Averting an intraparty battle with the outgoing Assembly speaker, state Sen. Marty Block announced Thursday that he will not seek re-election.
The San Diego Democrat said there were too many similarities between him and Toni Atkins, the Assembly colleague challenging him for his seat, to justify continuing in the race.
“The more I thought about it, the more it just didn’t make sense for us to be fighting,” Block said. “We can do so much more to move our agenda forward, an agenda we share, by working together.”
It’s rare for an incumbent to be challenged by a member of their own party, but Atkins, who is termed out of the Assembly this year, announced her candidacy back in September in bombshell fashion. She said Block had promised to serve only one term in the Senate, clearing a path for her in 2016, and was reneging on their deal, a claim that Block denied.
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Senate Democrats stood behind Block publicly, but his lower political profile and smaller campaign reserve made him an immediate underdog against Atkins. Block said Thursday that he and Atkins had long since moved past the controversy over the disputed deal.
In a statement, Atkins said she “was as surprised as his colleagues with Senator Block's announcement” and “will work very hard to measure up to the standards” set by senators from the district.
Block added he felt no pressure from the party to drop out.
“I guess I’m ready,” he said. “I’m ready to go to the next thing.”
Making his announcement from the Senate floor Thursday morning, Block said he had “greatly enjoyed every moment” with his colleagues, who flooded him with hugs and well wishes.
“Hey, quitter,” Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, joked. Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, clapped Block on the back and told him, “You did a nice job. A very nice job.”
A former university professor and community college trustee, Block said he hopes to continue working on higher education policy, particularly the development of community college bachelor’s degrees, which California is now piloting because of a bill he authored in 2014. Block said he is looking at several potential career opportunities not in elected office, but could not yet discuss them publicly.
Note to Block and Gov. Jerry Brown: California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris is retiring in April.
Editor’s note: This post was updated at 12:58 p.m. with Atkins’ statement.