Sunday, March 1, 2015



Carpetbagger describes opportunistic Northerners, who moved to the South after the Civil War to loot, plunder and politically manipulate the defeated states for personal gain.

The word applies today to a politician who runs for public office in an area in which he is not from, or in which he has lived for only a short time. Depending on the politician, the area and the circumstances, the word can either enrage voters, or make them yawn.

Campaigns in the 30th Assembly District and the 16th state Senate District – two sprawling political jurisdictions that include portions of Kern County, as well as neighboring counties – have attracted candidates some might call carpetbaggers. But the candidates’ residencies will likely cause more yawns than outrage, according to political observers.

Former Kern County Supervisor Pete Parra has rented an apartment in Hanford, and moved his residency and voter registration from Bakersfield to that city to run in the June Democratic primary for the 30th Assembly District seat being vacated by Republican Danny Gilmore of Hanford. Parra will face Fran Florez, a Shafter city councilwoman and member of the California High Speed Rail Authority, for the Democratic nomination.

Phil Wyman, a former Republican assemblyman and state senator, has moved his residency and voter registration from his Tehachapi ranch to Hanford to seek the Republican nomination to succeed 16th District Sen. Dean Florez, a Democrat, who is termed out of office. So far, Wyman is the only Republican in the race. He is expected to face Kern County Supervisor Michael Rubio, a Democrat.

Likely both Parra’s and Wyman’s opponents will raise residency as an issue. Both men are prepared to respond.

Parra points out that he grew up in east Bakersfield, which is included in the 30th District. His Bakersfield home is only one mile outside its boundaries. As a former Kern County supervisor and before that as the head of the county’s jobs program, and now as a member of regional organizations, such as the eight-county California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, he says he is tuned into the concerns of district residents.

Wyman calls his move to Hanford a return home. He lived in the Kings County city for three years – from 1993 to 1995 – when he represented the 16th Senate District after the Legislature redrew district lines, shuffling politicians into new areas.

In those years, so many candidates were moving around to run for offices that The Californian mocked four of its elected representatives -- Wyman, former Sen. Don Rogers, former Kern County Supervisor and later Assemblyman Roy Ashburn, and former Assemblyman, Senator and now Congressman Jim Costa -- by depicting them in a cartoon riding a gypsy cart dressed in gypsy costumes.

Wyman, who claims election fraud blocked his reelection to the 16th Senate seat, which he lost to Costa, says he is very familiar with the people and needs of the district.

But why move to Hanford?

“People in Kern County know me well,” said Parra, explaining he is not as well known in the northern part of the district. Parra’s daughter, Nicole, represented the 30th District until she was termed out of office in 2008. She, too, embraced Hanford as her home as a candidate and later as an assemblywoman. Both Parras were attracted to the picturesque, tree-filled city because it is located in the heart of the district.

Wyman explained that traveling to the far reaches of the 16th District would take hours if he had just moved to Bakersfield, instead of Hanford, to satisfy residency requirements. A base in Hanford gives candidates quick access to voters in Kings, Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties.

“Voters don’t seem to mind where candidates live,” said Bakersfield government consultant Gene Tackett, who pointed out residency in a district is not required to hold a seat in Congress. “People seem to vote more by party, or ideology. I am not sure [residency] is that important to voters.”

Tackett noted that Tom McClintock represented Thousand Oaks in Southern California in the state Senate until he moved in 2008 to Northern California to successfully run for the 4th Congressional District, a vacancy created when Rep. John Doolittle decided not to seek re-election.

McClintock, a Republican, responded to carpetbagger charges: “I think most people are far more interested in where one stands than where one lives.”

McClintock had plenty of examples to back up that claim. They included the recent relocation of Dan Lungren, a Republican state and federal lawmaker who represented the Long Beach area before becoming California attorney general. In 2004, Lungren leaped from Southern California to successfully run for Congress in Northern California.

Former Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, who lost his seat in 2006 to Democrat Jerry McNermey, has launched a political comeback campaign. But he won’t be taking on the man who beat him. Instead of running in his “home” district, Pombo is seeking the Republican nomination in a neighboring district. So far he is facing Sen. Jeff Denham and former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson to replace retiring Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa.

“Sometimes moving into a district to run for office doesn’t work,” said political scientist Sherry Bebitch Jeffe at the University of Southern California. “And sometimes voters just don’t care. Voters will decide if it is important.”

“The real hostilities come when candidates use fake addresses and actually live outside the district,” she said.

Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a Southern California-based non-partisan think tank, said he doesn’t “get all worked up” about candidates moving into districts to run for office. But questions about residency can make races tighter, he said, noting residency requirements, particularly for state legislative seats, can be a little arcane.

But Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley does get all worked up about residency. In recent months, he has started investigations of city, county and state lawmakers, including Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, and Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon, for allegedly not living in the districts they represent.

“You have to have a residency requirement,” said Bakersfield Republican political consultant Stan Harper. “How do you represent a district you don’t even live in? I would have a hard time supporting a candidate who just moved into a district to run, like McClintock. Carpetbagging is wrong.”

But Republican political consultant Cathy Abernathy of Bakersfield has a more tolerant view, noting the distance a candidate moves might make a difference.

“If someone from San Francisco ran in the 32nd Assembly District, it would bother the voters a lot,” she said. “You are supposed to elect someone who knows the district and its people.”

Abernathy noted that until recently, the drawing of political district boundary lines was done by the Legislature. A ballot measure in 2008 transferred the redistricting job to a “citizen committee.” But in previous redistricting, the majority party sometimes intentionally carved the homes of minority party incumbents out of their districts.

“It’s a cute gimmick. Sometimes you have to be cute back,” Abernathy said.

This article by Dianne Hardisty appeared first in The Bakersfield Californian on Feb. 21, 2010.

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