Photo illustration by John Osborn D'Agostino

California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis

Election 2018

March 21, 2018 9:04 pm

Antonio Villaraigosa says he’s not a “partisan warrior,” but he’s ready to fight

If there’s one thing Democratic contender for governor Antonio Villaraigosa wants voters to know about him, it’s this: “I’m not afraid to take on tough issues.”

In a conversation at CALmatters on a day when a new poll showed him dropping into third place, the former Los Angeles mayor talked education, health, fiscal policy—and how his views depart from the Democratic Party orthodoxy because he’s a “small d” Democrat.

On closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their peers in the state’s  public schools, he said that the state should make sure the money is targeted to the kids who need it most rather than “spreading it like peanut butter.” But he also talked about weakening tenure—lengthening the probationary period for new teachers from two to three years—and relaxing teacher seniority rules.

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He also said the state should increase financial support for low income university students, rather than push for tuition-free higher education across-the-board, as many progressives do.

“Making college free? Yeah, that’s a great goal, but I think we’ve got to make it free first for the people who are absolutely destitute, the poor,” he said. “I think you get the most bang for the buck, if you want to deal with this, with the kids who need it the most.”

He endorsed the idea of a state-run public insurance option that anyone can buy into, increasing reimbursement rates for doctors that serve low-income Californians, and expanding coverage to undocumented immigrants. But he reiterated his skepticism over stalled legislation that aimed to create a single payer insurance system across California—a bill endorsed by his Democratic opponents Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former state schools superintendent Delaine Eastin.

That division was eminently clear at the party’s state convention last month where Villaraigosa received 9 percent of the delegate vote in the contest for the party’s endorsement—and as he acknowledged, a much higher share of the booing and heckling.

“I’m not a Democrat because I think the Democratic Party is perfect, by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “I’m a Democrat because I believe the government has got to work for more people. I’m not a partisan warrior.”

It’s not a new persona for Villaraigosa, who sells himself as the candidate willing to speak unpleasant truths to lawmakers, interest groups, and even voters.

But there may be a downside to telling people what they don’t want to hear.

A poll released this evening by the Public Policy Institute of California showed only 12 percent of likely voters support Villaraigosa for governor—a 9 point drop for him since the institute conducted a similar survey last January. (Both polls had a margin of error of more than 4 percentage points.)

“We’ve always believed that we’ve got to get into the run-off,” said Villaraigosa, who in the latest poll comes in third among likely voters behind Newsom and Republican candidate John Cox, and ahead of fellow Democrats John Chiang and Eastin, as well as GOP candidate Travis Allen.  Under California’s “top two” primary system, only the candidates who come in first and second place during the June 5 primary will move on to the general election ballot. Villaraigosa said the biggest threat to his campaign “is a Republican knocking me out, if they consolidate….I’ve got some work to do—and I’m going to keep on working.”

Taken at face value, the new poll marks an unwelcome reversion for the former mayor, who had been eating into Newsom’s lead in most polls since last September. It also shows steep drop-offs in support from some of the demographic groups that the Villaraigosa campaign is most counting on.

In Los Angeles, his home turf, the former mayor is now 1 point behind Newsom; in January, he had nearly a 20 point lead. Meanwhile, in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Newsom used to be mayor and dominates public opinion, Villaraigosa is now polling below the Republican Cox.

While Villaraigosa still had the support of more Latinos than any other candidate, at 37 percent, that’s 11 points down from the beginning of the year. Drawing strong support and historically high turnout from California’s Latino population has been a key part of Villaraigosa’s electoral strategy.

The latest poll shows a quarter of likely voters have yet to decide whom to support. Said Villaraigosa: “I don’t think the support among Latinos is anywhere near where it’s going to end up.”

Election Reporter
Election 2018

April 16, 2018 4:13 pm

Retro-Republican from a pre-Trump era: John Cox in second place, for now

Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox, photo by Judy Lin for CALmatters
Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox, photo by Judy Lin for CALmatters

John Cox wants to slash the California income tax—abolish it, if possible. Maybe you disagree, but he thinks he can convince you.

“I don’t know why Texas and Florida have no income taxes and we do,” he said, during a recent conversation at CALmatters. “Texas, you know, is growing. Florida is growing. They’re getting tons of businesses and tons of people moving there that we could use here in California.”

As the leading Republican candidate for governor, he’s got other big ideas for reform—bold and seemingly far-fetched in California’s current political climate. He wants to revamp the Legislature by dividing the state into 12,000 neighborhood-sized districts, which he insists will take the corrosive influence of monied special interests out of politics.

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He also wants to give education vouchers to private school students and enable more home schooling.

How should the state solve its housing shortage? Cut environmental regulations, he said. What about the plight of mentally ill homeless? Charities and non-profits can and will lead the way, not the state. What book should every Californian read? No surprise there: “Free to Choose” by the libertarian economist, Milton Friedman.

Cox hails from a school of conservatism, marked by a bright-eyed confidence in the power of unregulated markets to lift all boats, that almost feels like a throwback in the Trump era.

