The 36th State Assembly District:
The 36th District is where Los Angeles ends and where desert and farms begin. Comprised of parts of Los Angeles, Kern, and San Bernardino counties, the district fans out from Edwards Air Force Base, injecting a steady Republican presence into a left-leaning district.
Despite a larger Democrat presence, the district also shows a Republican streak now and again. Incumbent Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) belongs to the GOP, and Newsom barely won here in 2018 51% to 49% over Cox. However, despite some other close races, Democrats usually are the bigger winners. But the fact that the district has been switching back and forth between parties since the Reagan-era means that this is still anyone’s district.
History of the 36th:
Wow, where to begin.
For 20 years the Republican Runner and Knight families duked it out in the Assembly race, with the primary winner generally winning by a substantial margin against the Democrat in the General. Sometimes they won with 70% and other times it was as close as 51%, but it was generally steady for the GOP. But changing demographics with LA residents moving to the outskirts caught up, and in 2012 Democrat Steve Fox won by less than 200 votes over Republican Ron Smith.
The loss shocked Republicans, and in 2014 they went all in. Lackey got the nod and the Republicans came back with a vengeance beating Fox 60% to 40%. Since then Fox has been the Adlai Stevenson of the 36th, running again and again and losing. But each time he’s come closer, with Lackey coming in with a narrow 52% to 48% win over Fox in 2018.
Both parties really want it. The Democrats want a more complete hold of Southern California while the Republicans want to keep a foothold in the area outside of Orange County. Both sides have fought hard. In 2014 they had the highest combined campaign cost – $2.2 million. And with Fox and Lackey coming closer and closer in vote totals, you can bet 2020 will see high numbers as well.
Assemblyman Tom Lackey comes in as an incumbent Republican, something of a rare sight in LA County. A Former California Highway Patrolman and Palmdale City Councilman, Lackey won something of a shock win in 2014 after coming in third in the 2012 Primary and down 10% in the 2014 Primary.
Lackey is a California Republican with a mix of right and centrist tendencies. He works with Democrats often on bills, and this bipartisanship is a big reason why there is a Republican in a district that is majority Democrat registered.
Any anti-drug or law enforcement related bill has a good chance of either being written or sponsored by him. AB 1356 and its attempt to create marijuana breathalyzers in 2015 is a good example. Education and special education are also close to him. His progress on special education in Sacramento have even won him Democratic allies. Affordability and public safety are the other two big messages he’s putting out in the 2020 race.
Pretty much every prominent Republican in the district from Congressmen to city council members have endorsed him, along with a Democrat or Independent here and there. And the growing Democratic tide is taking pause at his lock on police and firefighter support, with their unions going his way. And that’s not to mention the GOP already backing him as well.
He IS vulnerable in 2020, but he’s backed up pretty strongly.
Former Assemblyman Steve Fox is running yet again. A former teacher and lawyer, Fox won the seat in 2012 after switching his party affiliation from Republican and serving a stint as a board member at the Antelope Valley Hospital. He lost in 2014 and has been the Democrat candidate in every Assembly race here since.
Running under the slogan “Check the Box for Fox”, Fox has come out with similar education leanings to Lackey. His one term in the Assembly also shows this. But where Lackey focuses more on crime and public safety, Fox goes for more contemporary Californian issues such as healthcare, affordable housing, and environmental issues. In this race, holding the typical Democratic stances makes him stand out.
However Fox is continuing to battle sexual harassment claims. One has already been settled, while the other is still lingering. Since they come from staffers during his time in the Assembly, it leaves the potential to hurt him even more as the race goes on. In the #metoo era, it will cost him dearly. He has several local lawmakers backing him, but with those accusations still there and his years of tacked up losses, the party isn’t supporting him this time around in the primaries.
Democrats are favoring Johnathon Ervin instead of Fox this time around. Formerly in the U.S. Air Force, Ervin is currently an Engineering Manager for Northrop Grumman. His political experience is as a School Board Member for Muroc Joint Unified School District and a Planning Commissioner in Lancaster. Most notably, he narrowly lost being elected a state Senator in 2016, narrowly losing to Senator Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) 53% to 47%.
Ervin holds the line for Democrats on most issues, and has made a special note of bringing in aerospace jobs into the district after losing so many over the years. The environment, better public education, and less traffic on roads are also highlights of his campaign.
Ervin is also getting endorsements that Fox would have had two years ago and is comparable to Lackey’s list. Democrats all but officially endorse him, with Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) being a prominent endorser. He also has a lot of union backing with groups such as the AFL-CIO and the SEIU backing him. His military background could also crack into a demographic that has always been considered a lock for Republicans too.
Five other Democrats are currently on the ballot as well, but none have tracked nearly as high as Fox or Ervin.
What does this mean?:
Lackey is going to be the Republican’s guy in the 36th, and unless something goes terribly wrong, he’s getting one of the two spots for the General come November. The real race in the Primary is the Democratic scramble, specifically between Fox and Ervin. Fox has had Assembly experience and is a well known name, but comes in tainted with allegations and many in the party not wanting to touch him. Ervin doesn’t have as much experience, but he does have solid endorsements and a few cards up his sleeve to take some votes away from normally Republican voters.
In a perfect world for Democrats Ervin and Fox come in first and second. But Lackey is too popular and a proven winner. 33% of the District is also registered Republican. The most likely scenario is that Ervin will narrowly beat Fox, leading to a close finale in November. But then again Fox has showed remarkable amounts of support, even after initial allegations in 2018. Heck, he almost won that year.
The military vote is going to be crucial here, as are the undecideds, who in the past have been mostly Republican. If neither of the Democrats ‘wow’ voters, Lackey will be re-elected. But if the Democrats start taking away some of Lackey’s former base, it’s going to be close.
This district has been swing for awhile now even as logic dictates it should have a Democrat in by now due to the voter party numbers. The primary should be a good indicator. If Lackey keeps at least 50%, it will show a strong Republican front is still there. Under that and, well, it’s anyone’s game.