Kingsburg Democrat Joaquin Arambula hadn’t officially won his 31st Assembly District race, but that didn’t stop him from becoming an official member of the California Legislature.
Newly minted Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon swore in Arambula on Thursday morning. A few hours later, Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth certified the election, making Arambula’s win official.
“He’s the first member I’ve sworn in,” Rendon said in an interview. “He’s been a candidate for a bit now, so already it seems like he’s been part of the team.”
Arambula emerged as the leading vote-getter in an April 7 special election to fill the unexpired term of Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea, who resigned a year before the end of his final term to take a job in the pharmaceutical industry. Arambula had to win more than 50 percent of the vote to win the seat outright and avoid a June 7 runoff.
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The final numbers, certified to the Secretary of State’s Office just before noon, put Arambula at 53.6 percent, well ahead of Fresno Republican Clint Olivier, who finished with 40.2 percent. Caruthers Democrat Ted Miller finished a distant third with 5.9 percent of the vote.
“It was amazing,” Arambula said of the swearing-in ceremony. “It has been a bit of a whirlwind.”
With that, he got right to work, taking his seat in the Assembly chamber, getting briefed on legislation and voting on 10 bills. He also got the keys to his fifth-floor Capitol office and began setting up. At this point, he has no committee assignments and is going through résumés as he works to hire a staff.
Arambula said his busy Thursday showed the importance of having a 31st Assembly District representative now instead of in June after a runoff, and credited voters who “did make a statement when they voted more than 50 percent.”
This is only the first step for Arambula. He now must win a second election in November to serve a full two-year term.
The same three candidates – Arambula, Miller and Olivier – are on the ballot for that election. First up is the June 7 primary. The top two finishers, regardless of political party, will advance to the November general election.
Already, Arambula was driving back from Sacramento on Thursday afternoon and planned to attend a Fresno Unified parents conference.
“I still am running this year,” Arambula said. “It never stops, so I need to make sure I’m in the district.”
It has been a bit of a whirlwind.
New Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula
Rendon said winning the seat in April was a priority. It has been in Democratic Party hands for 40 years, and Rendon didn’t want to start his tenure by losing a seat that has been solidly blue for such a long time.
“This was an important race for us, an important race for the (Democratic) caucus,” Rendon said.
If Arambula can win in November, he will be under new term limits that would allow him to serve 12 years – or six two-year terms.
Rendon said he looks forward to having Arambula in the caucus, saying his health care background and experience as an emergency room physician from an agricultural area of the state will allow him, along with the longer term limits, to develop valuable policy expertise.
He also said he understands that Arambula represents a part of the state with unique challenges.
“We have a lot of different breeds in Sacramento,” Rendon said. “Every part of the state is unique.”
The key, Rendon said, is to “strike that balance” that allows members like Arambula to advocate for the needs of his own district while also “doing things that are right for all of California.” The speaker said part of his challenge will be helping members to do that.
Arambula’s father, Juan, ran into trouble with Democratic Party leadership for strongly advocating for his region when he represented the same district. For that, the elder Arambula was stripped of prime committee assignments and sent to the state Capitol’s worst office. He later left the Democratic Party and finished his term in 2010 as an independent.