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California Election 2020: Updates and Analysis

California Election 2020: Updates and Analysis

June 1, 2018

GOP now at number 3

Election 2018

July 23, 2018 3:42 pm

Legislator’s “agitated” behavior prompts election worker to hit panic button

Senior Editor
Ed Chau shakes the hand of another man in the Assembly chamber.
Ed Chau, pictured on the Assembly floor in 2016. Photo by Steve Yeater for CALmatters

A Democratic assemblyman became so verbally abusive toward Secretary of State workers this spring that one of them pressed a “panic button,” drawing security officers who escorted the legislator out of the building, according to records released to CALmatters in response to a California Public Records Act request.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla sent a letter to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon in which he described Assemblyman Ed Chau of Monterey Park as having become “alarmingly irate in front of several staff.”

“Despite several attempts by staff to calm him, he lost his composure,” Padilla wrote to Rendon on March 13. “Assemblymember Chau raised his voice and spoke to the staff in a highly aggressive and demeaning tone, at times leaning over the counter and raising his hands at staff while berating them.”

A security staff report on the March 8 incident quotes one of the workers as describing Chau’s “aggressive confrontational manner” toward a woman working at the Elections Division counter in the Secretary of State’s Sacramento headquarters.

“Mr. Chau remained rude, condescending and agitated, so I put a call into security. They did not arrive after several minutes so I pushed the front counter button,” the worker’s statement says.

Chau was upset at the ballot designation of his main Republican opponent, Burton Brink. Brink, who retired last year after 29 years a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, describes himself in a ballot designation as a “retired sheriff’s sergeant.” He calls himself “Crimefighter Burton” in campaign finance filings.

“That’s funny,” Brink said in a phone interview when informed of Chau’s complaint. “That’s what I was until two days before I filed to run for the Assembly.”

Chau, who had not seen Padilla’s letter until shown it by CALmatters, said today that he went to the office to get information about Brink’s use of the word “retired,” believing it might not have been permitted by law, and became frustrated at the response. 

“There was no intention to offend anyone,” he said, adding that it was a “miscommunication or misunderstanding.”

“They said I raised my voice. I might have. I don’t recall,” Chau said. He does recall asking: “Is this the treatment I get from the Secretary of State?”

Chau is a 60-year-old attorney who was first elected to the Assembly in 2012. He received 69 percent of the June primary vote to Brink’s 31 percent in a heavily Democratic district east of Los Angeles.

In his most recent campaign finance statement, Brink had less than $16,000 in his campaign account and hasn’t reported receiving a donation since May 8. Chau had $175,000 in his account.

Chau gained attention last month when he helped author legislation to provide Californians with greater protection over their personal information. The legislation averted a war over a privacy initiative funded by San Francisco developer and privacy advocate Alastair Mactaggart.

Rendon answered Padilla by writing that he had spoken to Chau and that such an incident wouldn’t happen again. The Speaker asked that Padilla extend his apologies to the staff.

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Presidential challengers hoping to glide to victory through California’s newly relevant primary, a heads-up: Your electoral fate may hinge on convincing enough left-leaning millennials to send postcards over the holiday season.

Welcome to the quirk-filled world of California election law. Here, voters without a registered political party can participate in the Democratic Party’s “open” presidential primary—but only if they ask for the right ballot.

Those who vote the old-fashioned way, in person at the polls, can simply request their presidential ballot of choice on the spot. But for those who vote by mail (now a majority of the state’s electorate), that request takes a remarkably analog form: a postcard signed and sent to the county registrar of voters.

If voters skip that step, the section of their ballot reserved for presidential candidates will be blank.

“Very few independent voters know that they have to do something to get the presidential ballot,” said Paul Mitchell of Political Data Inc., which analyzes electoral data for campaigns. He predicts the status quo could disenfranchise a million would-be presidential voters in California.

As political independents and absentee voters make up an increasing share of the California electorate—one disproportionately made up of non-white and young voters—that could leave a large, perhaps determinative, portion of the electorate confused and left out of the process.

Pending legislation by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat from San Diego, won’t necessarily make the process easier, but it aims to at least ensure that voters get plenty of advance notice.

