By Mark Gutglueck
Thurston Smith, whose unlikely rise to the California Assembly in 2020 stunned many political pundits, was solidly drummed out of office this week in his contest against a savvier and more experienced political operator in the form of Tom Lackey.
Smith, an uncomplicated concrete contractor, came into political office in 2006 when he successfully vied for the Hesperia City Council with the support of Bill Postmus, who at that point was San Bernardino County’s First District supervisor and chairman of both the board of supervisors and the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee as well as a successful candidate for county assessor in that year’s election.
Smith served on the Hesperia City Council from 2006 to 2014, including a stint as mayor. He opted not to seek reelection in 2014, but in 2016, he ran for and was elected without opposition to the board of the Mojave Water Agency. In 2019, Congressman Paul Cook announced he would not seek reelection as a member of the House of Representatives representing California’s 8th Congressional District and would instead run for First District county supervisor. Almost immediately, Jay Obernolte, the incumbent assemblyman in the 33rd District from 2014 to 2020, announced he would not seek to remain in the lower California legislative house and would instead run to replace Cook. Smith announced his candidacy to succeed Obernolte in the Assembly. Smith placed first in the nonpartisan primary, and then defeating fellow Republican Rick Herrick, the mayor of Big Bear Lake, in the November general election.
Lackey, after an unsuccessful effort in 2012 to challenge incumbent Democrat Steve Fox in the 36th Assembly District in which he placed third in the March primary election behind both Fox and Republican Ron Smith, managed to capture first place in the 2014 primary and then outdistanced Fox in the November general election to obtain a place in the Assembly. In 2016, with roles reversed such that Fox was challenging him in the general election, Lackey was reelected 36th District Assemblyman. In 2018 and 2020, Lackey again bested Fox.
With the redistricting based upon the 2020 Census that occurred in 2021, both Smith and Lackey found themselves shoehorned by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission into the 34th Assembly District. They went up against one another in the June 2022 primary election, a contest which also featured Roger LaPlante, a former Democrat who was no longer aligned with any party; Raj Kahlon, a Democrat; Rita Ramirez Dean, a Democrat; and Paul Fornier, a Republican.
In San Bernardino County in that primary, Smith placed first with 18,625 of the 45,864 votes cast in the 34th District, for 40.61 percent. That placed him well ahead of Lackey, who finished in third, with 8,945 votes or 19.5 percent, behind Ramirez-Dean, the second-place finisher with 12,893 votes or 28.11 percent. LaPlante, Kahlon and Fornier all finished well off the pace, claiming a combined 11.78 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, on his home turf in Los Angeles County, Lackey brought in 11,303 votes or 45.36 percent. Ramirez-Dean again captured second place, with 6,087 votes or 24.43 percent. Smith ran in third place, with 4,211 votes or 16.90 percent. LaPlante, Kahlon and Fournier were also-rans with 13.31 percent among them.
In Kern County in June, Lackey finished in first, tallying 2,374 votes or 45.15 percent. Ramirez-Dean managed to capture second place there as well, with 1,404 votes or 26.7 percent. Smith ran in third, getting 827 votes for 15.73 percent.
The totals for votes in the 34th District in all three counties in the June race showed Smith in first place with 23,663 votes, Lackey in second place with 22,622 and Ramirez Dean getting 20,384. Thus, the Republicans Lackey and Smith went head-to-head on Tuesday.
As was the case in June, Smith outperformed Lackey in San Bernardino County, albeit not to the degree he had five months previously. As of yesterday, Thursday, November 10, Smith had accumulated 20,736 of the 40,656 votes counted to that point, for 51 percent. Lackey had 19,920 votes for 49 percent. In both Los Angeles County and Kern County, Smith seriously underperformed. Lackey notched 2,255 votes or 69.47 percent in Kern County to Smith’s 991 votes or 30.53 percent. Smith fared even worse in Los Angeles County, as Lackey better than doubled his votes, where the native son captured 16,987 votes to Smith’s 7,102, a ratio of 70.52 percent to 29.48 percent.
By Mark Gutglueck