BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez, a candidate for Kern County’s vacant 16th Senate District seat, does not live inside the legally approved boundaries of the district.
But because of a technicality, her home on Alta Vista Drive in Bakersfield is a legally valid residence in the district, said Kern County elections chief Karen Rhea Thursday.
Perez is allowed to run in the May 21 special primary under an agreement reached between the Kern County Elections Division and the California Secretary of State’s office, Rhea said.
Perez said Thursday that she verified she had a valid residence in the district before announcing her candidacy.
“It is legally and properly in the 16th,” Perez said. “It is so important that a candidate live in the district they are running in.”
Perez faces the same problem that her mentor, Michael Rubio, faced during his 16th Senate District run in 2010.
She lives in “Bakersfield 595,” the same small precinct that Kern County elections officials incorrectly placed in the 16th District in 2001, after the California Legislature redrew political district lines.
Redistricting moved a small strip of homes along the east side of Alta Vista from the 16th Senate District into the 18th Senate District.
Kern elections officials created Bakersfield 595 for the sole purpose of moving those homes into the 18th. Then they forgot to make the move.
The mistake remained hidden until June 2010, after Rubio had already won the Democratic nomination for the state Senate seat.
Rubio, in an effort to avoid any complications from the mistake, moved out of his home on Quincy Street and into a residence in the heart of the 16th District.
After Rubio moved, Perez said, Kern County elections and the Secretary of State’s office agreed to leave Bakersfield 595 in the 16th Senate District.
The decision was made, Rhea said, to protect all of the voters who remained behind in Bakersfield 595 who had already cast votes in the 16th Senate District.
Because the primary had passed, those voters’ right to vote in the 16th District during the 2010 general election was protected.
And because this year’s special election is being held to elect a replacement to serve out the rest of Rubio’s term, voters in Bakersfield 595 must be allowed to cast ballots in this election as well, Rhea said.
Legally, she said, the same boundaries used to elect Rubio must be used to elect a replacement.
“Ultimately the decision was made to protect the voters and their will,” Perez said.
In 2014, the state will begin using new political lines drawn by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission in 2011.
Under those boundaries, most of the 16th Senate District will become the 14th Senate District. And, in that version of the district lines, Bakersfield 595 will go with it.
Andy Vidak, the top Republican contender for the 16th Senate seat, said he has no control over the decisions elections officials have made.
“All I can say is I live in the heart of my district — by miles and miles,” Vidak said.
A message left for Democratic contender Fran Florez was responded to by her son, former state Sen. Dean Florez.
"Seems all these newbie legislative candidates need to first take a lesson before filing from the U.S. Census Bureau ("census tract 101") that requires them to ask a fundamental question: ‘Do I live in the district that I seek to run in?’" he wrote in an email.
When told Perez did ask whether she lived in the district, Florez stood by his comments.
“How do we know precinct voters in that area voted for 16th Senate District? Do they have records that (ballots) were sent there? Of course they voted, but did they vote for 18th District senator or did they vote for 16th District senator? That is the real question,” he wrote.
“The elections office has to checkmark the box allowing candidates to run if they live in the district,” he later continued. “This office is so disorganized, apparently they didn't look at the actual legal census tract that should have told them it was in the 18th District. They made an assumption and they were wrong. So that's supposed to make it all OK? ‘Cause they checkmarked a box for somebody who approves their budget? Amazing...”