considering" a run.

Florez joins fellow Democrat Alfred Benavides, a former Hanford Joint Union High School District trustee, and Republican Hanford farmer Andy Vidak in announcing an intent to run.

In her statement, Florez seemed to indicate she is not Democratic Party leaders' first choice to seek the state Senate seat.

Another Democrat who is weighing her options is Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez. Perez had no comment on Florez's announcement. She said she will make her intentions known Monday.

"I have reflected on this race with my husband of over 50 years and we agree that at this point in time, with an election less than 70 days away, the people of this district deserve a sense of stability from their elected representatives; someone who seeks the job to serve the people, not build a career," Florez said in her statement.

That was an obvious swipe at Perez, who took county office just about three months ago.

"For me, public service means running for office to 'serve,' Florez continued. "It means running because I believe that voters have the right to choose their representatives based on their record of service, not their aspirations for higher office."

Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of "The California Target Book," which analyzes political races in the state, said the 16th District race seems poised to devolve into a multi-candidate melee.

Two or three candidates, he said, will have the name recognition, fiscal support and political network needed to launch a substantial campaign. There will also be a few "also rans" clogging the field, Hoffenblum said.

"No one will get (more than) 50 percent," he said of the primary, set for May 21.

What could be very interesting is if both Autry and Perez enter the race, Hoffenblum said.

"That's a battle between two factions of the Democratic Party," he said of a possible Perez-Florez race. But the Vidak-Autry match-up would be a similar confrontation between Republican factions.

Former Democratic Assemblywoman Nicole Parra, responding to questions from a reporter, wrote that another potential candidate is Kings County Supervisor and Democrat Richard Valle.

With that many Democrats involved, a single Republican could benefit, she wrote.

"If Leticia Perez, Richard Valle and Fran Florez all decide to run, in (an election with) a low voter turnout, Andy Vidak may win outright. However, if another Republican like Alan Autry jumps in, then a runoff will probably occur," Parra wrote.

Vidak became popular in the local Republican Party after his strong but ultimately unsuccessful challenge of Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, in 2010.

Under California's open primary system, if nobody receives a majority of votes in the primary, the top two vote-getters regardless of party will face off in the general election July 23.

Parra, whose family has long been at odds with the Florezes, said a head-to-head race between Florez and Vidak would be a win for Vidak.

"I can only imagine how much money he raised this afternoon after she made her announcement," she wrote.

Steve Schilling, CEO of Clinica Sierra Vista and a longtime activist in the Democratic Party, said he considered running for the seat but has rejected the idea.

But he is frustrated with the same old names and young seat-hopping Democrats running for office. He said he'd like to see people who are less political and, perhaps, better qualified to run.

And he's troubled that there's even a seat up for grabs.

"What Senator Rubio did was a great disappointment to me and many other people," Schilling said.

Florez has twice run, unsuccessfully, for the former 30th Assembly District post. She lost to Republican Danny Gilmore in 2008 -- by a slim 51 percent to 49 percent margin -- and Republican David Valadao in 2010 -- far more handily, 61 percent to 39 percent.

Florez said in her statement that she's now running for a seat that's far safer and secure for Democrats and that "offers me an opportunity that I have not been afforded in the past."

"I am excited to run in what I consider a 'newly' drawn district that goes well beyond the very tough and always tightly raced 30th Assembly District (which is only 43 percent of the entire 16th Senate District)," she wrote. "This area now includes most of metropolitan Fresno (57 percent), which is Democrat heavy, and I enter the race KNOWING I have strong partners here who will show their support, with their votes, in this fast approaching special election."

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