Two years into an increasingly high-profile state legislative career, state Sen. Michael Rubio stunned his constituents and the political world generally Friday in announcing his immediate resignation from the state Senate for family reasons.
His decision wipes out, at least temporarily, the Democrats' supermajority control of the California Legislature and leaves his seat vulnerable to capture by Kern County's active Republicans.
Rubio plans to join Chevron Corp. as manager of governmental affairs in Sacramento.
The state senator, 35, said his decision was dictated by the needs of his family, a reason he gave last year for not running for Congress.
Rubio said he and his wife, Dora, discussed their future over the holiday break and decided his legislative life was a drain on his family life. Their initial plan was for him not to seek re-election in 2014, but that changed when the opportunity opened up at Chevron.
"I contacted the head-hunter and learned that I qualified for the job," Rubio said.
Rubio grew up in Lost Hills, in the middle of the oilfields, and felt building a connection to one of Kern County's major economic powers was a logical step for him.
He will permanently relocate from Shafter to Sacramento, he said, to work in the company's offices there.
Now he will be able to coach his daughter's soccer team, go to parent-teacher conferences and otherwise dedicate more time to the everyday life of his family. Last year, the Rubios welcomed a second daughter, who was born with Down syndrome.
"Being home to have family dinner, this is what it's all about. Family comes first," he said.
Rubio has been in politics his entire adult life, first as a staffer and later as a Kern County supervisor and then state senator. He has served half a term in the state Senate, representing a district that locally includes northwest Kern County plus Arvin, Lamont and parts of east Bakersfield.
Local Republican political consultant Stan Harper said Rubio's move is good for business in Kern County.
"He brings a helluva lot to the table for them. Chevron needed a voice with the liberal element in Sacramento," Harper said. "What's good for Chevron is going to be good for all the oil field service companies. I see it as potentially more jobs for Kern County."
But the decision sends the state's political structure into turmoil. The Democrats have not only had a supermajority in the Senate but also in the state Assembly.
The governor will call a special election to replace him in the near future, Rubio said. The date is uncertain, but there already will be a special election in Bakersfield June 4 to replace Rudy Salas on the Bakersfield City Council.
In a statement, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg called Rubio "a good friend, (and) a thoughtful policy maker."
"His resignation is a tremendous loss to the Legislature, his constituents and the state of California," Steinberg said. "In the time he dedicated to public service, Michael was a champion for job creation in the San Joaquin Valley and for protecting its core industries. His work has always been guided by a well-grounded appreciation of life's priorities, and his decision today is an appropriate reminder that some of our most critical decisions are made at home."
But Mark Hedlund, communications director for Steinberg, acknowledged that Rubio's resignation weakens Democratic control of the state Senate.
With Rubio, he said, the Democrats had a 27-member supermajority, with two vacancies for previous resignations. A supermajority allows Democrats to pass budget legislation without Republican help.
Now Democrats face three campaign battles and must win at least one to take back that iron grip on the state Senate.
Primary elections for two of those battles are scheduled for March 12, according to the California Secretary of State's office. But if no candidate wins a majority of the vote in those two races, Hedlund said, there will have to be a runoff election.
That would extend the length of time Democrats would be in a man-down situation.
Local politicians and political observers were reluctant Friday to speculate about who will run to replace Rubio.
"We haven't even thought that far at all. Today is not the day to do that," said Kern County Democratic Party Chairwoman Candi Easter.
Terry Phillips, who ran without a party affiliation for Congress against Bakersfield Rep. Kevin McCarthy, said he expects a large number of people to join the race but, if they don't, he could consider it.
Republican Pedro Rios, who launched an aggressive campaign for a state Assembly seat in west Kern County last year, said he hadn't even thought about a run.
But, he said, "I sure respect Mr. Rubio and his decision to put his family first."
Those close to Rubio in the political world expressed respect for his decision, even as they admitted his loss was a blow.
Party chairwoman Easter was driving up to Sacramento Friday morning to meet with Rubio and said she didn't know he was considering stepping down.
"I didn't think that was happening. I was very surprised," she said. "We're still trying to come to grips with it. Michael has been such a great leader for us, I'm not sure how we're going to go on without him. But we will."
Rubio is Kern County's most highly placed Democrat. He's been a driven campaigner and public servant and believes in what can be done, Easter said.
"He's always been a public servant. I think this is a very difficult decision for him and he's been struggling with it for a while," she said.
But Easter also said she's seen him struggle with the burdens his political life placed on his family, and that pressure intensified last year when Rubio's daughter Soraya was born with Down syndrome.
"I know he and his wife are dedicated to see that that child has the best possible future," Easter said. "I'm not surprised that he chose his family over politics."
Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez, who represents the 5th District seat Rubio once held, worked for Rubio prior to her election and received strong support from him in her race.
"From day one, when I started with him, he said, 'Family is first,'" Perez said. "That was his mantra from day one and it never changed."
He said Rubio told her that, if there were a problem with her family, she should leave immediately and take care of them.
She said losing Rubio at the state Senate level would be a blow.
"It's tough. He's irreplaceable," she said.
Not so gushing was Matthew Braman, chairman of Kern County Young Republicans, who slammed Rubio's decision to quit early and subject taxpayers to a pricey special election.
He also said the GOP "will be well represented (in such an election) and conservative voters will have a great opportunity to elect a conservative."
"I'm just disappointed in the lack of personal responsibility to the voters from Senator Rubio and his staff of opportunists who now have a record of seeking positions at the cost of taxpayers."
Rubio's decision was a shock, expecially since his statewide profile had been boosted in recent weeks by his leadership role in a campaign to reform the California Environmental Quality Act, an effort supported strongly by the business community.
"Senator Michael Rubio has made a choice for his family's future and I respect that," Carl Guardino, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and co-chair of the statewide CEQA Working Group, wrote in an email. "Almost everyone agrees that CEQA is a great law that has been abused for primarily non-environmental purposes. We'll miss working with the senator on this, but we are fortunate that Governor Jerry Brown and state Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg are committed to reform."
Rubio had also bucked Democratic stereotypes over the past two years by joining with local Republican legislators to push for quicker permitting of oil and gas drilling in Kern County.
The Sacramento Bee reported that Brown was surprised by Rubio's announcement and had been "counting on" Rubio for this year.
Brown, the newspaper said, called Rubio "the foremost champion" of CEQA reform.
At least one environmental group saw Rubio's exit as a welcome blow to reforms sought by the oil industry. Just the day before, Rubio and Steinberg were, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, trying to come to agreement on a joint bill to reform the law.
The group cheered Steinberg's support for tough environmental standards.
"Our lawmakers must stand up to the oil industry, which wants to gut CEQA because the law could help protect California from fracking pollution. As Chevron and other oil companies gear up to frack the 15 billion barrels of oil in California's Monterey Shale, we need to keep CEQA strong to shield our air, water, and climate from a devastating fracking boom."