SACRAMENTO — State Sen. Leland Yee’s third-place finish in the race for California secretary of state was a surprise to pundits as well as the other seven candidates.

Yee, who has been suspended from the Senate, was recently indicted on federal corruption charges that included allegations of arms sales to raise funds for his campaign, and faces more than 20 years in prison if convicted. The case made national and international headlines.

Image from the "Leland Yee for Secretary of State" website, which has been taken down.
Image from the “Leland Yee for Secretary of State” website, which has been taken down.

The San Francisco Democrat, who is free on bail, ended his campaign for secretary of state in March, but it was too late to take his name off the ballot. His ballot statement read, “Under the Constitution, the secretary of state’s job is to empower Californians to govern California, to guarantee fair elections, expose special interests, and prevent corruption. I am the Democrat who will represent everyone. I hope to be your secretary of state.”

The top two finishers in the June 3 primary, State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Van Nuys) and Republican Pete Peterson, led the pack with 1,129,988 votes (30.2 percent) and 1,117,487 votes (29.8 percent) respectively, and are headed for the Nov. 4 runoff. Yee was a distant third with 354,425 votes (9.5 percent), but he finished ahead of five candidates who had actively campaigned on a clean government platform.

In fourth place was independent Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, with 347,509 votes (9.3 percent). He told KFBK Newsradio, “If you were a Californian that didn’t happen to be paying very close attention the week of the Yee arrest, the odds of you knowing about it were actually relatively slim.”

However, in San Francisco, where there was heavy coverage of the scandal — and where Yee served on the Board of Education, on the Board of Supervisors and in the State Assembly before becoming a state senator — Yee finished third with 12.2 percent of the vote, behind Padilla (41.1 percent) and Democrat Derek Cressman (14.0 percent). Asian Week pointed out that this was better than Yee’s fifth-place showing as a candidate for mayor in 2011.

In San Mateo County, part of which was represented by Yee in the Legislature, Yee was in fourth place (9.5 percent) behind Padilla (38.1 percent), Peterson (17.0 percent) and Schnur (10.2 percent).

While some commentators have speculated that some voters may have confused Leland Yee with Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, who is running for state controller, a consultant for Betty Yee’s campaign told Asian Week that was unlikely since one Yee is a man and the other a woman. Such confusion seems even less likely in San Francisco, where Asian Americans make up about a third of the population.

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