Oller tries complex hurdle to Senate
It has become a trend for politicians facing term limits to target other seats in the California Legislature.
Sometimes it means that legislators are forced to take on members of Congress within their own party in an effort to keep a seat, any seat, in the state Legislature. In Los Angeles, Democratic Assemblyman Dick Floyd shocked fellow Assemblyman Ed Vincent by moving into his district and filing to run against him.
“I thought I was going to run unopposed,” Vincent told the Sacramento Bee last month.
A similar battle in the Republican Party could have taken place in the Fourth Assembly District when Sen. Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, chose to run for the Assembly after serving eight years in the Senate. But Assemblyman Thomas “Rico” Oller, R-Roseville, had already decided to try and move into the Senate when Leslie made the announcement last year.
“I will have some very big shoes to fill with Tim Leslie gone,” said Oller, who added that he will be able to do more for the Lake Tahoe area as a senator.
Oller has faced strong competition, however, in the huge First Senate District, which runs along the Sierra Nevada, from Mono County in the south to Modoc County in north, ending at the Oregon border. The race to replace Tim Leslie has attracted three Democrats, and three other Republicans have joined in an increasingly competitive primary campaign that will end after Tuesday’s statewide primary election.
“It has been a very nasty campaign and my opponent has been deceitful and untruthful,” Oller said of Republican Skip Daum, a lobbyist from Truckee who has waged a rhetorical war against him.
Republicans Mary Andrews, a former Chico City Councilwoman, and Karen Knecht, a Nevada County supervisor, are also running in the heavily Republican district. Whoever wins the Republican nomination Tuesday will be highly favored in November’s general election but Andrews and Knecht have often been drowned out by their wealthy and bombastic opponents.
“Unfortunately, if you don’t have money you can’t get anywhere,” Daum said.
Andrews, 61, has raised very little money and in February reported only $3,000 in her campaign account. Unable to pay for television ads as Daum and Oller have done, she has focused on traveling throughout the district to meet with voters.
Last Thursday she met with voters at South Lake Tahoe’s Red Hut Waffle Shop, which is owned by her sister.
Andrews and many others have accused Oller of pandering to those who have made large donations to his campaign.
“He represents the image of politics that people don’t like,” Andrews said. “We need someone who is not tainted.”
Oller was named the “most ignored legislator” by the California Journal, which covers politics in Sacramento, according to Daum, who has called Oller a hypocrite for his fund-raising practices.
Oller, who has raised more than $1 million for the campaign, said the attacks have not hurt him and have not helped his opponents.
“I would be unhappy and very surprised if I were to loose. That is not going to happen,” Oller said despite widespread criticism.
“We are going to win very handily on election day,” said Patrick Bergin, a spokesman for Oller, who scoffed at Daum’s attacks and at the Sacramento Bee’s endorsement of Knecht.
“They have never endorsed Rico,” he said. “They don’t endorse the candidates who win.”
Because of its small population, South Lake Tahoe, which is primarily democratic, often doesn’t vote for the candidates who win either. In 1992 and in 1996 Democrat Tom Romero carried much of the South Shore and is now competing with Democrats Merita Callaway and Scott Gruendl to win over the district’s small liberal population.
“It is very unusual to have three Democratic candidates that want to run against Rico Oller, but we think that he is that weak and that unpalatable,” said Pat Frega of the El Dorado County Democratic Central Committee. “Rico doesn’t bring anything back into the district. He is an extremist and holds extreme conservative views that do not represent the views of most of the people in his district.”
Democrats suggest that they would be better able to represent the district in the Legislature, which is dominated by Democrats. Oller rejected that idea but Daum said Oller’s inability to work with Democrats has hurt voters.
“He is a polarizer,” Daum said. “He is so far right wing that he can’t get anything done.”
“I am proud of my work in the Legislature, but anyone who says they don’t make mistakes is either a fool or a liar,” Oller said. “What I can do in the Senate is do the best job I can, as I have always done, and that means I have had to build relationships in both parties.”
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