In fact, Cox didn’t support the president in 2016, voting instead for the Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson. That’s a fact that Cox’s Republican competitor in the race, Assemblyman Travis Allen from Huntington Beach, is constantly reminding voters. Cox says he regrets that decision now, but he clearly draws his cues from an older strain of Republican: President Ronald Reagan and the football player-turned-supply side loving congressman Jack Kemp. Cox sat on Kemp’s national steering committee when he ran for president in the late 1980s and often introduces himself on the campaign trail a “Jack Kemp conservative.” The resemblance is clear. Like Kemp, Cox seems earnest, cheerful and he’s unflinchingly optimistic that in the end, the right ideas—namely, his—will win the day.

You’d have to be optimistic to run for governor of California as a conservative Republican in 2018. But Cox—who has lost previous bids to be elected to Congress, the U.S. Senate and the White House—says he’s already planning his first term in Sacramento.

“There’s a lot of mismanagement and a lot of improvements I could make,” he said. “I’m going to have fun turning around this state.”

A Republican hasn’t been elected to statewide office in California since 2006. Registered independents may soon outnumber registered Republicans. The president is historically unpopular and the Democratic base is riled up. But Cox has never been discouraged by long odds. In his native Illinois, he ran for Congress and came in fifth in the Republican primary. Then he ran for Senate in 2002 and 2004, losing twice. In 2008, when he ran for President on a promise to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, he wasn’t even invited to any of the presidential debates.

Now the deep-pocketed businessman is running again, and has done surprisingly well up to now: The most recent polls show Cox in second-place behind Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. But the guy in third place, Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa, just got a huge political lift—charter school backers intend to pour more than $8 million into his effort to bump off Cox and secure one of the top-two slots that will put him on the November ballot.

Granted, Californians split across six candidates—four Democrats and two Republicans—Cox was able to pull into the number two spot with only 15 percent of the likely vote. Maybe that modest success is due to Cox’s ability to spend more than many of his opponents. Maybe it’s because he’s the conservative in the race who isn’t Allen, a firebrand who has built his campaign around his support of President Trump and his opposition to illegal immigration. Cox has his own explanation.

At the meeting, Cox told a story of how he had struck up a conversation with an airport security guard that morning. After telling him about his plans to cut taxes and regulations, Cox said, he won the TSA agent’s support on the spot. “The woman in front of him in line heard this whole discussion and she said the same thing!” he said. “People just want something to change.”

Election Reporter
Election 2018

April 15, 2018 3:15 pm

Running to replace the governor, Gavin Newsom embraces Jerry Brown—at arm’s length

It’s hard to run as the change agent in the California governor’s race when you’re the state’s second-ranking elected leader. But Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is giving it his best shot.

Since launching his bid for governor in early 2015 (arguably, since he was first elected to the position of lieutenant governor five years earlier), Newsom has championed himself as the more progressive, fierier alternative to Gov. Jerry Brown. That’s been a fine line to walk on the campaign trail where Newsom, a Democrat and the front-runner in a crowded gubernatorial field, has been selective about which components of Brown’s legacy to embrace and which to jettison.

On climate change policy, K-12 education funding reform, and the expansion of Medi-Cal, Newsom is happy to bear the imprint of the current administration. On single-payer health care, higher education funding, homelessness, and universal pre-school? “With respect”—as Newsom often says when he disagrees with someone—not so much.

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That’s a balance that Newsom struck during a recent visit to CALmatters. In some cases, he paid homage to Brown, who remains popular with a majority California voters, according to a new poll. In others, he highlighted his areas of disagreement.

Sometimes he did both at once. Read more:

Election Reporter
Election 2018

April 11, 2018 6:26 pm

Facebook to stop spending money against California privacy measure

As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrapped up a second day being grilled by Congress about whether the company adequately protects the personal data of its 2 billion users, news broke in California that Facebook will stop spending money to oppose a privacy measure aiming for the state’s November ballot.

Facebook is one of five tech companies that have contributed $200,000 a piece to a committee that is fighting the California Consumer Privacy Act, which would allow Californians to prohibit companies from selling or sharing their personal data. Opponents—which include Google, AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, the Internet Association and the California Chamber of Commerce—argue that the measure would be disastrous for the internet economy and cause problems by subjecting one state to a different set of rules on the global network.

Supporters of the measure funded by San Francisco real estate developer Alastair Mactaggart have seized on recent news that Facebook allowed the data of more than 80 million users to be accessed by a political consulting firm tied to Donald Trump’s campaign. In one recent publicity stunt, the campaign hand-delivered a letter to Facebook asking it to stop fighting the privacy measure. Did it actually work?

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“We’re gratified that Facebook has dropped its opposition to the California Consumer Privacy Act. Now that they have seen the error of their ways, we hope they will work with us proactively to protect the personal information of all Californians, and support us publicly and financially,” said a statement from Mactaggart, the initiative’s proponent.

A spokesman for the campaign against the measure said Facebook continues to oppose the privacy initiative; it just decided not to give any more money to the committee fighting it.

“The proposed measure simply disconnects California. It is unworkable,” said a statement from spokesman Steve Maviglio. “That is why we will continue to proceed with an aggressive campaign, including major announcements of new opposition in the next few weeks.”

And in case you’re wondering about that $200,000 contribution: Maviglio said Facebook did not ask for a refund.

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