Sen. Emmerson’s abrupt resignation brings familiar California issues to light

150 150 Christopher Nelson

With a healthy dose of irony, Republican State Senator Bill Emmerson of the 23rd district, who just a few hours prior was a panelist at the second annual California Economic Summit, submitted a brief letter of resignation to Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg last Friday afternoon.

The irony is thick for several reasons.

First, as The Nooner’s Scott Lay noted in an email Friday evening, “I watched Emmerson speak on a panel with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg at the California Economic Summit hours earlier, and he gave no indications of the impending announcement.”

I was at the panel as well and it certainly removes some gravity from a state senator speaking in front of 500 Californians about long-term solutions to the state’s economic challenges when he abruptly resigns that same day. It’s noble for a man who says he lost his passion for the work to say that his constituents deserve someone who still has it.

But the timing of his announcement means that those same constituents will be without whomever that impassioned person might be until June 4th of 2014. Gov. Brown has 14 days to call a special election to determine his replacement (something that will most certainly occur). With Sen. Emmerson’s resignation effective on December 1st of this year, that’s a solid six months without any representation whatsoever for the 23rd district, which covers portions of Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties.

And this adds yet another layer of irony as earlier this year Sen. Emmerson, recognizing the financial burdens that special elections place on counties, authored SB 519. Although it failed, it would have required the state to reimburse counties for special legislative elections held in 2012 and 2013 to the tune of $7.9 million.

“The cost of a special election to fill vacancies is mostly unforeseen and if the special election cannot be consolidated with an already scheduled election, even more expensive,” said Sen. Emmerson, who gained entry into the State Senate by way of special election, to the Riverside Press-Enterprise in May before the bill was defeated.

A primary will be held in April of 2014 and should no candidate receive more than 50 percent of the vote, a run-off would be held in conjunction with the regularly scheduled primaries on June 4, 2014.

In that sense, at least the runoff, should it happen, won’t ding Sen. Emmerson’s taxpaying constituents. But the April primary necessitated by his departure is just one in a litany of special elections held throughout the state on a regular basis.

The rules on how sudden vacancies get filled are complex and inconsistent. Californians clearly deserve better. Elected officials have their work cut out for them in simplifying these laws and saving their constituents money that could be better spent. One thing we could certainly do with less of in California is election fatigue.


Christopher Nelson

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