On March 26, voters cast their ballots to elect the new California state senator to represent District 33, which was vacated when former State Senator Ricardo Lara was sworn in as California’s insurance commissioner in January. The district covers an area that stretches from the Long Beach waterfront to the City of Huntington Park, bordering the industrial areas of Downtown Los Angeles. Two city councilmembers, Lena Gonzalez of Long Beach and Jack Guerrero of Cudahy, secured enough votes to emerge from the March primary and head into the final June 4 election.

Councilmembers from a number of cities in the district dominated the March ballot. Long Beach Councilmember Al Austin began fundraising over a year before the special election on March 26 in anticipation of a regular election in 2020. He was joined by Southgate Councilmember Denise Diaz, Cudahy Councilmember Ana Maria Quintana, Bell Councilmember Ali Saleh, and Lynwood Mayor José Luis Solache, who all began seeking contributions in 2018, according to campaign finance records filed with the California secretary of state.

“Campaigns are challenging. They cost a lot of money and take a lot of time to build into something you can be proud of at the end of the day,” Saleh told supporters in an e-mail following the election. “I am incredibly proud of my team that worked tirelessly to get our message out to the voters in District 33 but unfortunately with the crowded field of candidates, it just wasn’t enough to breakthrough and win.”

Primary winner Gonzalez’s campaign began receiving contributions in early 2019, while her opponent in the final election, Guerrero, did not file any campaign finance reports with the secretary of state’s office. Gonzalez ran the most expensive campaign, totaling $1.36 million in expenditures so far, over $1 million more than Solache’s campaign, which comes in second in expenditures at $218,654. In return, Gonzalez was able to gather 8,700 votes (30.6%) across the district, over double the number of votes cast for the runner-up, Guerrero, who received 4,224 votes (14.9%).

Independent expenditures from the “Coalition to Restore California’s Middle Class, Including Energy Companies who Produce Gas, Oil, Jobs and Pay Taxes” political action committee made up a majority of funds spent on Gonzalez’s campaign. They also paid for consulting, research, billboards and TV advertisements. A week before the election, a number of campaign ads emphasizing Gonzalez’s commitment to the future of the local oil industry and its workers flashed across TV screens in the Long Beach area. In total, the group has spent $1.1 million on the campaign.

Diaz, who garnered 7% of votes, congratulated Gonzalez in an e-mail to supporters, but criticized the influence of “big money and special interests” on the election. “Despite the outcome, we accomplished a lot,” Diaz wrote. “For too long, our voices haven’t been heard by the power structures in Sacramento. We need to make sure to change that. I will continue to devote my energies towards this goal.”

Gonzalez has been endorsed by most of the state’s major unions, Rep. Alan Lowenthal and her predecessor, Ricardo Lara, among others. “There is no better person to replace me in the State Senate than Lena Gonzalez,” Lara said in his endorsement. “A dynamic woman in business. A mom with three sons. And a City Council leader.”

Guerrero, a certified public accountant, holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Stanford University and a Master of Business Administration from Harvard University, according to his campaign website. Guerrero did not share endorsements for his campaign for state senate. Neither candidate was available for an interview prior to publication. The two candidates will face off in a final election on June 4, 2019.

Voter turnout for the 33rd Senate District special election was low. Participation rates were the highest in the California Heights and Los Cerritos neighborhoods of Long Beach, where 16-17% of registered voters in three neighboring precincts cast a ballot. (Data analysis and visualization by the Long Beach Business Journal)