Thanks for the memories
Last November, when Betsy Butler won her first election to become an Assembly member for AD53, she told her new constituents, "I will never forget your support and dedication to my campaign."
Now, only 10 months later, Betsy Butler has a different message for those same constituents, "Thanks for the memories."
Butler went on the record Thursday to the Argonaut Newspaper and Palisades Post, ending months of speculation on her election plans for 2012; she will be moving north to run in the new AD50, a district which will include Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Malibu.
Butler said she is more compatible with the new 50th District and that is one of the primary reasons, in addition to her love of the Westside, why she will be moving to the new Assembly district.
“I have worked very hard for the ideals of Westsiders and for most Californians,” the assemblywoman concluded. “I think that I’m a very good advocate for the ideals of the 50th District.”
Reaction from Bulter's current constituents - hundreds of whom had signed our petition pledging donations and campaign support if she stayed in the South Bay to run against Tea Party candidate Nathan Mintz - ranged from disappointment to resignation.
"Lots of people here in the South Bay worked hard for Assemblywoman Butler in the last election because they felt she best represented their interests and those of the district," said Tony Salvaggio, a Manhattan Beach constituent who signed the petition.
As an aerospace engineer, Salvaggio expressed concern that losing Butler would adversely affect one of the South Bay's major industries, "As the Chair of the Select Committee on Aerospace, she has a critically important voice for the top industry and employer in the district."
Both privately and publicly, Butler defended her decision by saying redistricting made it impossible for her to win in the more conservative AD66.
In the 2010 race for AD53, Butler beat Nathan Mintz 50.2% - 43%.
An "incumbent" by any other name.....
Butler also says she plans to identify herself on the AD50 ballot as "incumbent" even though she's never represented the area and has lived in Marina del Rey - and outside the district - for over 20 years.
Butler sought to minimize the issue, telling the Argonaut, "I’ve been a Westsider for 24 years and I am considered the incumbent in the 50th District.... The Westside is my love.”
Butler said she justifies the "incumbent" designation because of a 1 square-mile overlap between the old AD53 and the new AD50, saying she currently represents 8,000 - or 1.7% - of the new district's 470,000 constituents.
Below are two maps putting that overlap in context.
In the first map, the blue area to the north is the new AD50, the yellow area just below it is the current AD53. The tiny green area between AD50 and AD53 shows the 1.7% overlap. (I recommend you click on the map to enlarge it, otherwise the overlap is too small to see)
View NEW AD50/OLD AD53 OVERLAP in a larger map
In the second map, the new AD66 is added in red. The orange area between AD53 and AD66 shows the much larger overlap between Betsy Butler's current district and the new South Bay district - 34% (or 160,000) constituents.
View BOUNDARIES FOR NEW AD50, NEW AD66, CURRENT AD53 in a larger map
Several individuals who spoke with Butler about our petition told me it apparently had no effect on her decision, except as a public relations matter to be handled in the media.
Publicly, Butler and her campaign have dismissed the petition, claiming it the work of Torie Osborn supporters in an attempt to "clear the field" for her. Osborn is one of two democratic candidates already running in AD50, the other Santa Monica mayor, Richard Bloom.
As proof, Butler's campaign pointed to some of my photographs that appear on Osborn's campaign website. However, in doing so, Butler's campaign failed to disclose that my work also appears (uncredited) on her official Assembly website.
Photo I took of Butler on March 12, 2011 which appears on her AD53 website.
South Bay signatories dispute the characterization, "I wouldn't know Torie Osborn if she walked in my front door," said Salvaggio.
Privately, Butler attempted to reach out to her soon-to-be former constituents, telling some they were welcome to come north to walk precincts for her.
Activists she spoke with were incredulous.
"She's delusional," said one South Bay activist who asked to remain anonymous. "No one is going to be walking precincts for her in Santa Monica while we're down here fighting to keep the South Bay blue. She turned her back on us."
What happens now?
Without Butler in the race, the GOP considers the new 66th Assembly District a "top target" for Republicans in 2012.
South Bay activists expressed concern that Butler's move meant the California Democratic Party and Assembly Speaker John Perez had given up on their district, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by only 3%.
Published comments from Butler's Westside supporters left little doubt they were unconcerned over who would represent the South Bay next.
"To be clear, Betsy Butler may choose move to the newly drawn district as befits a liberal incumbent legislator and by doing so, will remain with us in Venice, because our votes got her elected in the first place," said Venice neighborhood council President Linda Lucks. "Venetians should clearly be happier to lose the conservative part of the District... I know I am.."
Speculation was also fueled when reports surfaced that Perez was behind Butler's move.
Insiders report that Assembly Speaker John Perez is making calls to ask incumbents to move into new districts.
One such Assembly member to receive a call from the Speaker, according to sources, is Betsy Butler, who currently resides inside a district in which Steven Bradford, another Assembly member, now holds a seat.
Sources I spoke with told me Bulter's campaign claimed the Assembly Speaker would commit up to 2 million dollars for her in the AD50 race.
However, Perez's office denied any direct involvement in Butler's decision or campaign.
Perez spokesman John Vigna said the Assembly speaker on previous occasions has asked all Democrats do what they think is best for the party.
“The speaker has said to every member of the Democratic caucus many times that they should consider their options with respect to redistricting and make the best decisions for the Democratic Party and the Assembly caucus,” Vigna said.
Perez's clarification was welcome news for Dency Nelson, a Hermosa Beach environmentalist and member of the Beach Cities Democratic Club who supports Butler's decision, "It would behoove the California State Democratic Party to re-direct its money away from the solidly Dem 50th and take a gamble with us in the 66th."
Referring to Democratic candidate Debra Bowen's surprise Assembly win in 1992, Nelson said, "We did it before, we can do it again. Give us some support, a good candidate, and maybe we can give the state another 1992 surprise!"