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Five California elections to watch (besides the big races)

June 8, 2010 | 11:51 am

Sure, there’s the governor’s race and the U.S. Senate primary Tuesday. But California’s a big state and there are plenty of other fascinating down-ticket battles and story lines to watch for Tuesday night. 

Consider the $2.7-million special interest slugfest over a state Senate seat. Or a prominent politician’s wife taking on, electorally, his ex-girlfriend. Or a multiple-generation family feud coming to a boil. 

Keep reading for a guide to five interesting races to keep track of Tuesday evening.

5) Liz Figueroa vs. Nadia Lockyer, Alameda County supervisor 

A former state senator butting up against the wife of a powerful state official is an interesting story line. It’s more intriguing when the former state senator, Liz Figueroa, once dated the man, Bill Lockyer, her opponent, Nadia Lockyer, is now married to.

"Whenever I went anywhere, there were a lot of negative things she would say about me," Nadia Lockyer recently told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I have no idea what she's talking about," Figueroa replied. "Anyone who knows me knows that's just not me." 

4) Pete Parra vs. Fran Florez, 30th Assembly District 

Ah, family rivalries. This Central Valley quarrel has already spanned two generations and elections dating back nearly a decade. Fran Florez is the mother of state Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter) and is seeking the Assembly seat her son once occupied. The Florezes have feuded famously with the Parras. 

Dean Florez and former Assemblywoman Nicole Parra (D-Hanford) seemed to take pleasure in derailing each other’s legislation in recent years. Now, it’s their parents’ turn. Predictably, this race has been mired in sludge. 

3) Betsy Butler, 53rd Assembly District 

No other Assembly candidate has been barraged with negative attacks by outside interest groups this year as much as Betsy Butler. So what did the first-time Assembly candidate do? 

She previously served as the fundraiser for the state’s trial lawyer association – the Consumer Attorneys of California – the longtime nemesis of the business lobby. As a result, a who’s who of business interests – such as oil, insurance and drug companies – have spent months slamming her. All told, more than $1 million has been spent directly by outside interests on this coastal district that stretches from Torrance past Marina del Rey. So whoever comes out atop this eight-person Democratic free-for-all primary, the story to be told is what happened to Butler.

2) Susan Jordan, 35th Assembly District 

Quite a few state lawmakers’ wives have run to replace their husbands in recent years. At least five such marital partners have fallen short of election day bliss in the last several election cycles. Jordan, the wife of outgoing Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), is hoping to end that trend and join Assemblywoman Audra Strickland (R-Moorpark), state Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara), Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), state Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) and Assemblyman Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park) as one who followed his or her spouse (and in Lowenthal’s case, ex-spouse) into the Legislature. 

1) Mary Salas vs. Juan Vargas, 40th state Senate District

This race has been a bruising and pricey war over what kind of Democrat – a more liberal or moderate one  – will replace termed-out state Sen. Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego). 

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has made the ascent of Assemblywoman Mary Salas, considered the more liberal of the two, a top priority this June. But the contest has attracted the gaudy sum of $2.7 million in outside interest group spending, with ex-Assemblyman Juan Vargas, benefiting at a 6 to 1 ratio. 

And it’s not just businesses that are backing Vargas, though plenty are. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is spending to defeat Salas, a move viewed in Sacramento as a none-too-subtle message to Steinberg, who union leaders have felt has given too much ground in recent budgets. 

 -- Shane Goldmacher in Sacramento