For more than nine months, Jordan Cunningham was the lone candidate in the 2016 race for the open seat to represent California’s 35th District in the state Assembly.
That solitude sparked plenty of local curiosity, wondering who would run against Cunningham. Now, he finally has some competition.
Long-time local businesswoman Dawn Ortiz-Legg formally announced her bid for the seat on Nov. 19, kicking off what she said is a soft launch of sorts during the holiday season.
Cunningham, a Republican, and Ortiz-Legg, a Democrat, are vying for the Assembly seat that will be vacated by Assemblymember Katcho Achadjian when his term closes at the end of 2016. Achadjian is running to represent the 24th U.S. Congressional District, which will be open after long-time incumbent Lois Capps retires in 2016.
Ortiz-Legg said she first thought about running after the group “close the gap CA,” which works to increase the number of women in the state Legislature, came to the area in June to recruit female candidates. While considering a candidacy, Ortiz-Legg said she realized that several locals who would make great representatives aren’t running because of how time intensive it is to campaign and raise money.
“It’s a challenge,” Ortiz-Legg told New Times. “I’ve thought about it over and over again, and I kept thinking that I’m actually at a point in my life where my credibility is relevant to the challenges that we face in the county.”
Ortiz-Legg has spent her professional career working as an independent contractor in the manufacturing and renewable energy industries. She’s currently a public affairs consultant for First Solar, an industrial-scale solar energy company that built a large project on the Carrizo Plains and is currently looking to build additional projects in the Cuyama Valley and near Parkfield.
Ortiz-Legg has also worked with several local organizations, including being a co-founder of the local chapter of the peace group Code Pink and serving as a board member of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Currently, she sits on the board of the Economic Vitality Corporation, the Cuesta College Sustainability Resource Center, and the SLO International Film Festival.
She said that as a representative, the biggest issues she’d focus on would be creating jobs, housing, and infrastructure.
“I just want to provide a very solid, well rounded representation to both Sacramento, and from there back down here, to be able to talk to all the stakeholders,” Ortiz-Legg said. “That’s one of my strengths—I like talking to everybody.”
Cunningham, who was born and raised in SLO County, announced he’d run in February. Cunningham worked as a prosecutor in the SLO County District Attorney’s Office before working primarily as a defense attorney at the San Luis Obispo-based firm Adamski Moroski Madden Cumberland & Green LLP. A month ago, Cunningham and his wife, Shauna, also an attorney, started their own private practice, Cunningham Law Group.
Cunningham sits on the Templeton Unified School District School Board, has worked as a fellow for the California Legislature and as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, and is currently president of the Central Coast Taxpayers Association, which educates and advocates for taxpayers.*
Cunningham told New Times that the biggest things he’d focus on include general taxpayer issues, including the protection of Proposition 13; making college more affordable; and water supply and infrastructure improvements.
Cunningham said the 35th state Assembly seat—which represents all of SLO County and parts of northern Santa Barbara County—leans toward a Republican majority and generally favors someone with his political values.
“You’ve got to be someone that can stay true to your principles, and fight for taxpayers and small businesses, as well as work with members on the other side of the aisle,” Cunningham said. “It’s tailor made for a business friendly, fiscally conservative, problem solving candidate, especially one from SLO County.”
Garnering support from local businesses and industries may be a key battle for the two candidates. Ortiz-Legg also expressed an emphasis on supporting the many small business, or “closely held companies,” in the area.
“That’s the community that provides jobs,” Ortiz-Legg said. “That’s my whole base.”
Cunningham said locally owned, smaller companies have a harder time coping with state taxes and regulations than larger, corporate companies do.
“California is becoming an increasingly hard place for small business to succeed,” he said.
*CORRECTION: The original version of this article incorrectly stated an activity of the Central Coast Taxpayers Association. The organization does not contribute money to political campaigns. DEC. 3, 2015
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay