Leon Discards Republican Mantel In Making Non-Partisan Bid For Assembly

(June 6) Gambling that he can make a seamless party affiliation shift, Ontario Mayor Paul Leon is looking to capitalize on the residual momentum from the just concluded 32nd California Senatorial District  Race in his current effort to represent the 52nd District in the California Assembly.
For almost a-decade-and-a- half Leon’s political aspirations seemed to take him no further than Ontario’s city limits. Appointed to the Ontario City Council in 1999, he was elected to that council position in his own right in 2000 and re-elected in 2004. In a special election in June 2005 he was chosen mayor and re-elected to a four year term in November 2006 and another in November 2010.
A Hispanic Republican, Leon was content to reign over San Bernardino County’s most financially successful city, a big fish in a medium-sized pond, where he has built up a sizeable following, partially because of his position at the head of municipal government but also in no small measure due to his life’s work, that of pastor at Ontario’s Hope Chapel Foursquare Church.
Ironically, it would be the action of another Republican mayor across the continent  – New York City’s Michael Bloomberg – and the misfortune of a local Hispanic Democratic Congressman – Joe Baca –  that would set off a series of events that has aroused in Leon a heretofore unexplored ambition to function in an elected capacity at the state level.
Baca, who came to Congress in a special election to replace longtime congressman George Brown in 1999, the same year Leon began his political career, had remained in Congress for fourteen years, being reelected by comfortable margins consistently in the Democratic-leaning districts he represented. Indeed, he appeared headed for easy reelection in 2012, having outpaced his only realistic challenger in the June primary, State Senator Gloria Negrete-McLeod, another Democrat. With California having transitioned to open primaries last year, Baca again faced Negrete-McLeod in the November general election. Baca prepared for a cakewalk against Negrete-McLeod, looking past her in anticipation of returning to Washington D.C. for his eighth term as a member of the House of Representatives.
Unbeknownst to Baca until too late, Bloomberg provided Negrete-McLeod with over $3 million from his political action committee, infusing her campaign with far more money than anyone counted on. With it she was able to send out multiple “hit pieces” tearing into Baca on his voting record along with campaign literature lionizing herself, augmented with a television ad blitz in the final week of the campaign. Caught flatfooted, Baca saw the election slip away from him and Negrete-Mcleod prevailed with 61,065 votes, or 54.35 percent, to Baca’s 51,285 votes, or 45.65 percent.
Negrete-McLeod yet had two years remaining on her term as state senator. Leon was among six candidates who vied to replace her.  In that race held March 12 were four Democrats – Assemblywoman Norma Torres, San Bernardino County Treasurer Larry Walker, Rialto School Board member Joanne Gilbert and Ontario Councilman Paul Vincent Avila. One other Republican, Pomona Planning Commissioner Ken Coble, ran.  Voter registration in the 32nd Senatorial District overwhelmingly favored the Democrats, with 48 percent registered with that party and 28 percent registered Republican.
Leon was able to run a respectable second in the contest, capturing 8,064 votes or 26.4 percent  in a district stretching from Pomona in Los Angeles County all the way to Colton and San Bernardino  in San Bernardino County. He forced a run-off with Torres, who polled 13,295 votes or 43.6 percent throughout the district.
Leon gamely soldiered on in the follow-up campaign, which concluded with an election held on May 14. Inevitably, Leon lost, but again had a respectable showing, given the voter registration disadvantage he had as a Republican. He garnered 13,445 votes, or 40.6 percent, to Torres’ 19,666 votes, or 59.39 percent.
Because of her victory, Torres has now vacated her Assembly seat in the 52nd District. Though they are not contiguous, the 52nd Assembly and the 32nd Senatorial districts cover much of the same territory. Fresh from a defeat but enjoying a relative advantage because of publicity from the just concluded campaign, Leon has jumped right back into the fray as one of nine candidates seeking to succeed the woman who defeated him.