Her bill AB 681 would require county election officials to send three notifications to registered voters reminding them which party they’re registered with—and if they’re registered with no party preference but want to vote in a party’s presidential primary, that they’ll need to request that party’s ballot. (Assuming their party of choice allows them to; more about that below.)

Currently, county officials are required to send only one notification, a postcard asking independent voters if they want a “crossover” ballot. Given the timing of California’s March 3 primary, that reminder is likely to hit most voters’ mailboxes in November or December—squeezed between all the holiday cards, catalogs and bills.

With Democrats a supermajority in the Legislature, the bill is now in the Senate after sailing through the Assembly, despite almost every Republican voting no. No one argued against the idea, but GOP legislators were unconvinced that the price tag for the extra postcards—pegged in the low tens of millions of dollars—was a worthy state expense, not to mention that it might pump up participation among those less likely to vote conservative on the rest of the ballot. The League of Women Voters expressed support, noting that “voter confusion suppresses turnout, feeds a false narrative of unfairness or fraud, and destabilizes the electoral system.”

Along with the Democrats, the American Independent, Green, Libertarian and Peace and Freedom parties have traditionally allowed non-affiliated voters to participate in their presidential primaries.

But for over a decade, the Republican Party has been more exclusive: It has allowed only registered Republicans to cast ballots in its presidential contest. Independents who want to vote either for or against President Donald Trump in the 2020 primary will likely need to change their party affiliation to Republican. (The parties will make a formal decision about how to conduct their primaries later this year.)

The particular voting bloc that California omits by default from its presidential primary could be crucial this year.

No party preference voters (that’s election-speak for political independents) now make up the second largest political affiliation in the state, behind Democrats. They’re also by far the fastest growing group. That’s especially true since last year when the state began automatically registering Californians to vote when they applied for a driver’s license—with no party as the default choice.

At the same time, an expanding majority of California voters now vote by mail.

Combined, there are nearly 3.6 million independent permanent “absentee ballot” voters in the state, or roughly 18% of all registered voters, according to Political Data Inc.

In 2016, Mitchell conducted a survey that found 88% percent of this type of voter saying they intended to participate in the presidential primary, with the vast majority saying they intended to vote in the Democratic race. But a majority did not know that they had to specifically request a ballot to do so.

Sure enough, in a follow-up poll after Election Day, he found that 45% of surveyed independent voters who cast their ballots by mail said that they wanted to vote in the Democratic primary but were unable to do so.

Santa Cruz County Clerk Gail Pellerin saw the fallout first hand.

She heard from plenty of confused and angry voters on Election Day when many voters opened their mail-in ballots for the first time, only to discover that they hadn’t been given an option to vote in the most eagerly watched contest of all.

She was also sued. A voter registered with the far-right American Independent Party (but who,  like many American Independents in the state, mistakenly believed she was a non-affiliated voter) requested a Democratic ballot at her polling station on Election Day and was denied.

“She sued and the judge ruled in her favor and allowed us to go ahead and count her vote for a party candidate, so that was cool,” said Pellerin. “I always tell people they can sue me, and she actually took me up on it.”

Pellerin said now that California allows same-day voter registration, litigation would no longer be necessary in that situation, since an erroneously registered American Independent will be able to switch affiliation to a lowercase “i” independent on the spot. But those voting by mail at the last minute will have a tougher time.

If past voting behavior is any indication, turning out a younger, less-white, less-consistently engaged contingent of voters will benefit Democratic candidates on the left. In 2016, a group of political independents backing Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders sued the state for denying them the ability to vote in the state’s primary. They lost.

As things stand now, “if you’re not a hyper-aware voter, you might miss being able to vote for Democrats in one of the most exciting elections of a generation,” said Adriel Hampton, a political consultant who works with progressive candidates. “This bill does go a long way in helping address some of the problems we saw in the 2016 primary.”

But not far enough for some.

Chad Peace, a legal strategist for the Independent Voter Project, which promotes nonpartisan elections, said providing voters with more information would not fix the underlying problem. Unaffiliated voters still would have “a significantly more difficult time participating” in the political process.

