Capitol Alert

Cheryl Brown survives early challenge in contested re-election bid

Saxophonist Eddie M dances with Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, during a Sheila E. concert on the Capitol steps hosted by the Black Legislative Caucus on June 17, 2015.
Saxophonist Eddie M dances with Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, during a Sheila E. concert on the Capitol steps hosted by the Black Legislative Caucus on June 17, 2015. The Sacramento Bee file

Despite an unusual challenge from a fellow Democrat, Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown received enough support at a delegate vote in her San Bernardino-area district Saturday to secure the party’s endorsement at its upcoming convention.

Brown is one of several moderate Democrat lawmakers this year who attracted unexpected intraparty opponents in safely Democratic districts where re-election would otherwise be a mere formality. Speculation that the challengers are backed by environmentalists seeking revenge for the weakening of high-profile climate-change legislation last session blossomed into controversy over whether the incumbents were being targeted because of their race.

As an incumbent, Brown would normally have received the California Democratic Party’s endorsement automatically, but she faced objections from supporters of Eloise Gomez Reyes, an attorney who also ran for Congress in 2014. Yet at a pre-endorsement conference on Saturday, 80 percent of local delegates backed Brown, enough to advance to the consent calendar for the state party convention in San Jose at the end of February.

“We’ve been working hard to bring Democratic unity to the Inland Empire, and today’s confirmation of support validates this effort,” Brown said in a statement following the vote.

In another contentious intraparty battle, longtime Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, narrowly failed to win the pre-endorsement of his congressional district.

Seeking a ninth term this November, Honda once again faces intellectual property lawyer Ro Khanna, a favorite of Silicon Valley who lost to Honda by less than 5,000 votes in a costly and frequently hostile 2014 race. Honda is supported by the Democratic establishment and organized labor, but some allies have defected following the launch of an ongoing ethics investigation into whether Honda broke the law by using his congressional staff and other official resources to do campaign work.

Two-thirds of local Democratic delegates selected Honda, compared to 17 percent for Khanna. (The remaining 15 percent voted for no endorsement.) But that was just short of the 70 percent he needed for a spot on the consent calendar. The issue will now advance to an endorsing caucus at the convention, where either candidate will need only a simply majority.

Veteran Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Norwalk, will also proceed to an endorsing caucus. Running for a tenth term in Congress, competition from termed-out Assemblyman Roger Hernández, D-Baldwin Park, kept her to 62 percent at the pre-endorsement conference in her district.

After a shocking loss to an unknown outsider by 466 votes in 2014, former Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra managed a forceful start to his comeback bid. The Los Angeles Democrat, a prolific fundraiser once rumored to harbor aspirations of becoming Assembly speaker, scored 95 percent of a pre-endorsement vote. Assemblywoman Patty Lopez, a political novice from San Fernando who has sometimes confounded colleagues during her year at the Capitol, only received support from 4 percent of delegates.

The Democratic endorsements for two local legislative seats remained open after Saturday’s conferences and will continue on to the state convention. In the 3rd Senate District, which stretches from Yolo County to Napa County, Assemblyman Bill Dodd of Napa led former Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada of Davis, 55 percent to 43 percent. Davis Mayor Dan Wolk finished ahead in the overlapping 4th Assembly District, where he lost to Dodd in 2014, with 64 percent of delegates.

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 5:01 p.m. with more pre-endorsement results.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff