After thinking it over for a day, former Fresno Mayor Alan Autry has decided not to seek the state Senate seat vacated by Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio.
Autry, 60, said he is too busy right now between television shows and working on a mentoring program for troubled youths that he started six months ago.
But, he said in an interview today, his decision applies only to the May 21 special election that will temporarily fill the seat that came open when Rubio abruptly resigned on Feb. 22. Whoever wins that contest must stand for re-election next year – when Rubio’s term would have been up – and Autry said he will give serious consideration to running then.
“In 2014 I will take a serious look at this because I do want to help the state,” Autry said.
Autry, a Republican, said he had been approached by state Senate GOP leaders who told him their polling showed he could win the seat, even though the district is solidly Democratic.
Senate leaders were hoping Autry would run in the special election, which would be for the 16th Senate District as it was between 2002 and 2012. Political Data Inc., which collects voter information, said registration in the district was 50.7% Democratic and 28.6% Republican as of Feb. 22.
Because turnout is typically low in special elections, Republicans feel they have a good chance to take the district away from the Democrats.
But next year, the person in the seat must run again under newly drawn boundaries. That is the 14th state Senate District. The two districts are 88% the same, but Republicans say it would be tougher for them to take the seat because it would be a general election.
GOP leaders felt Autry, well known locally because of his Hollywood career and two terms of Fresno’s mayor, was the best person to win both this year and next.
On Friday, Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, former Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines and state Sen. Tom Berryhill made their pitch to Autry at a north Fresno Starbucks.
Autry said going into the meeting he was leaning against running, but Huff, Villines and Berryhill made some good points. He said he would think it over.
Word of Autry’s potential run sent local Republican leaders into opposite camps.
Former Fresno City Council Member Jerry Duncan, for instance, enthusiastically backed Autry and said he would make a great senator. But businessman Tal Cloud took the opposite viewpoint, and even authored a memo on Fresno’s borrowing during Autry’s mayoral terms. His conclusion: the city’s current financial troubles rest right at Autry’s feet.
Autry has kept mostly a low profile since leaving the mayor’s office. He hosted a weekday talk radio show for a little more than two years, leaving the air in December 2010 to return to acting and making movies.
This year, Autry has appeared in two episodes of the CW Network show “Hart of Dixie,” and Autry said today that he has been asked back for next season. In addition, Autry said he is filming a show locally called “Choices.” But his biggest current project, he said, is the mentoring program he started for youths at Fresno County’s juvenile hall.
Autry’s decision likely clears the way on the Republican side for Hanford cherry farmer Andy Vidak, who a week ago said he would run and who has been busy raising money.
In addition to Vidak, Shafter City Council Member Fran Florez – a Democrat – said Friday via Twitter that she is running. Florez is the mother of Dean Florez, who held the Senate seat before Rubio.
Besides Vidak and Florez, the only other person to say he is running is Democrat Alfred Benavides, a former Hanford Joint Union High School District trustee. But Francisco Ramirez Jr. and Fresno resident John Estrada have pulled campaign papers, according to the Fresno County elections website. Neither Ramirez nor Estrada list a political party – though Estrada has been a Democrat in the past.
Other names mentioned include Bakersfield Democrat Leticia Perez, a former Rubio aide and newly elected Kern County supervisor, and Kings County Supervisor Richard Valle, also a Democrat. On the Republican side, Kerman Mayor Gary Yep has said he’s looking at a run.
Perez, who is well liked by Democratic leaders, is expected to make a decision on a run next week.