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New 8th Congressional District May Increase Clout Of Minority Communities In Contra Costa, Solano Counties

RICHMOND (KPIX 5) – A state commission recently finalized the new Congressional district boundaries for California. While redistricting may seem like a pretty mundane subject, it can also make for some pretty interesting political situations.

One of those situations is playing out in Richmond.

With each new census, comes changes to Congressional districts, and the new District 8 is one of the most fascinating. The boundaries are intended to combine dominant communities of color, like Richmond, Vallejo, Pittsburg and Antioch, into a single voting bloc. That effort has encouraged new candidates, including one who is getting some buzz: Richmond City Councilman Demnlus Johnson, III.

"The new Congressional district was created to represent people like us," he said in a new campaign video. "We can finally elect someone who knows our community because they're from our community. Not someone who tells our stories, but someone who's lived our stories. I've lived them."

The video is being praised by even those who don't live in Richmond, eliciting comments like, "Hell of an ad" and "This made me seriously want to move there" and "Possibly the best campaign advertisement I've ever seen."

"When people see ME, they see just a regular guy that they know from their family or from their community," said Johnson, "and it's, like, 'He has the audacity and courage to do this?'"

Johnson, who is African American, grew up in the neighborhood some call the "Iron Triangle." At age 29, his resume is already impressive, and he seems like the kind of candidate that social justice groups wanted when they lobbied for the new boundaries.

But here's where it gets interesting. Also running is veteran politician John Garamendi. First elected to office in 1974, the 77-year-old Congressman is currently representing a northern, rural district that includes Fairfield, Suisun City and part of Vacaville at its southern edge. Because those cities would be part of the new District 8, Garamendi considers himself to be an incumbent in the race.

CA-08 8th Congressional District Map
Map of 8th Congressional District covering parts of Contra Costa and Solano counties. (CBS)

"An area that I've represented, not only as a member of Congress, but also as Lieutenant Governor and as Insurance Commissioner," he said. "So, I've got 12 years of representation in this district, in addition to my 12 years as a member of Congress."

Garamendi doesn't live anywhere near District 8 but pointed out that's not required by law. And, despite being in government for nearly 50 years, he said he wants to lead the innovation needed for the future prosperity of the area.

"It's a good fit and it's one where all of my work over these many, many years fits the needs of the district," he said.

But others, like Richmond activist Pamela Saucer, say what's really needed are candidates of color.

"They would know about the differences that we have experienced and what's going on in the community," she said. "And they would be involved, helping make a difference in the community to support our race."

Johnson agreed, saying the district wasn't created to provide a new home for a long-time politician. "Civil rights organizations and leaders who were fighting for this district were super intentional about not only bringing us together as a district but making sure that there would be no sitting Congressman, and that it would be an open seat," he said.

The filing deadline is March 11th and, so far, seven people have signed up to run for the District 8 seat: (alphabetically) John Garmendi, Demnlus Johnson III, Rudy Recile, Christopher Riley, Edwin Putsch, Clint Smith and Cheryl Sudduth. The primary election is set for June 7th. California uses a "top two" system, meaning the top two vote-getters are sent to the general election even if they're from the same party.

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