By Steven Tavares
@eastbaycitizen on twitter

The will of the voters in Southern California could set the stage for a surprisingly sharp jolt to the local political pecking order in the East Bay come 2012 if Secretary of State Debra Bowen can position herself as the favorite after next Tuesday’s special congressional primary in District 36.

The inaugural run of California’s Open Primary system will pit Bowen against fellow Democrat and Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn and the Republican Mayor of Redondo Beach Mike Gin. Regardless of party affiliation the top two finishers, in the absensce of one candidate winning 50 percent of the vote in the primary phase, will advance to the general election. The seat became open with the retirement of Rep. Jane Harman last year.

Most believe Bowen and Hahn, who reported a large cash advantage will face off later in the year, but the secretary of state’s potential victory not only leaves her statewide office up for grabs, but also opens an opportunity for state legislators in the East Bay to make an easier political climb than once believed available.

There is little doubt Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett covets the secretary of state job. Most notably, though, the soft-spoken San Leandro liberal has offered tougher-than-usual criticisms in recent speeches and interviews. Corbett’s performance at the State Democratic Convention featured some of the best and most pointed invective toward state Republicans, while landing hard punches on the entire GOP. At one point, she called national Republicans the “Party of Trump.”

If Bowen can snag CD 36, which many believe she will, but not without a tough campaign fight, the repercussions would offer an East Bay political landscape that is in many different ways on the verge reacting to the Big One—Rep. Pete Stark’s declining health and future retirement. Corbett’s possible ascension, though, would send a different shakeup to the area; one likely to maintain the status quo.

The biggest beneficiary would be Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, who then have leg up of replacing Corbett in the State Senate—something already likely to happen in coming years—but, it could be a convenient solution to the bedeviling two-year hole between the end of her assembly term in 2012 and the remainder of Corbett’s senate term in 2014.

Since Hayashi’s seat is already up-for-grabs next year very little would change in the Bowen/Corbett scenario. Already, there is a small group of candidates just beginning to jockey for position. Jennifer Ong is the only announced candidate thus far, but most expect Hayward Councilman Bill Quirk to announce his run this summer. Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti may also be a potential candidate.

In the event Bowen becomes a congresswoman, the possible promoting of Corbett to statewide office, either by government appointment or special election, would the gain the 84,000-strong city of San Leandro quite an image of renown with, along with State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, two of the nine elected statewide leaders cutting their teeth in the the small East Bay suburb.