Abel Maldonado
Paul Wellman (file)

It’s 614 days until the 2012 congressional elections, but incumbent Representative Lois Capps isn’t leaving any doubt about her plans.

“I am going to run for reelection,” the Santa Barbara Democrat told The Independent. “I will have the same kind of strong and aggressive grassroots campaign I’ve always had.”

It was the first public comment about her future intentions by Capps, who represents the 23rd Congressional District, since former Republican lieutenant governor Abel Maldonado shook up the local political landscape last week by launching a 2012 bid for a Central Coast House seat.

Capitol Letters

The unusually early maneuvering by Capps, reelected just four months ago, and by Maldonado, a longtime GOP fixture who was beaten out for Lieutenant Governor by Democrat Gavin Newsom last November, reflects a dramatically new political dynamic confronting all California candidates.

For the first time, an independent citizen’s commission is in charge of the every-10-years task of redrawing the maps for congressional and legislative districts, based on the 2010 Census; simultaneously, the state’s election rules have substantially changed after voters approved a ballot initiative last June aimed at boosting the chances of moderate candidates in primary races, dominated in recent years by members of the right and left wings of the two major parties who’ve been able to run in gerrymandered districts.

Taken together, these political permutations will shape a new, uncertain, and unpredictable political terrain for 2012, a sweeping shift that is motivating candidates to declare their ambitions early and clearly, not only to set down a marker on what they consider their turf but also to start building support and raising money faster and further in advance than they might have done under the old rules.

At this point, it remains unclear exactly where the 2012 congressional lines will be, as the California Citizens Redistricting Commission is still in the early stages of the reapportionment process. Capps’s current district overwhelmingly favors Democrats, who hold a 47-27 percent edge in registration over Republicans (about 21 percent of the district’s registered voters are decline-to-state independents, while the rest are affiliated with smaller parties), but is likely to become more competitive after redistricting. The other nearby districts in the region that are in play in reapportionment are the 22nd, which includes much of San Luis Obispo County, and the 24th, which runs into northern Santa Barbara County; both are held by Republicans, Congressmembers Kevin McCarthy and Elton Gallegly, respectively.

Maldonado, a Santa Maria resident, filed papers with the Federal Election Commission formally establishing his campaign committee last week. As a practical matter, the move sends a strong signal to other local Republicans who might be eyeing the race that he is first in line for the opportunity to win a House seat. A moderate who infuriated more conservative legislative Republicans for supporting a 2009 tax increase while he was serving in the State Senate, Maldonado is also the sponsor of Proposition 14, the ballot measure that established the new “open primary” system.

“I have a proven track record of being independent, bipartisan, fiscally responsible, and a problem solver,” he said in launching his campaign. “I plan on providing that governing style to our nation’s Capitol on behalf all the people of the Central Coast.”

Capps, meanwhile, has been pressed privately by some Democrats in Santa Barbara in recent days to declare her goal of winning an eighth term in the House, both to prevent Maldonado from stealing an early march and to make her intentions clear to members of her own party who might covet the congressional seat.

In the interview, Capps said that, for now, she is far less focused on politics than on battling majority Republicans in their effort to repeal national health-care legislation, and on preventing projected job losses that Democrats argue would occur and stunt the nascent economic recovery if the GOP succeeds in cutting $61 billion in spending to reduce the massive federal deficit.

“Brinksmanship is alive and well,” she said of GOP threats to shut down the government if they don’t get their way on deficit reduction. “These blind cuts … are penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

Among other local impacts, Capps said, UCSB would be hit with sharp reductions in research and development funds, while money to spur growth of women-owned businesses would also be curtailed. Repeal of health care, she added, would mean that insurance companies could deny medical coverage to more than 100,000 individuals, including thousands of children, in her district.

“This new majority,” Capps said, “has a slash-and-burn mentality.”


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