His solution: Rather than giving independents a blank presidential primary ballot by default, offer them a “public ballot” with all the candidates of all major parties listed together.

It’s a proposal that would make the California presidential primary look much more like the top two primary system used for other federal and state races across California. But it would also run afoul of the primary rules set by the national parties.

So be it, said Peace.

The state should not be “subject to any consideration about a private national party’s rules in determining how they’re going to create a process that works for the voters,” he said. He added that the Independent Voter Project plans to sue the state “relatively soon.”

Political Data’s Mitchell called such a “public ballot” a “clean” solution, but one that risks creating a conflict between California and the national parties, with the national parties threatening not to accept the state’s votes.

“I don’t think anyone wants to play chicken with millions of California voters’ votes,” he said. “But the flipside is you’re probably going to have a million voters who are going to be disenfranchised in 2020 in the primary.”

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Election 2018

June 2, 2019 8:10 pm

California Democrats loudly lean left—but quietly make a safe choice

Political Reporter
Delegates at the California Democratic Convention in San Francisco snap selfies with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who's once again seeking the party's nomination for president. Photo by Elizabeth Castillo for CALmatters
Delegates at the California Democratic Convention in San Francisco snap selfies with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s once again seeking the party’s nomination for president. Photo by Elizabeth Castillo for CALmatters

Anyone who spent the weekend at the California Democratic Party’s convention—watching 14 White House contenders try to impress what one Congresswoman called “the wokest Democrats in the country”—observed the following:

Saturday’s most rapturous cheers went to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who declared “the time for small ideas is over, advocated “big, structural change” and said “I am here to fight.” Sunday’s thunderous applause went to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, when he demanded there an be  “no middle ground” on climate change, healthcare or gun violence.

But those who strayed from progressive orthodoxy did so at their peril.

Ex-Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper dismissed the push for single-payer health care by insisting “socialism is not the answer” Saturday and drew a sustained barrage of boos—not just from those who embraced the label, but from those who resented it. The following day, Maryland Rep. John Delany’s dismissed Medicare-for-All as “not good policy,” and faced heckles and jeers.

The San Francisco confab was the state Dems’ first get-together since last year’s blowout election returned the party to its majority in the House and devastated the ranks of elected Republicans in California. The delegates left no doubt that as they prepare for the 2020 election against President Donald Trump, they are in no mood for compromise or equivocation.

At least not when it comes to ideas that energize them.

But state party conventions—dominated in decibels by faithful partisans and zealous activists—often offer an exaggerated, funhouse-mirror reflection of what the party’s voters statewide actually think. And even the delegates can be more temperate  than the room might suggest.

In one of the few choices that the 3,200-plus delegates actually made, a majority eschewed more progressive candidates and easily elected as the party’s next chairman Los Angeles labor leader Rusty Hicks. He’s a soft spoken white guy from Los Angeles who represented what many called the “safe choice.”

Elizabeth Warren enthralls delegates to the 2019 California Democratic Convention in San Francisco. Photo by Ben Christopher for CALmatters

Elizabeth Warren enthralls delegates to the 2019 California Democratic Convention in San Francisco. Photo by Ben Christopher for CALmatters

Still, they gave an effusive reception to speakers who jettisoned safe choices. Here was Warren: “Too many powerful people in our party say, ‘Settle down, back up … wait for change until the privileged and powerful are comfortable with those changes,'” she said. “Here’s the thing — when a candidate tells you all the things that aren’t possible … they are telling you they will not fight for you, and I am here to fight.”

Few of the presidential candidates addressed California issues specifically, in the way they become conversant about, say, ethanol in Iowa. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who’s made climate policy a thrust of his campaign, talked about visiting the wildfire devastation in the California community of Paradise, and some candidates called for greater regulation of tech firms. But mostly their speeches sidestepped California-specific concerns and aimed wide in appealing to what Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee called the “most progressive and the most democratic and the wokest Democrats in the country.”

