SACRAMENTO (KPIX 5) – Last Friday, State Senator Michael Rubio (D-Bakersfield) announced that he was resigning from his senate seat effective immediately to become the government relations manager for Chevron. His announcement came on the last day for legislators to introduce new bills to be considered this session.
Rubio had been working with Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) to propose reforms to the California Environmental Quality Act and the two men were expected to announce the reform on Friday.
Instead, Rubio ended his term and with that move, he also ended the Democratic Party’s supermajority in the Senate.
At the beginning of this year, Democrats had two more seats than they needed to have a supermajority in the senate, but senators Gloria Negrete McLeod and Juan Vargas were elected to Congress last November, so they left the senate early in January, leaving it just one Democrat away from losing the supermajority. That one Democrat is Rubio.
On March 12, there will be special primary elections to fill Negrete McLeod and Vargas’ old seats, and if a candidate gets a majority of the vote, he or she will be declared the winner and the supermajority will be back. If a runoff is necessary, it’ll be held on May 14.
Rubio’s seat will also have to be filled by a special election, and local Republicans are none too pleased about the fact that taxpayers will have to foot the bill for it. Elections aren’t cheap, costing tens of thousands of dollars at minimum.
Governor Jerry Brown has two weeks to announce a date for the replacement election to be held in 126-140 days putting the election date in June – right around when the legislature is voting on the budget.
His district (Senate District 16) is 50 percent Democrat and 28 percent Republican, but special elections favor the party that is more organized and can get out the vote when there’s nothing sexy on the ballot, so if Republicans can find a candidate and mobilize their troops, Democrats won’t be able to take this seat for granted.
With his district some 300 miles away from Sacramento, Rubio said the constant need to travel has been interfering with the time he needs to spend with his family, especially now that he has a 15-month-old baby with special needs.
His family will stay in Sacramento, where his daughter can continue to receive treatment at UC Davis. Political watchers are used to reading “spend more time with my family” to mean “some horrible scandal is about to break” but in this case, there’s no evidence that Rubio has any skeletons in his closet or dicey justifications for resigning.
Unless you count the move to Chevron as a dicey justification.
Consumer watchdog groups are already up in arms about Rubio’s decision and the dangerous precedent this sets for future elected officials who may use their time in office to audition for a corporate job instead of serving constituents.
According to one researcher, the last time a state legislator cut his or her term short to take a private sector job was when, in 1997 Assemblyman Louis Calder resigned to join a non-profit.
While he’ll be legally barred from directly lobbying on behalf of Chevron for one year, Rubio still has a killer contact list and institutional knowledge about his former colleagues that his staffers at Chevron can use.
Rubio has been a relatively pro-business Democrat throughout his time on the Kern County Board of Supervisors and in the senate where he has served since 2011. Democrats who are pushing for CEQA reform are feeling the pain of a loss of one of their own. With unions and environmentalists – two big Democrat constituencies – lining up to oppose reform, Steinberg and Governor Brown need all the support from moderate Democrats like Rubio they can get.
Said one surprised Jerry Brown, “I was kind of counting on him for this year.”
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