Former Assemblymembers Nancy Skinner,
right, and Sandre Swanson in Alameda.

Regardless of how voters split hairs between the far left ideologies of the top two candidates running for California’s Senate District 9 seat — former assemblymembers Sandré Swanson and Nancy Skinner — the East Bay will most likely be sending to Sacramento one of the most progressive members of the next legislature. That is, unless two underdogs — moderate Democrat Katherine Welch and Republican San Pablo Mayor Rich Kinney — can win big upsets and deny a Swanson-Skinner rematch in the fall general election.

At the district’s center are the cities of Oakland, Berkeley, and Richmond, places where voters strongly identify with progressive politics. And the largest cities in the district—Oakland and Berkeley—have the smallest percentages of registered Republicans in the entire state with around seven percent.

Amid concerns among some Democrats that the legislature is heading in a moderate direction, in many ways District 9 represents an opportunity to yank it back to the left. “Progressives from Senate District 9 are a different slice of bread,” said Mario Juarez, a member of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee. “I dare say that not even San Francisco has these types of hyper-progressives.” The importance of the district, said Juarez, is that elected officials from the East Bay can wield tremendous influence in statewide politics. “A strong senator from Alameda County helps influence the machine at the state level. You want to be governor? You need Los Angeles and Alameda Counties,” said Juarez. “We hold more influence in many more ways than anyone can imagine.”

Swanson and Skinner have been trumpeting this exact message on the campaign trail over the past few months, rallying East Bay voters with the prospect of sending a progressive to Sacramento who can pull the legislature leftward and possibly do bold progressive things to address the housing crisis, advance environmental goals, fix the region’s broken transportation system, among other big lifts. Swanson and Skinner both have extensive resumes. Each served six years in the Assembly. Their terms overlapped four of those years. They’ve championed many of the same issues.

“In a race like this, 90 percent of the issues that come before you, you will say ‘We’re the same, that we agree on those questions,’ but it’s the ten percent of the issues that we don’t agree on, that we’ve shown leadership on during our tenure, that you should make your decision upon,” Swanson told an audience in March in Alameda. [CONTINUE TO EAST BAY EXPRESS]