EDITOR’S NOTE: After the redistricting process, much of the 36th State Senate District became the 38th State Senate District. Additionally, following publication of this article, Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett recently announced she will be running for the 49th Congressional District against Rep. Mike Levin (D-San Juan Capistrano), effectively withdrawing from the 38th District race.
REGION — Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett and political newcomer Matt Gunderson are among the Republican candidates vying to replace State Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) in District 36, while Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear leads the Democratic field so far in attempting to flip the district blue.
Due to office term limits, Bates, who has served in her seat since 2014, is ineligible to seek reelection.
District 36, which holds over 1,000,000 residents and stretches from south Orange County to North County San Diego, narrowly leans Republican in almost an even split of registered voters, with 35.57% of residents expressing Republican affiliation compared to 34.18% registering as Democrat, according to numbers from the Secretary of State’s website.
Both Gunderson and Blakespear said they expect the campaign to be significantly impacted by statewide redistricting, as District 36 is projected to lose 2.17% of its population according to draft maps released last month by California’s redistricting commission.
The draft map projects that the district will shift slightly south, taking in San Marcos, Solana Beach, and La Jolla while losing Aliso Viejo and Laguna Niguel in Orange County.
While the draft map is only tentative and will not be finalized until Dec. 23, Paul Mitchell, a political data consultant and owner of Redistricting Partners, said that redistricting could have a substantial impact on the overall political makeup of District 36.
“There’s a lot of changes in here that might change campaigns…the draft has District 36 including a lot more coastal communities, and coastal voters have been shifting blue…so it could end up being a significant impact for the election,” Mitchell said of the redistricting process.
Redistricting occurs every 10 years following the nationwide census (the last redistricting was in 2011), and is intended to restructure districts based on regional demographic and population shifts.
Blakespear, who was a city councilwoman in Encinitas before becoming mayor in 2016 and who also serves as the current SANDAG chairwoman, expressed that her campaign is already well underway with a vigorous fundraising campaign that has brought in $340,000 in contributions since she began her candidacy in March.
The mayor also shared that she has been conducting tours through each of the twelve cities in the district to meet with community and business leaders to better understand the issues that voters care about in advance of the primary.
“I’ve been getting to know the things that are important to people in these communities…It’s a great opportunity to get to know the district,” Blakespear said of her campaign tour.
Central to her campaign will be issues of environmental sustainability, homelessness, and solutions to transportation issues facing the state.
“The things that I want to work on at the state level will be the same things I’ve worked on at the local level,” Blakespear said. “Number one will be reducing the number of people living in poverty, secondly, working on stabilizing our climate, making changes towards being more environmentally oriented, and then also building transportation networks in this state that serve everybody.”
The mayor opined that the issue of climate change is of particular significance to District 36, with voters simultaneously concerned about California’s rash of wildfires in 2021 and rising sea levels, especially given the district’s heavy coastal population. Blakespear also noted concerns about the decommissioning of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which will cost billions in taxpayer dollars even as the plant is expected to continue to hold hazardous nuclear waste for decades to come.
In 2019, Bates, together with Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), introduced a resolution in Sacramento urging the United States Congress and then President Donald Trump to approve legislation that would prioritize removing spent nuclear fuel from decommissioned nuclear plants in areas with large populations and high seismic risks, such as San Diego and Orange counties.
“A horrible incident or natural disaster doesn’t have an ‘R’ or a ‘D,’ it affects us all,” Bates told The Coast News at the time. “We must all be in it together to put pressure on the federal government.”
On homelessness, Blakespear expressed that the issue is a very visible one for voters, who she said are concerned about the rising number of unsheltered people camping out in public spaces such as parks.
Homelessness has been a growing crisis in San Diego County in recent years, with the homeless population doubling between 2019 and 2020, per a report by a city-sponsored nonprofit.
In setting her sights on becoming state senator, Bartlett brings 15 years of political experience to the table, having served as a supervisor in Orange County’s District 5 since 2014, following an eight-year stint as a city councilwoman in Dana Point.
Bartlett is the first Japanese American to serve on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
In addition to her role as a supervisor, Bartlett also holds positions of leadership on a variety of state and regional boards and commissions, including the California State Association of Counties, Orange County Transportation Authority, and Orange County Fire.
In a statement, the supervisor shared that she is focusing her platform around issues such as California’s high cost of living, homelessness, rising crime rates, and excessive governmental regulation, arguing that current Sacramento policies are exacerbating such issues rather than creating solutions.
“As Californians flee the state due to high taxes, increasing crime, an underperforming education system, a homelessness crisis, and overall mismanaged government, I am running to protect and preserve the beautiful place we call home so that we don’t have to leave,” Bartlett said. “Sacramento has created an oppressive tax and regulatory regime that makes it difficult for families and business to survive in the state. We need to create an environment that attracts families and businesses instead of chasing them away.”
Bartlett placed heavy emphasis upon the issue of crime, arguing that California’s violent crime rate has soared as a direct result of a “soft-on-crime” approach by lawmakers, vowing to repeal several laws enacted in recent years designed to reduce the state’s prison population.
“Some communities are experiencing a surge of violent crime due to the pro-criminal agenda of extremists and soft-on-crime district attorneys,” Bartlett said. “I will fight to repeal Prop 47,Prop 57, and AB 109 immediately, which are disastrous laws that allowed for the early release of violent criminals into our communities and lowered punishments for certain crimes.”
Bartlett said that she has raised a total of $250,000 in campaign contributions so far.
Gunderson, who ran multiple car dealerships in Orange County for 21 years until retiring recently, said that his approach to the office would be shaped by his unique business background that doesn’t include having held any previous political office.
When it came to issues of focus for his campaign, Gunderson held a similar platform to Bartlett, expressing his view that the state legislature is out of touch with voters on issues such as the cost of living, homelessness, and crime.
“We are in a state where the cost of living is such that we are expected to accept that our children and grandchildren will ultimately live somewhere else, and that’s a real problem, it’s just not the California dream,” he said. “Generically speaking, as a state we’re overtaxed, overregulated, and we’re not dealing with crime, homelessness, or education with real common-sense solutions.”
Gunderson touted his background as a business owner and longtime community member, expressing that his experience in the business world has given him an on-the-ground, common-sense perspective when it comes to policy issues that give him an advantage over other candidates.
“I’m unique in not having been a politician…if elected I’m going to bring a different perspective to Sacramento in that hopefully I can open up legislator’s eyes and ears to the unintended consequences in the real world of what their well-intended legislation is.”
Bates could not be reached for comment as to whether she has endorsed any of the current candidates seeking her senate seat. A supervisor in Orange County for seven years, Bates was near-unanimously elected to the California State Senate in 2014. In 2018, she narrowly won reelection against Democrat challenger Marggie Castellano.