Capitol Alert

Rep. Lois Capps to retire, touching off a scramble

A screenshot of Rep. Lois Capps’ YouTube announcement that she would retire at the end of her current term.
A screenshot of Rep. Lois Capps’ YouTube announcement that she would retire at the end of her current term. Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara

Democratic Rep. Lois Capps announced Wednesday that she will not seek re-election in 2016, potentially setting up a high-dollar battle in her central coast district, which has only a small Democratic voter registration edge.

The 24th Congressional District was almost completely revamped by the state’s independent redistricting commission after the 2010 census. It stretches from Santa Barbara, Capps’ hometown, to Paso Robles and Democrats outnumber Republicans by just three percentage points, 37 percent to 34 percent, with a high proportion of independents.

Capps, 77, faced a stiff challenge last year from Republican Chris Mitchum, son of movie star Robert Mitchum, and won re-election by just 3.8 percentage points.

“It’s time for me to return home,” Capps said in a YouTube video.

She won the seat in a 1997 special election after her husband, Walter, died of a heart attack just nine months into his first congressional term.

After Capps’ retirement announcement, the political buzz over potential successors began immediately with her daughter, Laura Capps, atop many lists due to her family and high-level political connections. She was a White House speechwriter during the Bill Clinton administration and is married to Democratic political consultant Bill Burton. who was President Barack Obama’s press spokesman in the 2008 campaign.

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, a Democrat, announced Wednesday that she would seek the seat. “I am running for Congress to get things done in Washington. We need more common sense and fewer political stalemates,” Schneider said in a statement.

Another potential Democratic candidate is Assemblyman Das Williams, who also hails from Santa Barbara and will be forced out of the Assembly next year by term limits, but he’d almost certainly step aside for Laura Capps.

Santa Barbara Republican small businessman Justin Fareed announced he would run. “The real choice in this election will not be between a Democrat or a Republican, but rather the progress that will move us forward in a positive direction or the status quo that most certainly will sacrifice it,” he said in a statement.

Mitchum could run again but the most likely Republican possibility is Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian of San Luis Obispo, one of the Legislature’s most centrist GOP members. He reportedly is taking a few days to discuss it with his family before making a decision.

Achadjian also must leave the Assembly next year due to term limits and has taken out papers to run for the state Senate seat now held by Democrat William Monning, who’s eligible for one more term in the upper house. Monning’s incumbency and the 17th Senate District’s more than 15-point Democratic registration advantage would make that race problematic for Achadjian, however.

Still another Republican possibility is former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, who ran against Capps in 2012 and lost by 10 percentage points.

It’s even possible that former Republican Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, who ran for Congress last year from a neighboring district but lost, could shift to the 24th CD. It includes a tiny slice of Ventura County, Gorell’s home turf.

Editor’s note: This post was updated April 8 to include Schneider and Fareed’s candidacy announcements.

Call Jim Miller, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5521. Follow him on Twitter @jimmiller2.