California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis
Republican Cole Harris, a first-time candidate who spent $2.2 million of his own money only to lose his run for lieutenant governor in June, is learning that politics is a tough business.
Recently, someone—apparently a disgruntled consultant—accessed the HarrisforCalifornia.com site and wrote in bold red and black capital letters:
“Cole Harris owes his campaign vendors and employees at least $1.1 million dollars in unpaid bills.”
Harris is a Glendale investor who posts Instagram photos of himself on yachts, planes and exotic cars, drinking French wine and wearing Rolex watches. He placed third in the top-two primary in June, despite vastly outspending most of his opponents and gaining the California Republican Party endorsement.
The campaign site, which has not yet been taken down, includes a link to his latest campaign finance filing, which shows five-and six-figure debts to consultants spread around the state and country.
Harris’ campaign Twitter feed also prominently features a tweet that links to the broadside, and, separately, displays a misogynistic Instagram posting under the candidate’s Twitter handle. The posting has no date, and wasn’t publicly visible on Harris’ Instagram account.
Harris, reached by phone, answered queries about the apparent dispute with a referral to his latest Instagram posting: “Keep throwin bricks at me. I’ll continue to use them to build with. Now, for anyone that wants to understand my side of things and what’s the TRUTH, wait. It’s coming.”
The campaign finance report shows Harris owes one firm, Majority Strategies, $288,000. The firm, which has control of the campaign website, did not comment.
Sacramento strategist Rob Stutzman, who was among those who worked for Harris, said of the web message: “I’m disappointed that someone has taken this tack. I think it’s unprofessional.”
The campaign finance report shows Harris also owes Stutzman $34,000. Stutzman said he’s working with Harris to resolve the bill.
A Democrat turns on his own party’s committee. Fox News hosts turn on a sitting Republican congressman. A Trump son turns out to help a political ally—only to provide political fodder to the opposition.
Here’s a quick recap of what happened this week across California’s 53 congressional districts:
1. The Blue Wave meets the Orange Wall
California’s 39th congressional district is exactly the kind of political territory Democrats hope to conquer in November. Relatively affluent, well-educated, and ethnically diverse, this tri-county patch of suburban SoCal has been represented by Rep. Ed Royce since 1993, but went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Now that Royce is out, it’s considered one of the state’s most competitive districts—the kind House majorities are made of.
But a new poll from Monmouth University suggests the Democratic candidate, Gil Cisneros, has his work cut out for him. Of the more than 400 voters surveyed, 46 percent favored the Republican candidate, Young Kim, while only 42 percent favored Cisneros, a U.S. Navy vet and lottery winner.
The numbers look worse for the Democrat when only likely voters were asked: Kim holds 51 percent of the vote, assuming turnout levels typical of a midterm, and is still up by 6 percentage points in a projected blue wave.
It’s not all bad news for Cisneros. As The Los Angeles Times reported, Kim’s lead is still within the survey’s statistical margin of error. Plus, more of the district’s voters than not disapprove of President Donald Trump and nearly 80 percent of respondents said they considered it important to vote this fall to send him a message.
Still, the poll was enough to prompt both California election tracker Around the Capitol and the FiveThirtyEight.com election forecast model to reclassify the race from “toss up” to “leans Republican.”
2. P.O.’d at the D.C.C.C.
Andrew Janz is a prosecutor who wants to bump Republican congressman and Trump loyalist Devin Nunes from his Central Valley seat (CA-22). The only problem? The Democratic party’s congressional organization won’t return his calls. As Politico explains, party committees only have so much money to spend, which “requires a form of political triage — making tough decisions about sidelining races that are deemed too far out of reach.“ Janz says he’s fine without their support, but he questions the organization’s “motives” and “competency.”
3. Claims against Kavanaugh Orwellian — GOP congressman
Sexual assault allegations against President Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court pick, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, have dominated political news all week, grinding what had been his pro forma confirmation to a halt. Last week, Palo Alto professor Christine Blasey Ford went public with her claim that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her while they were both teenagers.
But at least one Republican congressman isn’t taking the claim seriously. “High school? Give me a break,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48) said at a campaign event over the weekend. He likened the allegations to something written by George Orwell, the author of 1984. Audio of the event was published by the left-leaning political news site, TalkingPointsMemo.
Rohrabacher’s skeptism was echoed by the president in a tweet this morning:
I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!
4. Nunes gets frisky
Despite his undisputed advantage in his race against Andrew Janz, Rep. Devin Nunes isn’t taking any risks. According to the Fresno Bee, the congressman allegedly held an event in Sanger on Tuesday in which guests were required to provide their names and contact information, and agree to a potential pat down beforehand.
