Democratic legislator Paul Fong defeated independent challenger Chad Walsh by a strong margin Tuesday night in the race for the 28th Assembly District seat. With nearly two-thirds of precincts reporting, incumbent Fong was winning by more than 20 percentage points.The only independent candidate running for a seat in the California Legislature, Walsh hopes voters will be impressed by his refusal to kowtow to either party. He said he would not caucus with either major party.
The newly redrawn 28th Assembly District includes Saratoga, Campbell, Los Gatos and part of San Jose.
The outcome of the race could determine who represents the new district for years to come.
Fong was expected to handily win his last term in the 22nd Assembly District, which included Sunnyvale and Mountain View. But he was forced by the California's Citizens Redistricting Commission's legislative maps to compete in a more conservative district with mostly new constituents.
The old district was about 45 percent Democratic and 21 percent Republican. The new one is 43 percent Democratic and 26 percent Republican. About 75 percent of the redrawn district also includes new territory for Fong in Saratoga, Campbell, Los Gatos and San Jose. Walsh now represents most of the area as a West Valley-Mission Community College trustee.
In the June primary, Fong won 53.7 percent of the vote, Walsh 46.3 percent. Under California's new open primary system, the top two
If Walsh wins, he'll have two years to prove himself before entering the 2014 race as the favored incumbent.
If Fong wins, he would serve two more years before being termed out. The field would then be wide open for two Democrats long considered potentially strong candidates -- Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager and Campbell Vice Mayor Evan Low, who works for Fong as a district representative.
But even as Walsh positioned himself as exactly the type of moderate candidate the state's new top-two primary system was intended to empower -- and a clear contrast to the pro-labor Fong on pension reform and business policy -- some longtime political observers questioned whether he'd be an effective outside voice in Sacramento.
His critics note that Walsh initially said he was for Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's tax measure, then changed his mind and came out against it. Now he says he will abstain from voting on it.
Fong has raised $364,764 since Jan. 1, much of it from labor unions, and had $107,944 left as of Oct. 20. Walsh has raised $248,799 this year, including $60,000 in loans from himself -- he lent his campaign $8,000 last year, too. His campaign had $51,853 left as of Oct. 20.
During the primary, Fong, 60, attacked Walsh as a Republican in Independent's clothing. But Fong has largely abandoned that approach.
Walsh, 46, supports same-sex marriage and abortion rights, the repeal of the death penalty and the revision of the state's tough three-strikes sentencing law. He is one of only four candidates out of the 198 men and women running for the state Assembly or Senate who isn't a Democrat or Republican. The other three belong to the Peace and Freedom Party.
Now, Fong is emphasizing his legislative record, including bills making it easier for community college students to transfer to the University of California, banning the import and sale of shark fins and prohibiting local governments from requiring small businesses to enroll in E-Verify, which uses federal databases to check the immigration status of workers.
His mailers tout endorsements from a laundry list of Democrats, from U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren to state Sen. Joe Simitian of Palo Alto to District Attorney Jeff Rosen and state that Sierra Club California named Fong legislator of the year for 2012, and Planned Parenthood gave him a legislative rating of 100 percent.
Fong, who owns a flower shop, said his positions haven't shifted even though he's running in a different district against a moderate -- with one exception. He said he promotes business more, including holding two business expos this year for firms interested in government contracts.
"I still carry the same progressive, social justice values," Fong said. But "I promote businesses more because my constituents ask for it."
The California Chamber of Commerce, however, listed Fong as voting only four times for the 11 bills it supported this year, while the California Labor Federation gave him a 100 percent score.
Fong did not support San Jose's Measure B, a controversial plan to reduce the city's soaring pension costs that voters overwhelmingly approved in June.
The measure's biggest proponent, Mayor Chuck Reed, has endorsed Walsh, who supported the measure. Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery and Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman have also endorsed Walsh.
Walsh has an engineering degree and founded the Entrepreneurship Academy at West Valley College. To encourage growth, he would scale back the state's tough environmental quality laws for businesses.
He said he deeply believes in bipartisanship.
"If an independent can beat an incumbent, it'll put incumbents on notice that the rules have changed, and they need to really start listening to voters," he said.
Walsh also didn't reveal his position on two local tax measures -- Santa Clara County's Measure A, which would raise sales taxes by a quarter of a cent, and Measure B, which would extend an existing parcel tax to pay for water- and flood-control projects. He said they aren't relevant to the Assembly post. He also took no position on Proposition 39, which supporters say would close a tax loophole that gives companies an incentive to leave California.
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.