Republican incumbent Anthony Cannella will defend his state Senate seat in November against Democrat Shawn Bagley. Yet party labels don't appear to matter much in California's 12th Senate District. Cannella has maintained a high approval rating despite the fact that 46 percent of the district's voters are registered Democrats.
The twelfth district covers part of central California, including Merced, Monterey, and San Benito Counties. It is also home to a significant Latino population -- 45 percent of the district's constituency.
Cannella finished almost 30 percent ahead of Bagley in the June 3 nonpartisan, top-two open primary -- 63 percent to 36 percent. So, how does a Republican do so well in a supposedly 'blue' district?Senate graph - ideal points by successful legislation
Senator Cannella has been the most successful Republican state senator at getting sponsored legislation passed, according to the Sunlight Foundation. Compared to other Republican members of the Senate, Cannella has been less ideological and more willing to work across the political aisle.
For example, in June 2014, Cannella co-sponsored AB 60, one of the few immigration reform bills passed during the current legislative session. While the bill was not popular with several members of the Republican Party, Cannella was able to gain support from many Democrats.
His success rests in his belief that representing his district and improving the lives of his constituents comes first. With unaffiliated voters being the fastest growing voting bloc in California, it is important for lawmakers to be more aware of what their constituents need.
"Our representatives need to solve problems, and work with legislators from other regions who represent communities that share those concerns," Cannella said in an interview for IVN. "We need to put the good of the people before the power of the political party or the desires of special interests.”
Local and national news sources, including PICO National Network, The Fresno Bee, and even the Huffington Post, claim Cannella's popularity is due -- at least in part -- to playing the “moderate” role. However, this fails to acknowledge the priority the senator places on being accountable to his constituents
“I am accountable to the people I represent, and I will work with members of either party to find solutions that improve the quality of life in the communities I represent,” Cannella remarked.
California voters approved a nonpartisan, top-two open primary in 2010 under Proposition 14. Under this primary system, all voters and candidates, regardless of party affiliation, appear on the same ballot -- making them accountable to all voters.
Cannella has noticed the positive impact the reform is having in Sacramento:
"This is my first election in the new open primary system, and it has not impacted me directly. I do think that my colleagues in the legislature are now more likely to consider a broader set of opinions when they make decisions. It’s too early to know the full effects of the change, but I believe the open primary has empowered the electorate to make changes in districts where it would have been very difficult to make changes under the old system."
Cannella's devotion to putting his constituents ahead of his party has not only made him popular among voters, but has boosted his reputation in the California State Senate as well. The Salinas Valley senator quickly became a leader in the Senate and a new voice in the Republican Caucus.
"I work closely with a number of Democrats, particularly those in the regions that I represent. I have good relationships with them. We solve problems together and we all look out for our region. I think that is a benefit to representing a rural district that elects both Democrats and Republicans," Cannella added. "Unfortunately, a lot of legislators in other areas don’t have the same kind of working relationships that I enjoy with members of the other party."
While a plurality of voters in Senate District 12 do not share his party preference, Cannella has maintained a reputation of being an effective leader who is willing to cross party lines and is accountable to his district. With so much support behind him, he has a strong chance of keeping his seat in November.