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The Definitive Guide to San Diego's Political Musical Chairs

State Sen. Joel Anderson is challenging County Supervisor Dianne Jacob in 2016. Assemblyman Rocky Chavez is looking to advance to the U.S. Senate. And Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins has filed paperwork for a state Senate campaign – five years from now. Can’t keep up with who’s on first? We’ve assembled this guide to help you keep track.

San Diego lawmakers are playing another round of musical chairs.

State Sen. Joel Anderson, who just won re-election in November, is challenging fellow Republican County Supervisor Dianne Jacob in 2016. After just one term in the Assembly, Rocky Chavez is looking to advance to the U.S. Senate. And Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins has filed paperwork for a state Senate campaign – five years from now.

Can’t keep up with who’s on first? We’ve assembled this guide to help you keep track – until the Supreme Court decides to reset the game board.

Object of the Game

Obtain a safe seat and remain in office as long as possible.

Game Pieces

7 Assembly seats

4 Senate seats

5 congressional seats

Rules of Play: Vacancies, Special Elections and Term Limits

Any player who enters the game after 2012 is subject to different term limits.

Back in 1990, California voters passed Proposition 140, which limited politicians to three terms (six years) in the Assembly and two terms (eight years) in the Senate. In 2012, California voters passed Proposition 28, which changed term limits to 12 years in either house – but it doesn’t apply to lawmakers in office before June 2012. As a result of the change, there’s less incentive for a member of the Assembly elected after 2012 to switch to the Senate. Some senators, however, such as Ben Hueso and Marty Block, who were under the old rules, can fit in another Assembly term. They’ll be looking to switch back to the lower house, starting in 2020.

San Diego politicians who fit under the old rules include: Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and Assemblyman Brian Jones and state Sens. Joel Anderson, Pat Bates, Marty Block and Ben Hueso. The new rules apply to: Assembly members Marie Waldron, Rocky Chavez, Brian Maienschein, Lorena Gonzalez and Shirley Weber.

State senators get a free chance at another office.

State senators serve four-year terms, unlike members of Congress and the Assembly, whose terms are two years. That gives every senator two free shots at another office.

If a state senator wins her free chance, up to two members of the Assembly get a free chance to win the vacant Senate seat.

Under the state’s 2011 independent redistricting plan, most state Senate seats were created by nesting two state Assembly districts. That means if a state senator vacates his or her seat, two members of the Assembly have a free chance to seek a promotion to the upper house – without risking their Assembly seats. In 2012, then-Sen. Juan Vargas won his free shot at Congress, after Rep. Bob Filner was elected mayor. Vargas’ victory gave then-Assemblyman Ben Hueso a free chance at the state Senate in a 2013 special election.                                      

If an Assembly member wins his free chance, a new player may enter the game.

The final domino to fall: the special election to fill the Assembly seat created after the special election for state Senate. In 2013, after Hueso won the Senate special election, labor leader Lorena Gonzalez won the special election for Hueso’s vacant Assembly seat.

A speaker of the Assembly may exit the game, and then re-enter at a later point without any penalty.

Fundraising, name identification and volunteers are all harder to obtain when you’re out of office. That explains why lawmakers are so eager to play musical chairs. The one politician who can leave office is the Assembly speaker. Last November, Bob Hertzberg, who served as speaker from 2000-2002, returned to Sacramento after 12 years out of office.

The game board is reset every 10 years, or whenever a court decides.

Every 10 years, the game board is reset with redistricting – the process of redrawing districts. That could happen sooner if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to invalidate California’s current redistricting process.

The Players

Pat Bates, Senate District 36: Senate until 2022

Elected to the state Assembly in 1998, Bates returned to the Senate after two terms on the Orange County Board of Supervisors. She’s subject to the old term limit rules and will stay put in her safe Republican seat until she’s termed out in 2022.

Joel Anderson, Senate District 38: Campaign for County Supervisor in 2016, State Assembly in 2018

Elected to the Assembly in 2006, Anderson is subject to the old term limit rules. He was re-elected to the state Senate in 2014, and could hold his safe Republican seat until 2018. But Anderson’s already made clear his plans to challenge San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob in 2016. If that campaign fails, he can run for a final term in the Assembly in 2018. He’s formally filed paperwork for the 71st Assembly District, and holds $10,250 in a campaign account for that race. Under one scenario, Anderson could run for three different offices in six years (state Senate in 2014, county supervisor in 2016; state Assembly in 2018).

Marty Block, Senate District 39: Senate until 2020

Elected to the Assembly in 2008, Block is subject to the old term limit rules. He was elected to the state Senate in 2012 and will be up for re-election in 2016. Democrats only have a single-digit edge in voter registration in Block’s district, but turnout in 2016 should favor Dems. Block’s bigger threat is from Speaker Toni Atkins, who has opened a campaign account for the seat in 2020. Atkins could also use those funds to challenge Block in 2016. After his Senate term expires, Block can run for a final term in the Assembly.

Ben Hueso, Senate District 40: Senate until 2022

Hueso won his Senate seat in 2013 during San Diego’s last game of musical chairs when then-Sen. Juan Vargas moved up to Congress. Hueso can take advantage of a loophole in California’s old term limits law, which allows him to remain in the Senate until 2022. After 10 years in the Senate, Hueso could then return for a final term in the Assembly.

