Cooper and Fong: Dem v. Dem Race Creates Competition for Non-Party Voters

With only 1,057 votes between them, Democratic candidates Jim Cooper and Darrell Fong will continue to campaign for state Assemblymember Richard Pan’s seat in District 9. Their reported fundraising and law enforcement resumes also show little variance between them — making this an interestingly homogeneous race going into the general election.

AD-9 is one of California’s 25 intra-party races.

The race is primarily taking place in Elk Grove, a city in Sacramento County located just south of the state capital. The district contains a third of the city of Sacramento and its southern suburbs.

The political environment in the area is witnessing a transition not only as a result of California’s nonpartisan, top-two open primary, but in the allure the capitol dome has on Sacramento City Council members.

Cooper and Fong both served on the city council.

Similarly, in the Assembly race in District 7, Steve Cohn (D), one of the longest-tenured council members in Sacramento’s history (with 20 years of services), and Kevin McCarty (D), councilman since 2004, will also face off.

Sacramento political consultant Doug Elmets said:

“The City Council is a great steppingstone for those who are politically ambitious. There is a perceived pecking order, which goes from local government to state government to the federal government. And for some of these people, the Assembly is simply a way station toward future political office.”

Prior to 2010, the political scene in Sacramento was one where incumbents would sail through re-election and serve multiple terms with little alternations in the council’s membership. The outcome of this year’s midterm elections, however, could result in 7 of the 8 council seats having new members.

From walking and talking with people, I think it’s about representation.
Darrell Fong
Fong, hoping to ascend to the California Legislature, will relinquish his council chair after serving just one term if he wins the Assembly seat, moving as swiftly through the system as he did through the ranks of the Sacramento Police Department. He served as captain for the Police Department of Labor Liaison Officer, captain of operations for the Central Patrol Division, and captain of the Investigations Special Investigation Detail.

Both candidates in AD-9 were asked what issues they believe are most important to district voters.

“From walking and talking with people, I think it’s about representation,” Fong answered. “Water issues are also important, and I’m well versed in that area.”

Cooper went a different route with the question. He said voters are “concerned about the economy, about jobs, about their kids, public safety, and education.”

“A lot of people have asked, ‘Is the Pocket area better off today than four years ago?’ And they say, ‘No.’”

Sacramento City Unified School District Trustee Diana Rodriguez-Suruki shares this concern and view on kids and education. She was also a candidate in the race until she ended her campaign and endorsed Cooper.

However, the most important part of the race is that unlike in previous years, the most important votes the candidates must compete for will come from Republican and independent voters.

In a district where the electorate is 45.6 percent Democratic and 30.5 percent Republican, there would be no real competition in November. Whoever won the Democratic Party’s primary would have walked into the legislature without ever having to persuade Republicans or independents to vote for him or her.

This year, because of California’s nonpartisan, top-two open primary, the two Democratic candidates will have to structure their campaigns in a way that speaks to a broader segment of the voting population; namely, why should an independent or a Republican support them over their opponent?