5. A visit from Trump the Younger
Of all the Republican candidates hoping to keep GOP-held seats, Diane Harkey may be in the most trouble. In June, a majority of voters supported Democratic candidates over Republicans in this coastal GOP enclave (CA-49). In her electoral battle against Democrat Mike Levin, Harkey needs all the help she can get.
Eric Trump, one of the nation’s First Sons, obliged this week, resulting in this photo:
It really was a packed house with @EricTrump yesterday! Lots of energy in the room to help us win in November!
The deputy research director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was only too happy to retweet.
6. Term of art
In July of last year, Democratic candidate Josh Harder (CA-10) was asked for his position on abortion. One man at the event put the question to the candidate: “So, pro-choice, full nine terms?” “Yes,” Harder responded, following up with “No exceptions.”
That’s a bold stance: a term being about nine months, nine terms would add up to just under seven years old. But assuming the questioner was asking about the legality of late-term abortion, Harder’s response would put him at odds with California law, reports the Modesto Bee.
The Harder team has since issued a statement saying that he “misunderstood the question” and that he supports the state standard.
7. Denham and Harder go shoulder to shoulder
Harder and his opponent, Republican Rep. Jeff Denham, offered dueling perspectives on trade, campaign cash, and, yes, abortion, in a recorded sit down with the Modesto Bee. You can watch the whole thing here.
Harder: “I’m running against somebody who talks a great game. Then he goes back to Washington and votes with his party 98 percent of the time.”
Denham: “I’ll put my record up against anybody. I work across the aisle.”
8. Et tu, Fox News?
As a young progressive Democrat running in one of California’s most blood-red districts, Ammar Campa-Najjar has a tough campaign ahead of him. But at least the campaign ads basically write themselves.
In a new attack ad against Rep. Duncan Hunter, who was recently indicted along with his wife for a litany of campaign finance violations, Campa-Najjar’s campaign simply strung together a series of clips from Fox News in which anchors alternately expressed dismay, disbelief, and disdain for the embattled congressional candidate.
9. A fond farewell
As the wealthiest member of Congress, Rep. Darrell Issa doesn’t need a new gig after he retires from Congress later this year, but he’s getting one anyway. This week it was announced that President Trump had nominated Issa to lead the United States Trade and Development Agency.
That prompted the following tweet from Kurt Bardella, a former spokesperson for Issa who was fired in 2011 for sharing information with a reporter:
That explains why @DarrellIssa has had his head so far up @realDonaldTrump ass … https://t.co/Fc6FHK2USl
10. Patriot or peddler
Local school district races don’t typically make national news, but this week, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48) endorsed a candidate for the Ocean View School District board who the OC Weekly described as a “peddler of racist conspiracies.”
As Mother Jones reported, Rohrabacher shared the endorsement on Instagram describing the candidate, Gracey Larrea-Van Der Mark, as “a patriot.” Larrea-Van Der Mark was recently removed from two local government panels for referring to black protesters as “colored.” She has also hosted a video playlist on his YouTube channel called “Holocaust Hoax?” As noted in the article, neither Rohrabacher nor Larrea-Van Der Mark responded to requests for comment.
In an emailed press release, Rohrabacher’s opponent in the race, Harley Rouda, called the endorsement “(d)angerous and against everything our country stands for in the world.”
Proud to be supporting Gracey Van Der Mark for school board. She is a patriot and a parent who has great potential to make a difference for our children and our state.. and yes, our country. #ca48 #ovsd #oceanviewschooldistrict #huntingtonbeach
75 Likes, 8 Comments – Dana Rohrabacher (@surfdana) on Instagram: “Proud to be supporting Gracey Van Der Mark for school board. She is a patriot and a parent who has…”
Expressing a view more typically held by liberal Democrats, the Republican challenging Democrat Xavier Becerra for attorney general said he thinks police shootings should be investigated by the state, rather than local prosecutors.
“It takes the politics out of it,” GOP candidate Steven Bailey said in an interview this week with CALmatters.
His position reflects a belief common among progressive advocates for criminal justice reform: that the relationship between local police and prosecutors is too cozy, and that an outside authority should instead decide whether a police shooting is justified.
Bailey said such investigations should be shifted to the Attorney General’s office, which “can take the 29,000 foot view of the issue, look at the evidence and make intelligent decisions on whether there has been a violation of the law, whether the use of force was inappropriate.”
It’s an idea progressive Democrats have pushed in the Legislature three times in the last few years. But lawmakers ultimately rejected the proposals under pressure from police unions, which opposed them.
