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Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett is currently seeking election to the 36th District State Senate seat.
Lisa Bartlett is the first Japanese-American elected to the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Courtesy photo
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Bartlett drops from 38th CA Senate race to challenge Levin

REGION — Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett is dropping out of the race for state senator in District 38 due to the impacts of regional redistricting and is instead entering the race for the 49th Congressional District seat currently held by Rep. Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano). 

In a statement released on December 31, her campaign confirmed that Bartlett, who currently represents Orange County’s Fifth District on the Board of Supervisors, will be running to unseat Levin in 2022. The release expressed that Bartlett will be centering her campaign around issues of public safety, quality of life, and the economy. 

“Never in my lifetime can I remember a point where Congress was this far out of touch with the everyday experience of working-class Americans and families,” Bartlett said in the statement. “Much like California, our country is headed in the wrong direction and in desperate need of new and common-sense leadership.”

Bartlett joins an array of Republican candidates attempting to replace Levin, including former San Juan Capistrano mayor Brian Maryott, who previously ran for the congressional seat in 2020, as well as Oceanside City Councilman and former combat Marine Christopher Rodriguez

Levin has held the office since 2018 after defeating opponent Diane Harkey by nearly 15 percentage points in the general election. In the 2020 election, Levin retained the seat, defeating Maryott by six points.  

Bartlett’s campaign for the District 49 seat came just days after state redistricting maps were officially released by the California Citizen’s Redistricting Commission. The new maps — which significantly reshaped California’s senate, assembly, and congressional districts in accordance with regional population and demographic changes — had a considerable impact on a number of state and local races, including the state senate seat in District 38 (State Sen. Pat Bates currently represents District 36, much of which is now in District 38).

Bartlett, who lives in Dana Point, was essentially drawn out of the newly formed district (District 38 now runs from San Onofre in the north to Mission Beach in the south). Candidates for the state senate must live within the district lines of the region they’re running to represent, and Dana Point, which had been a part of the old District 38, was excluded by the new boundaries. 

CA-49 — which runs all the way from San Juan Capistrano down to Del Mar, and extends as east as Fallbrook — was not as substantially affected by redistricting, and the voter demographics in the district remain significantly favorable for Levin, according to Evan McLaughlin, a political data consultant for Redistricting Partners

While the party affiliation of the district’s registered voters is close to a 50-50 split (35.7% of CA-49’s voters are registered Democrats, vs. 33.8% Republican, according to Politcal Data Inc.) McLaughlin expressed that Bartlett and the other Republicans will face a steep uphill battle to unseat Levin, whom the consultant said has not only already won the district twice by decisive margins but is also particularly focused on issues such as environmental conservation that CA-49’s heavily coastal communities are deeply concerned about. 

“These voters are worried about water quality by the beaches, the oil spill that happened last year, what’s happening with the San Onofre nuclear power plant, and other quality of life issues,” McLaughlin said. “These communities are familiar with Levin’s casework and the issues he’s handled in the community, and they’ve reelected him because of that work.” 

McLaughlin added that in being from Orange County, Bartlett faces an additional disadvantage in the race because she isn’t a familiar face to voters, as the district is mostly within San Diego County lines. 

In her released campaign statement, Bartlett touts her extensive political experience as shaping her up to be the most qualified candidate for the congressional seat. Bartlett has been a supervisor in Orange County since 2015 and was previously a city council member in Dana Point for eight years.

Bartlett has also held a range of leadership roles in Orange County on various state and regional bodies, including the California State Association of Counties, the Orange County Transportation Authority, and the South Coast Air Quality Management District. 

Bartlett leveled scathing criticism towards Levin, whom she accused of being soft on crime, supporting excessive federal spending, and failing to advance meaningful solutions on economic issues such as inflation and the high cost of living in California.

“​​At a time when families are struggling to pay for gas, put food on the table, and deal with the cost of inflation, Mike Levin is literally cheering on trillions of dollars in government spending, much of which is for pet projects,” Bartlett’s statement read. The supervisor also ripped into Levin’s record when it came to public safety, pointing to Levin’s support for ending cash bail and reducing enhancements that violent felons can be charged with. 

