State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach.
State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach.

While the focus of election night centered on House Congressional races and whether a Blue Wave would wash more Democrats into office, a far more obscure race could prove pivotal to the future makeup of the Long Beach City Council.

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach, is leading in the race for California Insurance Commissioner. As of Wednesday, Lara held a roughly 105,000-vote lead over Steve Poizner, an Independent who had previously served in the same post a decade ago.

If Lara’s lead holds, the race to fill his Senate seat is expected to set off a scramble among local elected officials seeking to replace him. This group may include at least a few current Long Beach city councilmembers, something that could trigger an expensive special election to fill vacancies down the line.

“If Lara wins, it’ll be a donnybrook for sure among people wanting to run for his seat,” said former Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe. “It’ll be a mad dash.”

Knabe said that he was surprised that Lara had done so well in the race given that his platform was centered largely on bringing a single-payer healthcare model to California, an effort that was shut down by the state legislature.

He added that given the heavy Democratic, Latino demographic makeup of the Senate district—it stretches from Long Beach in the south to Huntington Park in the north—a number of candidates may express interest.

Knabe named Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, and Josh Lowenthal, who was just defeated in an Assembly race Tuesday night, as potential candidates. He also pointed to local city councilmembers Lena Gonzalez and Roberto Uranga as contenders.

“I think after Lara wins, you’re gonna be hearing from people running in the next 48 hours,” Knabe said.

Ricardo Lara takes slight lead in race for insurance commissioner

Gonzalez’s office did not return a phone call Wednesday, and Uranga was unavailable due to his service on the California Coastal Commission.

However, at least one councilmember was willing to say he’s interested.

“I’m still watching the results very closely, but nothing has changed,” said 8th District Councilman Al Austin, who has expressed interest in Lara’s seat, should it open. “I’ll always be interested in serving my community in Sacramento.”

Local political consultant Sergio Carillo agreed that the potential vacancy may mobilize an army of local candidates. He said the race may boil down to who can put together a viable campaign in a short amount of time.

“But you’d have to assume an elected from Long Beach would be the front runner,” he said, also naming Gonzalez, Austin and Uranga as contenders.

Councilman Rex Richardson, who represents North Long Beach, may also be a viable candidate given his geographic proximity to other cities in Lara’s district. However, the predominantly Latino makeup of the district would give an advantage to a Latino candidate.

The field would likely be flooded with candidates from cities like Lynwood, South Gate and Paramount, so the ethnicity of the candidate would be a starting point, not a game changer.

Uranga, one observer noted, struggled to win his last election over a newcomer in Long Beach politics, while Gonzalez could potentially have the political weight of Mayor Robert Garcia’s endorsement should she choose to run.

Garcia could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but most agree it is unlikely he would seek Lara’s seat.

Tuesday’s election also brought another factor to consider: With the passage of Measure BBB, most of the current councilmembers will be able to run for a third term without having to run as a write-in, which may relieve any pressure to immediately jump to higher office.

Although 100 percent of precincts are reporting Lara’s lead at over 100,000 votes, many votes remain uncounted.

The election results are likely weeks away from being certified, and Los Angeles County alone has about 984,000 outstanding ballots. The number of outstanding ballots statewide is expected to be known later this week, as individual counties report figures to the California Secretary of State’s office.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.