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By Alex Horvath / The Californian
BY KURTIS ALEXANDER AND JAMES BURGER email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
FRESNO -- Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez's campaign said Monday night she will relocate in order to remain eligible to run for the 16th District state Senate seat.
Perez, who was in Fresno Monday afternoon to formally announce her candidacy, was told by elections officials that she was not eligible to run for the 16th District seat because she doesn't live within the district's boundaries.
See video from Leticia Perez's appearance at bakersfield.com
But Perez's campaign manager said the surprise phone call from Kern County officials late Monday would not deter Perez's bid for office and that she'd seek a new residence in the district before Friday's filing deadline.
"Obviously, it's a change from their prior written decision," said Trent Hager. But, "she fully intends to be a candidate."
A technicality in Kern County's election procedure had suggested that Perez, a Bakersfield Democrat, was qualified to run for former Sen. Michael Rubio's office.
But Kern County Clerk Mary Bedard, after consulting with the California Secretary of State's Office, said Perez's home near downtown Bakersfield was not in the district.
Elections law requires candidates to live within the four-county district, meaning Perez would be out of the running or would have to find a new place to live before Friday's filing deadline.
"She does not meet the constitutional requirement of residence in the district," Kern County Elections Chief Karen Rhea told The Californian Monday night.
Rhea's office had previously ruled that, because Rubio lived in the Bakersfield 595 precinct in 2010 when he was certified in a primary election as the Democratic candidate for the 16th Senate District, residents of that the precinct were allowed to enter the race to replace him, despite the fact the small strip of homes technically sits inside the 18th Senate District.
Kern County Elections officials incorrectly listed the precinct as part of the 16th Senate District in 2001.
"Our understanding that we were to conduct the election using the same boundaries that we used in 2010 was incorrect. We need to use the boundaries that were legally approved (by the Legislature) in 2001," Rhea said. "Constitutionally you have to be a resident of the district, and the district is not what we made it because of the error in 2001."
Perez chose Fresno to launch her campaign on Monday because the area is home to roughly half the district's registered voters. The rest are in Kern, Kings and Tulare counties.
Democrat Fran Florez, a Shafter City Council member, and Republican farmer Andy Vidak of Hanford are among those also seeking the Senate seat.
Earlier Monday, Perez had defended her decision to seek the post. She was responding to criticism that she is abandoning voters who only a few months ago elected her to the Board of Supervisors.
Perez was a guest Monday on "First Look with Scott Cox," the KERN Radio/Bakersfield Californian radio and webcast program. Cox has been among the critics of Perez's decision to seek higher office, which came after incumbent Rubio suddenly resigned.
Robert Price, The Californian's editorial page editor, asked Perez how she answers critics.
"Nothing I have done has triggered a special election," Perez said, referring to Rubio's resignation from the seat for a job with Chevron.
But given that the seat is now open, Perez said, she's talked to neighbors and voters, and gathered support for a run.
Perez said she'd still serve Arvin, Lamont and east Bakersfield, all in the 16th District, if elected, and there'd be more money available at the state level to serve constituents there. She noted that if she's elected, Gov. Jerry Brown would select her replacement for the 5th District seat.
As for questions about her residency -- brought up hours before the surprise phone call -- Perez said, "My home is currently in the 16th senatorial district and the 14th senatorial district. So when the boundaries change there will be no effect on me. I'm legitimately in both districts. Those lines do change somewhat, but I'm legitimately in both districts.
"I do not have to move. It's a cute little house. We are very comfortable there. We love it. It has been wonderful for us."
Talk turned to immigration reform, with Price asking Perez's plan for it. She said there currently isn't a system for people to become legal, and "we need that."
Perez added that there's money in the state budget to teach English to children in first through third grades, but it's not going for that purpose. She said that's an issue she'd tackle.
Alexander reports for the Fresno Bee. Burger is a Californian Staff Writer. Californian Staff Writer Christine Peterson contributed to this report.