This time around, however, Leon will be doing things a little differently. He will not be running as Republican. In his filing for candidacy, Leon put himself down as unaligned with any political party.
Several calculations went into the decision to mark the “declined to state” box on  the candidacy application Leon just filed. For starters, the Democratic registration advantage in the 52nd Assembly District  mimics that in the 32nd Senatorial – a 20 point spread. In the 52nd, 47 percent of the voters are Democrats and 27 percent are Republicans. And while Leon did succeed in gathering 40 percent of the vote on May 14, which was 12 percent more than were registered with his party, it was not enough to emerge victorious. This time around he hopes to again capture the Republican vote, but simultaneously reach out to Democrats to pad his totals.
Another reason Leon may find it worth downplaying his Republican Party ties is recent action taken by the city he leads. During the senatorial campaign, Leon hewed to the Republican line of eschewing governmental overregulation and he railed against excessive governmental red tape and environmental protection requirements such as the California Environmental Quality Act. He touted a pro-business agenda of economic revitalization that lambasted environmental lawsuits as anathema to good governance and public policy. But on May 30 the city of Ontario joined with San Bernardino County and the Los Angeles County cities of Culver City and Inglewood in filing a joint lawsuit challenging on environmental grounds the city of Los Angeles’ plan to modernize Los Angeles International Airport, including moving runways by 260 feet to improve airfield safety.
Ontario, which sees the lawsuit as a ploy to give it leverage in its effort to wrest control of Ontario Airport from Los Angeles, is alleging with San Bernardino County and Culver City and Inglewood that Los Angeles World Airports, the agency that operates and manages the airport, failed to provide adequate environmental review of the modernization plan’s effects, including ones on noise, traffic and air quality. The suit is seeking a delay in the project.
It may now be difficult for Leon to campaign using the same themes he did before when he lambasted Democrats for using environmental law to delay progress and economic development and modernization when he himself is a plaintiff in what is a quintessential environmental lawsuit.
Instead, Leon has now cast himself as a politician seeking to elevate himself and his constituents above the partisan fray.
“I’m tired of the dysfunctional nature of partisan politics in Sacramento,” he said. “Ultimately it’s hard-working families who are hurt by this gridlock.  I want to represent all the people of the 52nd Assembly District, not just one faction.  As a councilman and now as mayor of Ontario, I’ve served the people in a non-partisan way.  I want to take that same style of leadership to Sacramento to get California working again.”
He continued with this new theme. “The partisan nature of Sacramento makes representatives vote along party lines rather than what’s in the best interest of the people who elected them,” he said. “If elected, I don’t want to be defined by a political party, but rather by the people who I represent.  We need to stop focusing so much on who’s from what political party and instead focus on the issues candidates stand for.  By registering as a DTS [declined to state], voters can now look at my plan to increase jobs, make sure the Gold Line reaches Ontario Airport, fund our schools and fight for local control of Ontario Airport.”
Leon said he is running because “I look at the direction California is headed and I’m worried for my grandchildren.  I want to take my fiscal conservative principles to Sacramento to balance our budget, fund our schools, and get California working again.”
Leon said he wants to replicate his Ontario success in Sacramento.
“I believe Sacramento should work like the city of Ontario; putting aside petty differences in order to get the job done and better our community,” he said. “Looking at the list of candidates, I truly believe I’m the best qualified to represent our district.”
The other candidates who have declared their candidacies are  Ontario Councilman Paul Vincent Avila, a Democrat;  Chino Councilman Tom Haughey, a Democrat;  business owner Dorothy Pineda, a Republican;  Pomona Councilman Freddie Rodriguez, a Democrat;  Jason Rothman, a Pomona Unified School District board member and a Democrat; former legislative staffer Manuel Saucedo, a Democrat;   Southern California Air Quality Management District staffer Danielle Soto, a Democrat; and political organizer Doris Louise Wallace, a Democrat.

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