Political Notebook

Assembly battle to replace Perea could draw several hopefuls

Joaquin Arambula
Joaquin Arambula

The race next year to replace termed-out Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea in the state Assembly could soon get crowded.

Joaquin Arambula is in. And now it seems very likely that at least two more candidates will vie for the 31st Assembly District seat: Fresno Democrat Luis Chavez and Fresno Republican Clint Olivier are actively exploring runs, and Olivier has already filed a candidate intention statement and established a fundraising committee.

The battle to replace Perea could be pitched, because the seat is “open.” Elections without incumbents always attract lots of candidates. Another enticement is the next Assembly member will serve under the new term-limit rules. Perea was limited to three two-year terms, or six years total. The next representative can serve six two-year terms, or up to 12 years before reaching their term limit.

For that reason, it is almost certain to be a dogfight.

Chavez collecting endorsements

“We’re obviously looking at it,” Chavez says. “I’ve been going to meetings and listening to concerns.”

Chavez last year made an unsuccessful state Senate run, losing to incumbent Hanford Republican Andy Vidak. But Chavez notes that there is a lot of overlap in the Fresno County part of Vidak’s Senate district, which would help him with name identification. And, he adds, he won the Fresno County part of the district by 15 percentage points — and in a tough election year for Democrats. Chavez is also currently a Fresno Unified School District trustee.

On top of that, Chavez says he’s been collecting endorsements and securing campaign contribution commitments. Among those, he says, are labor organizations, an area Chavez might be able to exploit over Arambula, whose father Juan was never too popular with unions during his time in the Assembly.

“They know me, and I’ve got a good track record of working with them,” Chavez says of labor groups. “They consider me a friend of labor.”

In just about every way, Chavez sounds like a candidate, but he says he isn’t ready to officially say yes. He says he’ll talk it over with his family in the next month and then make a final decision and announcement after the July 4 holiday.

Olivier sounds the part

Olivier, a current Fresno City Council member, also sounds like a candidate (and has for a few months) — though as with Chavez, nothing from him is official.

“I’m interested in spending the next 18 months talking with people of this Assembly district and continuing to learn what they need,” Olivier says. “They need a strong advocate. The 31st Assembly District has always had a competent person in the seat, a very strong advocate for our district. I’m looking forward to continuing that.”

Olivier’s Fresno City Council district has overlap with the 31st Assembly District.

Arambula re-registered

Arambula, an emergency room doctor, made his bid official a month ago. He moved from Clovis to Kingsburg and re-registered as a Democrat. He had been registered as a no party preference voter, which means he wasn’t affiliated with any political party.

More to come?

Chavez says he thinks the field could grow to five or six candidates.

One name mentioned of late is Kingsburg Democrat Michael Eggman, who last year unsuccessfully ran against Turlock Republican Jeff Denham for Congress. Eggman couldn’t be reached for comment.

The key to replacing Perea could be how many Democrats enter the race. Under the state’s election rules, the top two finishers in the June 2016 primary election will advance to the general election — regardless of political party.

If multiple Democrats enter the race and Olivier is the only Republican, he almost certainly would advance to the general election, and that would leave the Democrats to fight it out for the other spot on the general election ballot.

But in the end, the 31st District is made for a Democrat to win. Democrats hold a 20-percentage-point registration edge and Republican registration is at a paltry 28%.

Republicans are expected to push registration in the district and Olivier says he’s won Democrat support in his two Fresno City Council races.

“We’re still a year from the primary and a year and a half from the general election,” Olivier says. “It’s still very early. I’m very confident people of the 31st District are people who vote the candidate and not the party. We’re going to put that to the test, and I’m very optimistic.”

Assembly District 31

▪ 48.25% Democrat

▪ 28.70% Republican

▪ 18.69% No Party Preference