Bartlett and Levin
Bartlett is challenging Congressman Mike Levin for the 49th Congressional District seat. Photo by Bill Slane

“In the face of rising violent crime and brazen smash and grab robberies, Levin has endorsed the same anti-public safety policies, like no cash bail, that are destroying America’s most iconic cities.  These are mind-boggling actions given the challenges we are facing, and we deserve better, Bartlett said. 

Eric Mee, a campaign spokesperson for Levin, disputed Bartlett’s claims concerning public safety. 

“Clearly, Supervisor Bartlett is not familiar with Rep. Levin’s record,” Mee said. “The largest law enforcement organization in California – the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) – has endorsed him multiple times because they know he supports law enforcement and public safety.” 

Mee also touted what he described as the congressman’s successful record when it came to issues such as environmental policy and affordable housing. 

 “He [Levin] is delivering for California families by championing legislation to lower costs, restore the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction, and end more offshore drilling that pollutes our coast. He’s also proud to have introduced 18 bills that have been signed into law, including more than a dozen bipartisan bills to help veterans pursue higher education, start careers, and secure housing.”

Bartlett’s entrance into the race has also already stimulated some jostling between the Republican candidates, with both Maryott and Rodriguez speaking out against the supervisor’s entrance into the race when reached for comment by The Coast News. 

In contrast to a regular partisan election, the race for CA-49 is a “jungle primary” — meaning that all candidates regardless of party compete in an initial primary round, with the two primary candidates receiving the most votes then advancing to compete in the general election. 

Because of the variable nature of a jungle primary, Bartlett’s candidacy will only further complicate Republican chances of unseating Levin, Maryott said.

Additionally, the longtime mayor characterized Bartlett as a relatively “left-leaning” candidate whom he opined is running for office only to stay politically relevant after her current supervisorial term ends.

“She’s entered the race for all the wrong reasons,” he said. “She clearly feels like running for Congress is the only way that she thinks she can remain an elected official.”

Maryott also described Bartlett’s policy record as “atrocious,” in particular criticizing the supervisor for what he described as her inaction on issues of affordable housing and homelessness in her own district. 

“As supervisor…she’s been sitting by for many years while tens of millions of dollars piled up that was meant to be used to assist with mental health and homelessness services…in the meantime, a tent city so vast that it literally could qualify for being incorporated into the community took shape right outside her office window,” Maryott said. “She remained willfully ignorant on the homeless issue for years until it reached crisis proportions. Government is all about results, and I’m underwhelmed by hers.”

But Bartlett struck back at Maryott, taking a shot of her own at her fellow Republican challenger. 

“Brian’s temper tantrum over my entry into the race and baseless attacks are a perfect demonstration of why he is a perennial loser in the district,” Bartlett told The Coast News. “Republicans can’t afford to lose this seat for a third time.”

Rodriguez framed Barlett’s entrance into the race as an unnecessary distraction and expressed that in a district where 25% of registered voters are Hispanic, he’s uniquely positioned above his rivals to unseat Levin in 2022. 

“Conservative Mexican-American Combat Marine Christopher Rodriguez is by far the strongest candidate in this race…Oceanside, which Sergeant Rodriguez represents as a council member, is the largest city in the 49th. Furthermore, the district is 25% voting-age Hispanic and has a very large military presence with Camp Pendleton,” Rodriguez’s campaign said in a statement. “If anything, we suggest supervisor Bartlett shop around for a new district better suited for her, because Mexican-American combat Marine Christopher Rodriguez is going to win this seat for Republicans.”

As of this article, Rodriguez had raised $750,000 for his campaign while Maryott had raised slightly less than $700,000, per statements issued by both candidates. Levin currently leads the way in campaign contributions, having raised approximately $1.5 million, according to the Federal Election Commission. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to include a response from Lisa Bartlett.