Keating seeks Tom Berryhill Assembly seat

Former Modesto City Councilwoman Janice Keating is running for the Assembly, staking an early claim to the seat opened by Tom Berryhill's decision to campaign for the state Senate.

She's preparing for a tough June primary, possibly against Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater.

Keating, 43, plans to run as an outsider, banking on dissatisfaction with business as usual in Sacramento to carry her through the primary.

"This is a unique climate," she said. "People aren't necessarily looking favorably on career politicians who have been there."

She faces an uphill fight if Denham drops out of next year's lieutenant governor's race and chooses to run for the Assembly. He has more than $1 million in two campaign finance accounts, a war chest he built up in two elections and in defending himself against a 2008 recall effort.

Denham, 42, said Tuesday that he is being encouraged by other Assembly members to run for Berryhill's seat, their thinking being that he could become a prominent voice in that chamber because of his experience in the Senate.

However, "I'm running for lieutenant governor," he said. "That's been my position for a long time."

Denham lives in Atwater and would have to move to Stanislaus County or the foothills to run for the 25th Assembly District seat.

Keating's priorities include protecting local government funding from Sacramento budget grabs, curbing taxes and streamlining regulations on business.

Keating, first elected to the City Council in 2002, has been critical of state mandates that require businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that the impact of the law has not been studied and that it could cause companies to leave California.

"I'm very concerned about the climate change regulations being proposed because they're job killers for us," she said. "They refuse to analyze the costs of California going completely green, and whether or not we can afford it in an era of 20 percent unemployment."

Keating ran for the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors in 2006, narrowly losing to former state Sen. Dick Monteith. That campaign split Modesto's Republican establishment because both were well-known conservatives.

A run against Denham could do the same, but Denham has some advantages from his two terms in Sacramento. He's originally from Salinas and moved to Atwater after his election to be in the heart of the sprawling 12th Senate District.

"Denham is certainly a proven commodity, and that's what we're going to be looking for," said Jim DeMartini, chairman of the Stanislaus County Republican Central Committee.

Denham declared his intent early to run for lieutenant governor, but some Republican leaders worry that the primary for that seat is too crowded with three senators vying for the office. Denham and Sen. Sam Aanestad of Nevada County represent the conservative wing of the party, while Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria is known as a moderate.

Candidate announcements are coming rapidly in the wake of state Sen. Dave Cogdill's surprise decision last month not to seek re-election to his Modesto-centered seat. That set the stage for Berryhill to run for Cogdill's seat, and opened the door to candidates for Berryhill's district.

"This is very unusual for us, in this seat that we consider a safe Republican seat, to not have candidates in place well ahead of time, but we just didn't expect Cogdill not to run. It hasn't shaken out yet," DeMartini said.

Bee Assistant City Editor Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.