By any measure, Rusty Hicks should be one of the strongest candidates of the seven in the running for Assembly District 2 in the upcoming primary election, March 4.
He has the endorsement of a passel of labor organizations—always a key indicator for a Democrat—as well as many of the public officials in the northern part of the assembly district. And not only did he win the endorsement of Jim Wood, the current assembly seat holder who is retiring at the end of his current term, but on Wednesday of this week he also received Gov. Gavin Newsom’s endorsement to add to his credentials.
Hicks’ home is now in Arcata, where he lives “with his wife, Sandra, and their chocolate Labrador, Charlie,” according to his campaign website at www.rustyhicks.org. He serves as an associate professor at College of the Redwoods, a community college in Eureka, and teaches American government to incarcerated students at Pelican Bay State Prison.
But he only moved into the district in 2021, making him a relatively late arrival, the most recent of the seven candidates.
And he still has the job that could make him the odds-on favorite. As the chair of the California Democratic Party (CDP), Hicks has access to significant cash and other resources that the party doles out to candidates in elections.
That favored status has raised questions about the suitability of a candidate being in a position to hand out party support, and questions about one person’s ability to have two demanding party roles. A growing number of CDP members have signed a petition urging Hicks to step down from his party seat, saying that his divided interests and energies make him unable to fully perform his party role.
“It is simply impossible for any human to simultaneously manage the campaigns for every county, assembly race, Senate race, statewide race and so much more all at the same time as running their own more-than-full-time campaign for assembly,” said Hélène Rouvier, an executive board member of the CDP.
“Rusty is not superhuman,” she added. “He is cutting corners, and we will all pay the price.”
Hicks, 44, received his law degree from Loyola in 2014, following deployment to Afghanistan where he served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy. He ran for and won the party chair seat in 2019, after the previous chair resigned. Prior to that he held the position of president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor for almost five years.
But his recent decision to run for the state assembly seat did not sit well with some members of his party. Rouvier pointed out that the CDP “sends more Representatives to Congress than any other state. From Crescent City to San Diego, control of the House of Representatives goes through California.”
In December, Rouvier and two dozen other CDP delegates urged Hicks to resign the party chair, citing party bylaws that present the dual role as a “conflict of interest and neglect of duty.” Going further, the statement says, “Hicks has engaged in misconduct and neglect of duty by placing his ambition ahead of the interests of the Party.”
Their statement further reads, in part: “Hicks is running for State Assembly, kicking off his campaign with no prior notice to the Party and no discussion with delegates as to the best path forward for the Party as it fights with a national coalition to save our Republic and the Democratic institutions.”
Hicks’ initial response to the letter was his own statement, “The claims are baseless and without merit. I will not resign.”
When Hicks’ office was contacted this week by the Tribune, it was Robin Swanson, a communications professional for the Hicks campaign, who responded by email. “As for the Rouvier request, for frame of reference there are more than 3,500 delegates to the California Democratic Party. Rusty is thrilled to have been elected Chair by an overwhelming majority of them and will continue in that role.”
Since the initial 27 signers of the complaint, said Rouvier, there have been an additional 134 signatures—70 of whom are delegates. While this is not by any means a majority of the party delegates, it is a growing number.
Rouvier intends to submit the delegate signatures on Feb. 28 to petition the party to agendize the issue at their next meeting, which is not scheduled until May (“although a special meeting could be called earlier,” she said).
However, with the primary election set for March 5, it’s quite possible that Hicks will find himself running for the assembly seat for the following eight months, until the November general election.
The complete list of candidates includes Willits resident Cynthia Click; Del Norte School District Trustee Michael Greer (the only Republican in the race); Rusty Hicks, California Democratic Party chair; Ariel Kelley, Healdsburg councilmember; Frankie Myers, vice chair of the Yurok Tribe; Chris Rogers, Santa Rosa councilmember; and Ted Williams, Mendocino County supervisor.
Said Rouvier, “If Chair Hicks is in the top two after the primary, the dynamic will change a bit. That said, the charges remain—he has put his political ambition ahead of his full-time job as Party Chair and needs to be held accountable. And this is in the context of a critical election year where Republican victories could be disastrous for our democracy.”