'Til Death Do Us Part? Not in California Politics | NBC Southern California
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'Til Death Do Us Part? Not in California Politics

State Sen. Jenny Oropeza lost a long battle with cancer last month. But her political battle rages on, at least on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Ms. Oropeza's name will appear on the ballot, and Democrats are hoping voters will re-elect the late Senator.

And the GOP is none too happy about it.

California Republicans have filed complaints with the Attorney General and LA District Attorney Steve Cooley against Secretary of State Debra Bowen. At the heart of the matter is a letter that hit mailboxes in the 28th Senate District Monday, Nov. 1.

In it, Bowen's name follows a message that refers to Oropeza's "illness," and tells voters they "have the right to vote for her. If ... she wins there will be a Special Election called. You will then be able to thoughtfully consider who will represent you in the Senate..."

The GOP says that's not only wrong, it's a crime. The letter comes in an envelope that says "Important Election Information from the Secretary of State. In their complaint, Republicans say the letter violates Penal Code Section 115.21, "which makes it unlawful for 'any person' to publish a 'campaign advertisement' that contains a false or fraudulent depiction of official public documents.

The letter has a disclaimer that says it was paid for by the Democratic Party.

But the GOP says Bowen is using her elected title to unfairly sway voters into casting ballots for a dead candidate, who would force a costly Special Election.

Bowen's GOP opponent Damon Dunn says it's "shameful. It's all about motives, and these motives are bad. It's low politics, and it doesn't pass the sniff test."

But Bowen's campaign spokesperson Steve Barkan disagrees. He says, "I don't see how anyone would be misled, since it clearly is identified as being from the California Democratic Party." He does say that Bowen did not approve the mailer, but simply provided a "quote, just a statement of fact."

What's at the heart of this battle is party politics. The district is nearly 50 percent Democratic, and only 25 percent Republican. Perhaps the only way a Republican candidate could win that seat would be the death of his opponent. But if a special election is called, it would fall under California's new "open primary" balloting, which would mean the two top vote getters would square off in a general election. And in this district, it's possible both of those candidates could be Democratic.