It has long been assumed that Modesto-area Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen would in 2018 seek the state Senate seat currently held by fellow Republican Tom Berryhill, who represents a district that covers much of the Fresno-Clovis region.
Those assumptions took a sharp turn Thursday, however, when Stanislaus County Supervisor Bill O’Brien said he wouldn’t seek a fourth term and Olsen immediately stepped up to say she would seek the seat.
“I am excited about this surprising opportunity to continue serving my community in elected office next year,” Olsen said in a text message to The Bee. “In this role, I’ll also be able to remain active advocating for the entire San Joaquin Valley as we work to deliver greater economic opportunity and prosperity to our region of the state.”
Olsen’s decision opens up the battle for Berryhill’s seat. He represents a district that is considered safe Republican. In January, Assemblyman Jim Patterson said he would move from the state Assembly and run for the seat in 2018, setting up a possible showdown with Olsen. Now that won’t happen.
The district, however, sprawls over all or part of 11 counties from Tulare in the south to Sacramento in the north. It crosses the Sierra Nevada and goes all the way to the Nevada border. So there are many parts of the foothill and mountain regions served by county supervisors or other elected officials who could also seek the seat.
Even though Fresno County is at the bottom of the district, geographically speaking, it has 57 percent of registered voters, according to registration statistics from the secretary of state’s office. If parts of the district in Tulare, Mariposa and Madera counties are added in, the region takes in close to two-thirds of all registered voters.
Olsen reaches her Assembly term limit this later this year, and she was planning to start ramping up her Senate campaign in the two intervening years, which likely would have included plenty of visits to Fresno and Clovis.
She refused to absolutely rule out a state Senate run, but said it was highly unlikely, given that she’d be just two years into her first Stanislaus County supervisor term, if she can win the seat.
Olsen starts her supervisor campaign in a strong position: She previously served on both the Modesto Planning Commission and the Modesto City Council before being elected to the State Assembly, and is being endorsed by Olsen.
In addition, Olsen’s announcement comes just days before the close of the registration period. If any other challenger wants the seat, they must jump through the required hoops by Wednesday.