“This is obviously a group of activists and there are obviously some candidates who appeal more to the activists,” Dave Min told CALmatters at a meeting of the Chicano and Latino Caucus. He lost a bid for Congress in 2018 to Rep. Katie Porter, who was backed by Sen. Warren and supported Medicare-for-All. Now he’s seeking a state senate seat.

As if to illustrate his point, minutes later Sanders, who has done more than virtually any other politician to turn support for universal Medicare into a litmus test for progressive Democratic candidates, entered the room—and was nearly trampled by selfie-seeking delegates.

Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke turns on the Texas charm for delegates at the California Democratic Convention. Photo by Ben Christopher for CALmatters

Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke turns on the Texas charm for delegates at the California Democratic Convention. Photo by Ben Christopher for CALmatters

Next Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas Congressman who nearly beat GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas, entered the room, unleashing fresh pandemonium. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a relative moderate, was treated to a much more restrained, if polite, reception.

That courtesy was not extended to Hickenlooper.

“If we want to beat Donald Trump and achieve big progressive goals, socialism is not the answer,” he told the convened Democrats. He was booed for roughly 30 seconds by delegates who either objected to his characterization of single payer healthcare as “socialism” or, in fact, believe that socialism is the answer.

Regardless, the scene was unadulterated Fox News fodder.

The next day, Delaney of Maryland took the same approach. On the heels of Sanders’ raucously well-received speech, Delaney told the audience that universal access to Medicare “is actually not good policy.” The audience disagreed, vocally and persistently. Even New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez got in the act, tweeting that Delaney should just “sashay away.”

If this is the first time you’ve heard of Delaney or Hickenlooper, that may have been the point. Hickenlooper later told the San Francisco Chronicle that he was not seeking the crowd’s vitriol. But the fact that his campaign blasted out a press release the day of the event with the title, “Hickenlooper to California Dems: “Socialism is Not the Answer”” suggested he might have been aiming his appeal far outside Moscone Center. The following day, his campaign issued a press release citing coverage from the Washington Post and exulting: “Hickenlooper lost the room but gained a national audience.”

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper made national news by irritating progressive California delegates. Photo by Ben Christopher for CALmatters

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper made national news by irritating progressive California delegates. Photo by Ben Christopher for CALmatters

Besides, the Democratic Party has a history of candidates strategically saying something sure to elicit boos from a leftist crowd in order to establish their independent cred with moderates: Consider President Bill Clinton’s Sister Souljah speech, and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s defense of capital punishment at her state’s convention—which her campaign gleefully turned into a TV commercial.

For Julian Castro, who served as Housing and Urban Development secretary in the Obama administration and who has struggled to gain much popular support, the interpretation was clear.

“You heard the reaction,” he said, when asked by a reporter whether Democrats can compete without supporting a single payer health care policy. “Probably not in this state. Who knows?”

Joe Biden might disagree. The former vice president supports a policy that would allow those under qualifying age to purchase a Medicare policy, which constitutes a moderate position among the current Democratic candidates. But at least for now, he leads in the polls—even among California Democrats.

The Biden campaign explained the candidate’s conspicuous absence at the San Francisco convention as an unavoidable scheduling conflict, though attendees for the 2018 Democratic convention may recall the chilly reception that Sen. Feinstein, another moderate, received.

The Democrats in attendance largely shrugged off Biden’s decision not to show up. Alex Gallardo-Rooker, who has served at the party’s chair since the resignation of Eric Baumann earlier this year, said that Biden was “being pulled all over the place.” Gov. Newsom also gave the former vice president a pass: “It’s a big country.” When asked about it, Sen. Kamala Harris literally shrugged—and said nothing.

The one exception was Sanders who, during his speech in the convention hall on Sunday morning, referred to “presidential candidates who have spoken to you here in this room and those who have chosen, for whatever reason, not to be in this room.” The crowd happily booed.

Sanders was cheered as he argued that there is no “middle ground” on climate change, a not-so-subtle dig at Biden who used the term to describe his environmental policy plan.

But to some, both supporters and detractors, the party’s choice of Hicks for chair represented its own kind of middle ground. Kimberly Ellis, Hicks’ strongest opponent who narrowly lost the race for party chair in 2017, had argued that the party needs to take a more assertive role in political messaging and agenda setting.

