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Former Lawmakers Win Special Senate Elections

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(credit: AP)

(credit: AP)

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Two former Los Angeles-area lawmakers claimed seats in the state Senate in special elections Tuesday that were the first campaigns under California’s open primary law.

Republican Sharon Runner defeated her lone rival to win the seat held by her husband until last year, while Democrat Ted Lieu defeated seven opponents. Both are former members of the state Assembly.

Runner, from Lancaster, had 68 percent of the vote with more than half of precincts reporting. She won the Senate District 17 seat over Democrat Darren Parker, a small-business owner from Lancaster, who had 32 percent support.

With half of precincts reporting, Lieu, of Torrance, had 57 percent support in his bid to represent Los Angeles County’s 28th Senate District. He needed more than 50 percent to avoid a runoff.

“I’m thrilled that the voters elected me as the senator from the 28th Senate District,” Lieu said.

Runner and Parker were the only two candidates vying to represent a district that includes parts of Kern, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

“I’m excited to go back and work for the people in Sacramento and do what I can to help families and businesses get back on track and the state not spending all their hard-earned money,” Runner said in a telephone interview after her victory. “We’re looking at a lot of regulations that are out there on businesses. There are all these regulations that no one even knows how to implement.

Runner, 56, expects to be sworn in Friday, giving Republicans 15 seats in the 40-member Senate. She previously followed her husband into the Assembly, winning his seat in 2002 after he was termed out. She served six years before she was termed out in 2008.

In 2009, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed her to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, which oversees farmworker relations. The Republican governor rescinded the appointment after labor advocates objected, appointing her instead to the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. Both positions are considered soft landing spots for legislators and paid $128,109 a year.

Lieu, 41, served in the Assembly from 2005 until he was termed out last year. He lost a Democratic primary bid for state attorney general last year.

Republican challenger Bob Valentine had 25 percent of the vote. His campaign manager, Ashley Hemkin, did not return telephone messages late Tuesday.

Under the new primary system, candidates from all recognized political parties are on the same ballot. Voters opted for the new system last year as a way to promote less partisan candidates. Political strategists say the open primary system will require candidates to appeal to a wider array of voters.

The Los Angeles County seat was vacated when former Democratic Sen. Jenny Oropeza died in office last year of complications from a blood clot. Former Sen. George Runner, a Republican, was elected to the state Board of Equalization in November, creating the opening in the 17th district that was claimed by his wife.

In the contest to succeed Oropeza, of Long Beach, Gov. Jerry Brown and other leading Democrats campaigned for Lieu.

Democrats are seeking support for the governor’s proposal to close the state’s $26.6 billion budget deficit. Brown has proposed about $12.5 billion in spending cuts and borrowing, but also wants lawmakers to ask voters in a June special election to extend temporary income, sales and vehicle tax increases for five years.

“The first priority — and it’s not just mine, it should be every elected officials’ priority — is to get California’s economy moving again, and to create and retain jobs,” Lieu said in a telephone interview. “I look forward to working with Gov. Brown to getting our fiscal house in order and to crafting a budget that moves California forward.”

Democrats will hold a 25-15 majority in the Senate after Tuesday’s elections but need 27 votes for the two-thirds majority required to pass tax or fee increases.

Lieu faced a fellow Democrat, Kevin McGurk of Venice, along with four Republicans: Valentine, of Manhattan Beach; Jeffrey Fortini of El Segundo; Martha Flores Gibson of Long Beach; and James Thompson of Lomita. Only Valentine spent significant money on the race, according to filings with the secretary of state.

Two candidates ran with no party preference: Michael Chamness of Venice and Mark Lipman of Los Angeles.

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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