Capitol Alert

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones plans 2016 challenge of Democratic Rep. Ami Bera

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones talks during the March dedication of a memorial bench in honor of fallen deputy Danny Oliver on Friday, March 13, 2015. Jones, a Republican, plans to announce Monday he will run against Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove.
Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones talks during the March dedication of a memorial bench in honor of fallen deputy Danny Oliver on Friday, March 13, 2015. Jones, a Republican, plans to announce Monday he will run against Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove. hamezcua@sacbee.com

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones will run against Rep. Ami Bera next year, an early sign that Sacramento County’s 7th Congressional District once again will be one of the nation’s House battlegrounds.

Jones, joined by supporters, “will make an important political announcement” in Rancho Cordova on Monday, political consulting firm Gilliard Blanning and Associates said in a press release.

Jones, a Republican, previously expressed interest in the seat. Friday, Sacramento political consultant Doug Elmets said Jones will run and called Jones “the last, best hope” for a district that thwarted well-funded GOP campaigns in 2012 and 2014.

“I would think that Ami Bera’s difficulties in the last couple of elections are reason enough for somebody as credible as Sheriff Jones to run,” said Elmets, a Republican.

For Bera, D-Elk Grove, the challenge suggests that 2016 will be no different from all three of his congressional campaigns: very expensive and very close.

1,455 votesDemocrat Ami Bera’s margin of victory in 2014 over Republican Doug Ose

Bera lost his 2010 race against Rep. Dan Lungren in what was then the 3rd Congressional District. But Bera defeated Lungren two years later in the redrawn 7th Congressional District and bested former Rep. Doug Ose in 2014. In both of those races, Bera trailed on Election Day but overtook his opponents as officials processed late-arriving mail ballots and provisional ballots.

During last year’s Bera-Ose race, spending by outside interests known as super PACs topped $13 million, the most of any House contest in the country. Mudslinging TV ads ran in heavy rotation throughout the Sacramento region.

(If using The Bee's mobile app, click here to see an interactive map of the 2014 results.)

Jones’ political career took off after the then-sheriff’s captain defeated Sheriff’s Department colleague Jim Cooper, an Elk Grove councilman at the time, in an expensive 2010 battle to succeed Sheriff John McGinness. Jones won re-election to a four-year term last year, meaning he would still be sheriff even if he loses next November.

Jones has been outspoken on immigration issues in recent months. After the arrest of an undocumented immigrant for killing a Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy and a Placer County sheriff’s deputy during a violent crime spree last October, Jones took to YouTube to urge President Barack Obama to push for “meaningful immigration reform.”

Jones has not opened a campaign committee, according to federal records. Bera had $912,030 on hand as of Sept. 30 following a third quarter in which he raised almost $356,000. At a comparable point two years ago, Bera had $899,000 on hand after raising $462,000 during the third quarter of 2013.

Democrats hold a 2.4 percentage point advantage over Republicans in the district, which covers the Sacramento County suburbs. Political prospects for Democrats typically are much better during presidential election years because turnout is higher among younger and nonwhite voters who tend to support Democrats. And congressional Democrats, after two tough races in the district, won’t be caught napping.

“If this is the best Republicans can do in California’s 7th Congressional District, voters will have an easy choice at the ballot box next November,” said Barbara Solish, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

In Jones, though, Bera faces a rival with a popular job title, high name recognition and long-standing ties to community groups around the district. The sheriff’s deputy union, which rallied behind Cooper in 2010, supported Jones’ unopposed re-election.

9,191 votesDemocrat Ami Bera’s margin of victory in 2012, a presidential election year, over Republican Dan Lungren

“There's no better strategy to getting re-elected than just doing a good job,” said Tab Berg, a political consultant who has worked with Jones.

Bera also could face difficulties within his own party in 2016. Bera, who has received strong backing from organized labor in all of his campaigns, infuriated labor groups earlier this year with his support for presidential fast-track authority in the trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Asked Friday to describe the status of labor’s relationship with Bera, Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation federation replied, “It’s complicated.”

“There are still residual hard feelings from that vote, and there are still grave concerns we have about his positions on trade generally,” Smith said.

He said Bera could begin to make amends by opposing the overall trade deal, which is expected to come up for a vote next year.

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