Blakeslee legislation would make state pay for cost of special elections

Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, whose own pair of special elections last year cost five counties millions of dollars, has introduced legislation that would require state rather than local taxpayers to foot the bill for past and future special elections.

Blakeslee, who became a senator only after a pair of summer face-offs that county leaders called ill-timed, says 26 counties held or will hold special elections from January 2009 through April 2011, at a cost of $17.7 million.

“The state should be paying its bills for the costs imposed on our counties,” Blakeslee said in a press release Thursday.

Blakeslee was involved in a game of electoral musical chairs last year that angered county supervisors in the 15th state Senate District.

Sen. Abel Maldonado had resigned to become lieutenant governor under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Blakeslee ran for Maldonado’s open seat, along with three other candidates.

The law required both a special primary election and a special general election.

The governor could have scheduled these so that the second coincided with the November general election, saving the five counties in which the election was held millions of dollars. But he chose to set it earlier, in August.

Blakeslee's opponents sought in vain to have the second of the two special elections coincide with the Nov. 2 general election.

Those opponents, including Democrat John Laird, accused Schwarzenegger and Blakeslee of conspiring to hold the election at a time when turnout would be suppressed. Blakeslee denied the accusation.

Maldonado’s office chided those seeking a different date, saying he “has already gotten to work holding meetings with economic development directors and working toward creating jobs. That's his focus -- not publicly questioning the governor's decisions." Maldonado lost his bid for re-election in November

Frank Mecham, chairman of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, called the scheduling "ridiculous. It just doesn't make any financial sense to me." Other counties took similar views, and county clerks and registrars of voters fought the timing.

Registrars lost that battle, but have been in the forefront of the move to have the state reimburse counties.

The two elections combined cost county taxpayers $750,000, county Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald said. The figure does not include the costs for Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara and Monterey counties, estimated to be in the millions of dollars.

Blakeslee won with 48 percent to Laird's 44 percent. Gov. Jerry Brown has since appointed Laird state Secretary of Natural Resources.

In a news release announcing his legislation, SB 106, Blakeslee alluded to Brown’s plan to hold a special election later this year.

“Similar to Schwarzenegger’s 2009 special election, Brown’s special election could present counties across the state with a bill close to $70 million,” Blakeslee wrote.

“As we begin to debate the merits of the Brown special election, a first step would be to demonstrate that we’re committed to paying our existing bills,” said Blakeslee.