Olsen wants Berryhill seat in Assembly

Modesto City Councilwoman Kristin Olsen on Monday announced that she is running for the state Assembly, setting up a June Republican primary with former Modesto Councilwoman Janice Keating.

They're competing for the seat opened by Rep. Tom Berryhill's decision to run for the state Senate.

Olsen is fresh off a successful re-election campaign to the City Council. She defeated challenger Joe Cataline in November.

She was among several people rumored to be considering running for the 25th Assembly District a month ago, but instead endorsed state Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Atwater.

Denham changed plans last week and opted to run for Congress, which led Olsen to enter the Assembly contest.

"The Assembly seat becoming available was very unexpected, something that hadn't even crossed my mind," Olsen said about her decision to run for the seat just two months after winning re-election. "Yet I think it's an opportunity for me to serve Modesto in an even greater capacity. I really think I can serve Modesto most effectively in Sacramento."

Keating and Olsen are each strong conservatives and have similar records on budget and spending votes while they served on the council together from 2005-09. They tended to differ on social issues, however.

Keating rejected some of the quality-of-life ordinances Olsen supported, such as a new system to gather abandoned shopping carts and a ban on Dumpster diving. Keating saw the measures as unnecessary.

Olsen did not join the rest of the council in passing a mobile home rent control measure in 2007. Her colleagues, including Keating, were persuaded to adopt the ordinance because they feared that a Chicago-based company would not relent in rapid rent hikes that were driving seniors out of a mobile home park off McHenry Avenue.

The candidates each have been involved in Sacramento politics. Keating in the past two years has lobbied for reforms to a state law aimed at curbing global warming emissions. She contends that it goes too far and hurts industry.

Olsen formerly worked for former state Sen. Tim Leslie and for the California Restaurant Association.

"A lot will have to do with who works the hardest, who connects with voters in a real way," said former Modesto Mayor Carol Whiteside, a Republican who has not endorsed either woman.

The candidates' similarities could make for a close race, said Modesto City Councilman Brad Hawn, a Republican.

"They are both what the definition of what the Republican platform is," he said. "They're very much alike in the sense that they're both in city government, both performed in a good way and have represented the community well.

"If you wanted to start throwing hand grenades back and forth, there's not a lot there."

Hawn has not decided who he will endorse. Mayor Jim Ridenour, another Republican, on Monday endorsed Keating.

"She will bring a conservative, jobs-first, no-nonsense approach that we need so desperately in Sacramento," Ridenour said.

More than half of the 244,600 voters in the 25th Assembly District live in Stanislaus County. The district includes parts or all of Calaveras, Madera, Mariposa, Mono and Tuolumne counties.

The district is considered a safe seat for the GOP; Republicans have a 7 percentage-point edge in registered voters.

Bee Assistant City Editor Adam Ashton can be reached at or 578-2366.