Analyst: Issues unique to Inland give Harris reason to keep Riverside office open

By Nancy Crist | Jan 18, 2017

WASHINGTON — Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., remains undecided on the fate of former Sen. Barbara Boxer’s downtown Riverside, California office, despite the fact it is the senator's only presence in the fast-growing Inland Empire.

The Press Enterprise reported in December that Harris is “setting up a state operation and analyzing office locations.” If Harris closes the Riverside office and opens a new location still within the inland region of San Bernardino and Riverside counties, there will likely be little negative political fallout, Mike Madrid, principal of California-based public affairs firm GrassrootsLab, told The Northern California Record.

“It’s highly unlikely it would have partisan ramifications,” he said. “It’s extremely difficult to unseat the sitting senator, especially a Democrat in California. The Republican Party is simply not strong enough to make it a political issue.”

Although Republicans are not likely to turn inland’s loss of a Democratic senator’s presence into a public debate, the reaction of the region’s voters is not as easily predicted.

The Riverside office is the only Inland Empire presence for either of the state’s senators. On the other hand, The Press Enterprise reported that three House delegates maintain offices in the region: Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside, has a Riverside office; Rep. Pete Aguilar, a Democrat from Redlands, has a San Bernardino office; and Rep. Ken Calvert, a Republican from Corona, has a Corona office.

California is a vast state, making the decision of where to locate political offices a strategic one based on resources, convenience and a desire to reach the greatest possible number of constituents, Madrid said. Locations are chosen not for voters so much as for issue-focused activists. That’s because the digital age makes it easy for voters to reach their delegates, easily voicing their opinions via e-mail and phone.

Conversely, he said, entities with a stake in federal issues require face-to-face communication. For organizations with an interest in pending federal legislation on massive issues like land use, making a phone call to a senator’s office is simply not enough.

“If you have an enormous federal issue that requires senate action … it’s not just an individual concern, it’s an entire entity’s concern,” Madrid said. “You need to sit down and go over intricate parts of complex legislation. A presence … is really designed to provide certain regions of the state with contact and policy expertise.”

In addition to standing offices, policymakers set up offices in anticipation of, or in response to, state and federal policy matters that are high profile and require monitoring, he said.

If Harris does close the Riverside office, this could be an alternative strategy when a federal issue requiring senate action arises for the inland region, Madrid said. An office established with the purpose of a legislation-specific presence allows staff, chosen for their expertise and educated on the pending legislation, to quickly respond to emerging issues.

“You (need) staff that is keenly aware of the policies that affect that region of the state,” Madrid said. “The issues that Inland Empire grapples with will be very different from what will be issues in Northern California.”

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