Thirty-five years after it passed, property tax reform Proposition 13 has taken a central role in one candidate’s attempt to win an assembly seat in what many consider the birthplace of the measure, Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Republican candidate Susan Shelley running in tomorrow’s special election for the 45th Assembly district is promoting herself on placards around the district as the protector of Prop 13.

Shelley is facing off against Democrat Matt Dababneh. Both candidates emerged from the first round election to replace Bob Blumenfield who moved to L.A. City Hall.

The San Fernando Valley has changed dramatically both demographically and politically over the three-plus decades since Prop 13 passed. And, it is a long time since Prop 13’s coattails swept a whole slew of candidates into office. However, as many recent polls attest, Prop 13 still has a high level of support amongst voters.

Shelley is hoping her embrace of Prop 13 will be enough to overcome daunting odds.

The district is heavily Democratic, with voter registration favoring Democrats by two to one. From the beginning of the year, Dababneh has outraised Shelley in campaign cash by more than ten to one, and in cash-on-hand as of the latest reporting, Dababneh held a 100-1 advantage. The California Target Book’s summary of the race concluded: “A safe Democratic district, Dababneh has to be tagged as a heavy favorite to win the November 19 runoff election.

Shelley is relying on voters’ fondness for Proposition 13’s tax protections. She emphasized that the next legislator will have to vote on a number of issues that would weaken the measure by undercutting the vote requirement to raise local parcel taxes. She pledged to vote no on all of them.

However, her emphasis on Prop 13 has brought a strong response from Dababneh. Indicating the strength of the property tax measure still holds in this district, Dababneh says he wants to be counted as favoring Prop 13. In a recent debate with Shelley, Dababneh said, “I am a protector of Prop 13. I don’t want to see any changes for commercial or residential homes.”

On his website, Dababneh quotes from Los Angeles Daily News: “Dababneh is not a threat to Prop. 13. ‘It’s the wrong time to even think about making changes to Prop. 13,’ he says.”

How Dababneh will vote on reducing supermajority votes for local taxes is unclear.

Shelley understands Prop 13 still has power with the voters after all these years. Whether she can make it work for her in trying to separate herself from her opponent — and whether she can get the word out to the few voters expected to exercise their franchise in tomorrow’s election is her big task.