On another police accountability proposal, Bailey sided with law enforcement in saying he does not think the state should change the legal standard for justifying use of force by police. A shooting is legally justified if police can prove that a “reasonable” officer in the same situation would do the same thing. Over time, this standard has contributed to very few police being convicted when they kill civilians.
Following the high-profile death earlier this year of Stephon Clark, an un-armed man killed by Sacramento police, Democratic Assembly members Kevin McCarty of Sacramento and Shirley Weber of San Diego introduced a bill to change the legal standard. Their bill intended to make it harder to justify killings by saying police could only use deadly force when it was “necessary” to prevent injury or death. Police lobbied heavily against the bill and it stalled in the Legislature.
Becerra, the incumbent Democrat, was more cautious in discussing proposals to improve police oversight. He said he wants to see the results of reviews his office is conducting of the procedures in the Sacramento and San Francisco police departments before taking a position on whether the “reasonable” standard should be changed.
“I don’t give yes or no when I don’t have all the information I need in front of me,” Becerra said.
He has been similarly circumspect about whether he thinks his office should be tasked with investigating police shootings. When the idea was introduced in a bill in 2017, Becerra withheld his support until the legislation was watered down to require just a study. When a new version of the bill was floated this year, Becerra was noncommittal, saying the desired transparency “can be accomplished in any number of ways.” Becerra’s agency is now overseeing the Sacramento police department’s investigation of the Clark shooting, but is not conducting its own separate investigation.
In an interview this week, Becerra said he doesn’t want too many changes heaped onto police departments at the same time. A new law requires police to collect data showing the ethnicities of the people they stop. And Gov. Jerry Brown is considering bills that would make public police body-cam footage and some investigations of police misconduct.
“It’s important to give law enforcement the chance to ingest and execute these new measures,” Becerra said. “Then we can assess where we go.”
Law enforcement groups are split between the two candidates. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association and the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association have endorsed Becerra, while Bailey is endorsed by the California Peace Officers Association and the unions representing Los Angeles police officers and sheriffs deputies.
Becerra, who was appointed attorney general in 2016 when Kamala Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate, is widely favored to win. He is an experienced politician who enjoys the benefits of incumbency, and has more than $1.1 million in his campaign account. Bailey is a retired judge who is facing accusations of professional misconduct by the Commission on Judicial Performance. He has just $14,100 in his campaign account.
In a departure from its usual pattern of campaign giving, the union representing California’s prison officers emerged as a player in the race for the state schools chief on Wednesday, disclosing a $500,000 expenditure for television ads to help elect Assemblyman Tony Thurmond as Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The disclosure came shortly after Thurmond’s opponent, Marshall Tuck, posted an ad comparing state spending on prisoners with spending on children in public school.
The California Correctional Peace Officers Association has never spent significantly to elect a state schools chief. The union instead typically focuses on candidates for governor and the Legislature, offices that have direct control over officers’ labor contracts and working conditions.
“Tony Thurmond supports more training and prison safety and that is a big deal for them,” Richard Temple, CCPOA’s long-time consultant, said, explaining the independent expenditure.
Earlier this month, Tuck, who, like Thurmond, is a Democrat, released a campaign ad obliquely criticizing prison spending and, by extension, correctional officers’ pay.
“Did you know that every year, California spends $71,000 per prisoner but only $16,000 per student?” the ad observes. “It’s no wonder our public schools rank 44th in the nation.”
Thurmond joined more than 100 other legislators earlier this year in voting to approve CCPOA’s latest contract. That bumped up officers’ pay by 5 percent at a two-year cost of $338 million, the Legislative Analyst reported.
“It’s ironic,” Tuck said, “that Thurmond talks about moving money from prison to schools but has made votes to increase spending for prisons.”
The union has yet to air television ads on Thurmond’s behalf, but “it will be abundantly clear when it starts,” said Temple, indicating that the contribution from CCPOA could exceed $500,000.
The union, meanwhile, also disclosed a $525,000 independent expenditure to help elect Democrat Gavin Newson as governor.
Thurmond’s campaign manager, Maddie Franklin, attributed the union’s commitment to criticism of Thurmond by David Crane, a former advisor to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. His organization, Govern for California, is among the major backers of Tuck’s campaign.
Crane recently wrote in Medium that Thurmond “has stood in the way of K-12 education reforms and voted to boost spending on prisons at the expense of UC and CSU,” adding that “his walk doesn’t match his talk.”
“Marshall Tuck,” Franklin charged, “says whatever David Crane tells him to say.”
Crane responded: “The question everyone should be asking is why the biggest beneficiary of California’s prison-industrial complex is putting money behind Tony Thurmond.”
Full disclosure: Crane is a CALmatters donor.