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State Sen. Jeff Stone to resign after accepting Department of Labor job

Riverside Press-Enterprise 10/30/2019 Jeff Horseman
a man sitting at a table using a laptop: State Sen. Jeff Stone, R-La Quinta, announced Wednesday, Oct. 30, that he’s resigning from office. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli). © Provided by MediaNews Group d/b/a Digital First Media State Sen. Jeff Stone, R-La Quinta, announced Wednesday, Oct. 30, that he’s resigning from office. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli).

Inland state Sen. Jeff Stone, R-La Quinta, is leaving office to join the Trump administration, setting up a potentially competitive special election in a sweeping district encompassing much of Riverside County.

Stone’s resignation, announced Wednesday, Oct. 30, takes effect Friday. The 63-year-old said he accepted an appointment to become the U.S. Department of Labor’s western regional director overseeing Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

“I am deeply honored to be appointed by the President and look forward to continuing my public service in this new and exciting position,” Stone, a conservative, said in a news release. “The nation under President Trump is experiencing unprecedented economic growth that requires a highly trained and skilled workforce.”

He added: “I will always be grateful to the people of Riverside County for having granted me the opportunity to represent them and be a voice for our shared values.”

In a news release, Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove of Bakersfield praised Stone as a “champion for small business and a strong economy as a means of lifting people out of poverty.”

A pharmacist by trade, Stone’s political career began on the Temecula City Council. He served on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors from 2005 until his Senate election in 2014.

He garnered a reputation for acronyms – many of his policy proposals in the county spelled words like SCRAPE or “Save County of Riverside Against Preventable Expenditures” – and outspokenness. Stone made national headlines in 2011 when he suggested California be split in two after Sacramento lawmakers diverted vehicle license-fee revenue from four fledging Riverside County cities.

Stone represents California’s 28th Senate District, which stretches from Blythe on the county’s eastern end through the Coachella Valley to include Temecula, Murrieta, Lake Elsinore and Canyon Lake.

State law lets Gov. Gavin Newsom schedule a special election to replace Stone, whose term runs through 2022. One scenario is a March 3, 2020, primary coinciding with the statewide primary, with a runoff election for the 28th taking place May 5, said Rob Pyers of the California Target Book, which studies state legislative races.

Such a contest could be competitive. Democratic challenger Joy Silver came within roughly 3 percentage points of unseating Stone last year, and Democrats now hold a slight edge over the GOP in the district’s voter registration – 35.1% to 34.8%, according to the latest Registrar of Voters figures – with a mere 1,349 voters separating the two parties.

Stone’s narrow win “is a clear sign the district has been trending Democratic,” Pyers said in an email. “If the Democrats want to flip the seat, though, they’ll need to consolidate behind a single candidate so they can reach the 50% + 1 in the special election primary and take advantage of what is almost certain to be sky-high Democratic turnout for the presidential primary …”

“If it goes to a runoff in May, then they’ll most likely find themselves up against a more Republican-leaning electorate and be at a disadvantage.”

Silver filed papers to run in the 28th in 2022.

Democrats hold a supermajority in the state Senate and Assembly. Stone’s departure offers them a chance to expand that majority while the GOP, which controls just 11 of 40 Senate seats, wants to hold its ground.

It’s understandable why Stone would want to leave Sacramento, Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College, said via email.

“Democrats control every statewide office and enjoy supermajorities in both chambers,” he said. “A Republican has little chance to drive public policy, so it’s no wonder that a federal administrative job is a very attractive alternative.”

One candidate seeking Stone’s seat is Temecula Councilman Matt Rahn, who already has the senator’s endorsement. Rahn said he can bring a strong record on issues like public safety, transportation, and homelessness to Sacramento.

“It was important for me to be able to maintain the kind of leadership and representation the 28th Senate District deserves,” said Rahn, who filed to run for Congress as a Republican against embattled Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine before withdrawing from that race after deep-pocketed Republicans Carl DeMaio and Darrell Issa jumped in.

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Another possible candidate is Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, whose district overlaps at points with Stone’s.

In a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, Melendez said she was happy Stone got the federal appointment he had sought.

Melendez said she’s “looking at”  Stone’s seat.

“I just found about this today, so I haven’t even had a chance to speak with my husband and my family about it.”

Stone is the second Inland public official in recent months to leave for a Trump administration job. In summer, Murrieta City Councilman Randon Lane resigned to take a job with the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C.

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