Capitol Alert

Assemblyman Mike Gatto decides against Senate run

Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, displays his cell phone, in Sacramento, Calif., the type of device his proposed legislation would allow California drivers to use to show proof on insurance.
Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, displays his cell phone, in Sacramento, Calif., the type of device his proposed legislation would allow California drivers to use to show proof on insurance. AP

Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, has withdrawn from the race for a Southern California Senate district, avoiding the prospect of a bitter intraparty primary battle with a former lawmaker for a seat Republicans already eye as a pickup opportunity.

In an email to supporters, Gatto listed numerous factors for the decision, including wanting to spend more time with his young and potentially growing family, as well as the unsolved case of his slain father. “At this moment, my family needs me, and they must be my first priority,” said Gatto, 41, who is terming out.

There were other factors as well.

“I believe the last thing the voters of my district need is a divisive campaign,” he said. “And the party needs to focus on the big picture, instead of costly internecine fights.”

State Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada Flintridge, currently represents the Burbank-to-Upland 25th Senate District but has to leave office next year because of term limits. That set the stage for a showdown between Gatto and former Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, stirring early fears among some party leaders that, despite holding a double-digit lead in voter registration, a nasty and expensive primary contest could only help longtime Republican Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich.

Another candidate in the race is Democrat Phlunte’ Riddle.

Gatto, an attorney who once worked as an aide to U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, won the seat in a special election after then-Assemblyman Paul Krekorian stepped down to serve on the Los Angeles City Council. Gatto appeared on the ballot a fourth time in 2010, easily winning re-election.

In his note, he described himself at the time as young, idealistic and with a mission of making laws more sensible. Among the accomplishments he listed was overhauling the Proposition 65 requirements for publishing lists of cancer-causing chemicals, improving DNA laws and instituting an alert system to capture hit-and-run perpetrators.

Gatto said he’s tried to be a “different kind of lawmaker” in other ways, as well. As one of the Legislature’s most prolific posters to social media, he presented himself as a “big-picture” thinker. “Let the well-being of the people be the ultimate law,” he wrote in a tweet pinned to his profile.

Unlike most of his peers, he rarely, if ever, skipped out from voting on a bill. During the 2015 session, Gatto was the only lawmaker who never missed a vote, records show.

Said Gatto: “I've answered every e-mail sent by my constituents. I've never taken an out-of-state junket. I've voted independently, just like my district and my heart tell me to ... All the while, I haven't missed a vote in 9,370 opportunities, a streak that we are told is the longest of any legislator in the nation.”

Four potentially tight state Senate races next year could pare the Democratic Party's edge in the upper house. Video by Jim Miller, Bee Capitol Bureau.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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