Waiting for the dust to settle: Who will run for Rubio's seat?

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) More names keep popping up of possible candidates to fill the state Senate seat just vacated by Michael Rubio. Local democrats say they have some good choices, and the name of Steve Schilling was just added to the mix. Republicans say they also have good candidates to offer.

Rubio, D-Shafter, suddenly resigned from his post in the 16th State Senate District last Friday, and the governor will call a special election to fill the remaining two years of his term.

Kern County Democratic Party Chair Candi Easter thinks there are two strong candidates from her party right now.

"One of them is Henry T. Perea from Fresno, and he's a strong candidate," Easter said Wednesday. "The other one is Leticia Perez."

Perez worked for Rubio in the 16th District, but she was just elected as a Kern County supervisor. Easter wants a new senator who can immediately get to work and be effective in the district, and both those candidates have that going for them, she says.

"Especially Leticia can go right in there, hit the ground running, and there won't even be a burp," Easter said.

She's heard Perez's office is being flooded with calls and messages urging Perez to run for the state Senate seat.

However, would Perez face some heat about leaving her spot on the the Kern County Board of Supervisors just months into her first term? Easter says opportunities only come around so often, and politicians have to take them when they can.

"There won't have to be a special election for the supervisor's seat, there will be an appointment by the governor," Easter said. "And, as Democrats, we're happy that we have a friendly governor - that's friendly toward us - he won't appoint a Republican to a Democratic seat."

Eyewitness News called Perez's office on Wednesday to ask about her plans but didn't hear back.

Perea is currently a state assemblyman serving his second term in the 31st District, who served previously on the Fresno City Council.

"Henry T. (Perea) can raise the money, Leticia's campaign has the ground game," Easter said.

Clinica Sierra Vista CEO Steve Schilling confirmed to Eyewitness News he's "thinking about running." The Democrat says he hasn't made up his mind about the race yet, but he has strong views on what a candidate should bring to the job.

"I'm really disturbed by the possible candidates," Schilling said by phone. "The district deserves more experience and quality leadership, not political musical chairs."

Democrat Andrae Gonzales is also mentioned as a possible candidate for Rubio's seat.

"It's on the table," Gonzales told Eyewitness News on Wednesday. He's currently on the Bakersfield City School Board.

"I worry about who will represent us," Gonzales added. "Will they stick with the job, and work here?"

Easter said she's heard party leadership in Sacramento worry Gonzales' stands on gay marriage and women's right to choose are too conservative. She calls him a good Democrat, but better suited to something else.

Other possible Democrats have been mentioned, and Eyewitness News called them but got no responses on Wednesday.

On the Republican side, Pedro Rios says he's considering the seat.

"I'm not closing the door," Rios said. He recently made an unsuccessful run for the Assembly. "We need to do what's best for the party and the district."

Russell Johnson is also thinking about the race.

"It's a decision I'm weighing," Johnson said, adding he's humbled by the number of calls from people asking him to consider a run. Johnson's on the Bakersfield City Council.

The 16th State Senate District now takes in parts of Kern, Kings, Tulare and Fresno counties. But, boundaries will change for the 2014 election, which could cause some confusion for not only candidates, but voters.

Political consultant Stan Harper says he's heard some "mayors up north" might be interested in the special election. He also thinks Republicans have a good shot.

"I think in a special election, the Republicans have a better get-out-the-vote drive than the Democrats do," Harper said. "And I think a Republican could pick up this seat."

Harper says the race will take money, because of the district's size. He thinks it will help a candidate to have a Hispanic surname and be bilingual.

Easter thinks local Democrats can hang on to the seat.

"We have a good contact base, we have good volunteers and they're ready to go," she says. "We're just waiting for our candidate to jump in the race so we can start walking the precincts, and start making it happen."

Observers say the governor must call for a special election within two weeks after a resignation like this, and that election must be held within 120 to 140 days after that. They predict that'll put this contest in early June.