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Bill Dodd

Assemblymember Bill Dodd dances with his granddaughter Emma Dodd at his election night party at the Culinary Institute of America at Copia on Tuesday night. Dodd defeated Mariko Yamada to claim the District 3 senate seat.

Bill Dodd continues what appears to be a meteoric rise in his political career.

A little over two years ago, he held the job of Napa County supervisor. In November 2014, he celebrated his election to the state Assembly.

On Tuesday night, the Napa Democrat was well on his way to winning the 3rd District state Senate seat. His huge lead came after a campaign that included endorsements from Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

How did Dodd pull all of this off so quickly?

“I think my style of working together to get things done is appealing to people,” Dodd said amid a noisy Tuesday night celebration.

By the end of Tuesday night, Dodd had a commanding 59 percent to 41 percent lead over his opponent and former Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, a Democrat from Davis, with more vote-by-mail ballots remaining to be counted.

He held his Tuesday night celebration in a vast space of the newly reopened CIA at Copia, with two-story, floor-to-ceiling windows as a backdrop. Well-dressed people sipped wine and perhaps grew a little hoarse talking over the rock ‘n roll beat of the band Time Bandits.

Among the ever-shifting crowd were local officials such as Napa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Alfredo Pedroza, local businesspeople, friends, family and officials from other counties, such as Solano County Supervisor Jim Spering.

Amid the clamor, Dodd wandered chatting with his many well-wishers and sometimes posing so they could take selfies with him. He also took time to reflect on his all-but-assured victory.

“I think my priorities remain the same — it’s education and jobs and fixing the infrastructure of the state so we don’t leave the job and expense to the next generation,” Dodd said.

Many of the important issues such as education and the economy aren’t partisan issues, but rather California issues, Dodd said.

Pedroza sees having Dodd in the Senate as being good for Napa County.

“For us, it means we’re going to have a relationship with a senator who knows Napa, lives in Napa and has served on the Board,” Pedroza said.

This year, Napa County worked with Dodd in the Assembly and state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, to secure $20 million in the state budget to help build a new county jail. It worked with them on farmworker housing issues.

“I think those are key examples of how having a relationship with our senator means something for the county of Napa,” Pedroza said.

Dodd said he expects to be sworn in on Dec. 5. That is when next session of the state Senate will convene.

The 3rd Senate District covers Napa and Solano counties and parts of Yolo, Sacramento, Sonoma and Contra Costa counties. Dodd had to get votes from beyond his Napa County base to win.

Still, it was an election night devoid of tension, with Dodd’s sizable lead evident from the initial vote returns announced by the Secretary of State’s Office shortly after 8 p.m.

A few weeks before the election, Sonoma State University Political Science Professor David McCuan said Yamada wouldn’t be a sacrificial lamb in the election and that she’s constantly underestimated. But he didn’t see an easy path to a Yamada victory.

“He’s going to have to slip up,” McCuan said. “And she’s going to need a final push of resources that isn’t there.”

Dodd held a sizable fundraising advantage, having gathered $1.9 million to Yamada’s $522,413 through Oct. 22 for the June primary and the November election. Also, independent expenditure committees – the equivalent of federal “super PACs” – spent more than $4 million on mailers, commercials and other efforts favoring Dodd.

Yamada depicted herself as more in tune with Democratic values than Dodd, who is a former Republican. Dodd deflected the charge by pointing to his endorsements from Democratic heavyweights, including a rare endorsement in a Senate race from Brown.

Brown has a strained relationship with a Legislature that wants him to succeed, but differs with him on some key issues, McCuan said. Dodd isn’t a knee-jerk liberal and is very practical, he said.

“And so is Jerry Brown,” McCuan said. “So there’s a lot of common ground between the two of them about rethinking revenue and what the state’s priorities are.”

Dodd will become the first Napan in the state Senate since Rep. Mike Thompson, whose tenure there was from 1990 to 1998. Thompson is a Democrat from St. Helena and won reelection to the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.