Brian Jones, Assembly District 71: Termed out of Assembly in 2016, Senate campaign in 2017 or 2018

Jones will be termed out of the Assembly in 2016. He’s the biggest beneficiary of Anderson’s possible campaign for county supervisor. Left with nowhere to go in 2016, Jones would need to wait until 2018 for Anderson’s Senate seat to open up. He recently opened a campaign account for that race.  If Anderson wins for county supervisor, Jones could run in a 2017 special election for the vacant Senate seat. A mediocre fundraiser, Jones is stronger in an abbreviated special election campaign, where he can rely on his name ID dating back to his time on the Santee City Council.

Marie Waldron, Assembly District 75: Assembly until 2024

Elected in 2014, Waldron is expected to serve all 12 years in the Assembly. Her 75th District forms part of Anderson’s 38th District Senate seat. If Anderson wins for county supervisor in 2016, Waldron has a free shot at his seat in 2017. She’d likely defer to Brian Jones, though, who is termed out of the Assembly in 2016.

Rocky Chavez, Assembly District 76: U.S. Senate in 2016 or state Assembly until 2024

Elected to the Assembly in 2012, Chavez could serve in the state Legislature until 2024. He’s flirting with a run for U.S. Senate, though, and is expected to make an announcement as soon as this week. Chavez’s ambition could be his downfall. A longshot U.S. Senate campaign requires him to give up his safe Assembly seat. He could change his mind before next March’s filing deadline and seek re-election to the Legislature. By then, several Republicans will have announced campaigns for the seat. Under the state’s top-two primary system, Chavez could be forced into a competitive run-off against one of those Republican challengers.                            

Brian Maienschein, Assembly District 77: Assembly until 2024

Maienschein is expected to serve in the Assembly until he is termed out in 2024. Technically, he lives in Anderson’s Senate district, but most of his current district sits in the Senate district held by Marty Block. Don’t expect Mainschein to make a play for that seat. The other Assembly district nestled with Maienschein’s is the 78th Assembly district, held by Speaker Toni Atkins. Last December, Atkins raised eyebrows when she appointed Maienschein, a Republican, to chair the Assembly’s local government committee over fellow Democrat Lorena Gonzalez. Could Atkins have been thinking ahead to prevent a potential Senate challenger in 2020?

Speaker Toni Atkins, Assembly District 78: Termed out in 2016, Senate in 2020

Elected to the State Assembly in 2010, Speaker Atkins is termed out in 2016. Her Assembly seat forms part of the 39th Senate district, currently held by fellow Democrat Marty Block. Consequently, she’s opened a campaign account for that seat in 2020, when Block terms out. Atkins’ name has been floated as a potential 2016 mayoral challenger, or she could exploit the Top 2 rules and challenge Block in 2016. Four years out of office could hurt Atkins’ fundraising and name ID, but other Assembly speakers have won office after a period in the wilderness.

Shirley Weber, Assembly District 79: Assembly until 2024

Elected to the State Assembly in 2012, Weber is expected to serve all 12 years in the Assembly. Her 79th Assembly district forms part of Hueso’s 40th Senate district, which he will be forced to vacate in 2022. Under Article 4 of the State Constitution, Weber cannot seek Hueso’s seat in 2022 because she’ll be ineligible to complete the full term.

Lorena Gonzalez, Assembly District 80: Assembly until 2024

Elected to the Assembly in a 2013 special election, Gonzalez is expected to serve there until 2024. Her Assembly district forms part of Hueso’s Senate district, which he will be forced to vacate in 2022. Under Article 4 of the State Constitution, Gonzalez cannot seek Hueso’s seat in 2022 because she’ll be ineligible to complete the full term.

The 2016 Bench

Assembly District 71

Republican staffer Mike Harrison, who worked for both Duncan Hunters, hasn’t wasted time in his bid to succeed Jones. He announced his 2016 campaign for this district last March. Other GOP candidates who’ve have filed statements of intent include Santee Mayor Randy Voepel and author Tony Teora. Voepel left the Republican Party in 2010, but has returned, according to state campaign records. Teora captured less than 30 percent of the vote in last November’s general election against Jones.

Assembly District 76

Rocky Chavez’s flirtation with U.S. Senate in 2016 will encourage a slew of GOP contenders for his Assembly seat. Sherry Hodges, a GOP staffer who lost to Chavez in 2012, could be a serious contender. Thomas Krouse, a Republican who lost to Chavez in 2014, could also try again.

Assembly District 78

Democrat Sarah Boot, who lost her campaign for City Council last year, is running for the seat. She’s already locked down Atkins’ endorsement, which will come in handy against her Democratic rival Ed Harris. The San Diego lifeguard was appointed to temporarily fill Kevin Faulconer’s City Council seat. Former state lawmaker Christine Kehoe also has an open campaign account for the seat, but it’s unclear whether she intends to run. Republican Kevin Melton, who took home 11.6 percent of the vote in the June 2014 primary, has announced for the safe Democratic seat.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled Brian Maienschein.

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