Today: allies. Tomorrow: rivals.
That’s the dynamic the California Citizens Redistricting Commission may create in San Francisco, by reducing the number of state Senate seats from two to one.
Today, San Francisco boasts two seats in California’s Assembly and two in the Senate, and both districts split The City down an east-west line. Therefore, assembly members from both districts have become natural front-runners for the Senate seats that their districts overlap.
On the west side of The City, Assemblyman Leland Yee became Sen. Yee, and Assemblywoman Fiona Ma was considered a front-runner for Yee’s Senate seat once he is termed out. Meanwhile, on the east side, Assembly members Carole Migden and Mark Leno both progressed to senators.
But with the commission proposing to create a new, all-San Francisco Senate district, the two Assembly districts would eventually feed into a single Senate district. Thus, the two Assembly members — who are ineligible for re-election after six years — are likely to eye each other as rivals for the position, political analysts say.
“There’s a lot of dominoes that could fall depending on what happens here,” said University of San Francisco politics professor Corey Cook. “You’ll have two elected officials representing the same city, and generally on the same area of the political spectrum, but eyeing each other as rivals because their future will run smack up against each other.”
The single Senate seat also promises to become a forum in which The City’s identity politics play out. Over the past decade, the western Assembly and Senate districts have been held by Chinese-American candidates Yee and Ma, while the eastern districts have been held by openly gay and lesbian candidates Migden, Leno and Tom Ammiano.
Gay and Asian constituencies don’t necessarily have clashing political agendas, noted San Francisco State political scientist David Lee, executive director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee. LGBT candidates have typically supported immigration issues close to the Asian community’s heart, and Asian communities have supported gay candidates such as Leno and Ammiano, he said.
“The communities come from different places but we come together when our interests are at stake,” Lee said.
But a winning Senate candidate will need a strong appeal to both constituencies, Lee said, and also need to simultaneously court the progressive neighborhoods east of Mount Davidson as well as the more moderate neighborhoods west of it.
“That’s a classic split in San Francisco politics,” Lee said. “You may find an Assembly member on the other side of Mount Davidson, because they’re laying the groundwork for a Senate run.”
Cook predicted that no candidate would be able to win without some portion of the Asian, LGBT, progressive and moderate vote — a dynamic that he said also applies to the upcoming mayoral election.
“There’s a lot of ways this could play out,” he said. “The math just gets more and more interesting.”