Substantial Challenges For Two Longtime Incumbents Likely In 2014

(August 2) There are indications that in 2014, at least two of San Bernardino County’s leading politicians will need to withstand serious political challenges to remain in office.
In the case of Fourth District County Supervisor Gary Ovitt a persistent rumor is that Assemblyman Curt Hagman will vie for the supervisor’s post representing Chino Hills, Chino, Montclair, Ontario and southern Upland. Hagman’s intention next year has not been clarified, however, and his candidacy for supervisor has not been confirmed.
More certain is that Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar will challenge 31st District Congressman Gary Miller next year. Miller, who formerly represented the 42nd District, which covered the heavily Republican tri-county area of northeastern Orange County, southeastern Los Angeles County and southwestern San Bernardino County, after the redistricting following the 2010 Census opted not to fight it out with fellow Republican Ed Royce to remain in Congress representing Orange County and instead run in the 31st District, which spans across San Bernardino County from Rancho Cucamonga to Redlands.
In running in the 31st. the Republican Miller took a risk in that Democrats held a slight voter registration advantage over the GOP in the district. Miller, as an incumbent Congressman, however, had a huge fundraising advantage and he was further aided by California’s adoption in 2012 of open primaries, in which the top two-vote getters in the June election, regardless of party affiliation, qualified for the November run-off. Aguilar sought election, but was hampered by a large Democratic field, which included Justin Kim, Rita Ramirez-Dean, and Renea Wickman. In addition to Miller, the Republicans fielded Bob Dutton, who at that time was a member of the California State Senate. With the Democrat vote splitting four ways in the primary and the Republican vote splitting two ways, Miller and Dutton qualified for the November race, which Miller won.
As 2014 approaches, the Democrats appear to have learned from what occurred last year and are determined to not be outmaneuvered again. In this way, the party is coalescing behind Aguilar, who outpolled all of the other Democrats vying in the 31st in 2012.
In May, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has selected Aguilar as one of five candidates nationwide to be included in its Jumpstart program, which is intended to assist early-emerging Democrats seeking to unseat incumbent Republicans deemed to be vulnerable. In California, Aguilar has pulled in the endorsements of Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.
Money is pouring into Aguilar’s political war chest. More attention was drawn to him, ensuring even more contributions, when the Washington-based news organization, Politico last month named Aguilar one of “50 Politicos to watch 2013.”
Simultaneously, Democratic Party officials are seeking to encourage both Joe Baca, a Democrat who was a member of Congress from 1999 until he was ousted by another Democrat, Gloria Negrete-McLeod, last year, and Eloise Gomez Reyes, a longtime Democratic activist, to steer clear of an electoral effort in the 31st next year. By presenting a united front that is undiluted by competing Democratic candidates, Democratic strategists believe Aguilar can beat Miller in a toe-to-toe slugfest, despite Miller’s incumbency and formidable fundraising capability.
There are signs that Miller recognizes difficulty may lay ahead for him and there has been talk of his abandoning the 31st District in 2014 to run in the 45th Congressional District, where Republican Representative John Campbell has announced he will retire from Congress following the current term. Miller, however, has said he is committed to remaining put in the 31st District..
At the county seat in San Bernardino, where Gary Ovitt has been serving as the Fourth District Supervisor since a special election was held in 2004, reports are circulating that Curt Hagman, a former Chino Hills mayor and a member of the California Assembly since 2008, covets Ovitt’s position. In 2014, Hagman will be prohibited by California’s term limit restrictions from running for the Assembly again. Under the county’s term limit regulations, Ovitt will be eligible to run for one last term on the board of supervisors next year.
Both Hagman and Ovitt are Republicans and at least until lately, political allies. They endorsed each other in their last election efforts. Hagman is currently the chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee, i.e., the GOP’s county political apparatus, giving him considerable control over the party’s fundraising processes, including the ability to endow independent expenditure committees. This could leave Ovitt, a former Ontario mayor, at a disadvantage since the county has instituted campaign finance limits which have curtailed the ability of supervisorial candidates to draw money from individual donors with the exception of independent expenditure committees.
Reportedly, efforts are under way to persuade Ovitt to “voluntarily” choose not to seek reelection next year, a course of action that will be made easier given his pension as a retired teacher and the pension he can draw as a former supervisor. Neither Hagman nor Ovitt have at this point officially announced their respective 2014 intentions.

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