Rusty Hicks, in the blue blazer, at the California Democratic Party Convention in San Francisco.

Rusty Hicks, in the blue blazer, at the California Democratic Party Convention in San Francisco.

But with 57% of the vote, Hicks’ victory was decisive and the party avoided a much-predicted runoff election. Ellis got 36%.

For close observers of California politics, this might feel like deja vu. Earlier this year, the California Republican Party held its own election for chair in which Jessica Patterson, the pick of most of the party establishment, beat out an ideological upstart, Travis Allen.

At a Friday evening forum hosted by the Democratic Party’s progressive caucus, candidates for chair were asked, rapid-fire, about single-payer health insurance, a statewide ban on fracking, the Green New Deal and a moratorium on new charter schools. All six candidates were unanimous in their support.

Where disagreement arose, it was less about policy and more about the role of the party itself—whether the priority should be on building up the party as a political institution or promoting the most progressive agenda.

Asked whether the party should abandon the practice of automatically endorsing incumbent Democratic lawmakers or substantially reduce the power of elected office holders within the party, Hicks was the only candidate to say no.

Karen Araujo, a delegate from Salinas who supported Ellis, called Hicks “a safe choice.”

Still, she added, “it was a clear decision. I’ll honor that and I’ll work hard for my party.”

“It’s good to have a decisive moment where we decide, ‘okay, fair election, fair result, now let’s work on the next thing,’” said Josh Newman, a former Orange County state senator who was recalled and is running for his old seat again. “And the next thing has to be 2020.”

Elizabeth Castillo contributed to this story.

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Election 2018

June 1, 2019 9:52 pm

Cal Dems pick labor leader as chairman—plus convention highs and lows

Political Reporter

Web Producer/General Assignment Reporter
Democratic delegates rally in the downstairs lobby at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco where California Democrats held their convention this weekend. Photo by Ben Christopher for CALmatters
Democratic delegates rally in the downstairs lobby at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco where California Democrats held their convention this weekend. Photo by Ben Christopher for CALmatters

For the second time in a row, the California Democratic Party favored a labor-backed candidate from Los Angeles to be its chairman—although tonight’s (not-yet-certified) win for Rusty Hicks was by a stronger margin than many expected.

The preliminary totals showed labor leader Hicks garnering 57% of the vote, and he claimed victory, telling supporters: “I’m Rusty Hicks and I’m reporting for duty.” (Ironically that line was made famous in 2004 by a fellow veteran, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry—before he went on to sound defeat.)

Victory for Hicks places him in charge of a state party apparatus that has been reeling from charges of sexual harassment and assault. The scandal led to the resignation of the chairman narrowly elected in 2017, Eric Bauman.

That close fight left lingering bitterness: Richmond progressive activist Kimberly Ellis and her supporters accused the party of picking a winner—a repeat of the divisive national Democratic convention in miniature.

Ellis ran for chair again this year, vowing to shake up the party’s standard operating procedure, “rooting out” what she called “a culture of abuse and harassment and retaliation,” but also placing more of a focus on progressive policy pushing rather than the traditional nuts-and-bolts of fundraising and operations. Preliminary totals showed her in second place with 36 percent of the vote.

Rusty Hicks

Rusty Hicks

Hicks has also promised to clean house, but in his approach to the job and in his own biography, he represents more of a continuation for the state’s largest political party. He’s president of the Los Angeles Federation of Labor, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserves  and an alum of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. He had the backing of much of the party establishment—including Attorney General Xavier Becerra and over 30 state legislators and members of Congress.

Asked after his victory about the deep divisions that animated the race for chair, he said: “We should embrace the passion that comes into the party and also remember what our party is singularly focused on and that’s seeing a change in the White House in 2020.”

We’ve also provided a crib sheet as to what the 14 presidential candidates had to say this weekend to appeal to California Democrats.

Gov injects fresh controversy into vaccine debate:

Speaking to reporters after his convention speech, Gov. Gavin Newsom waded into one of the most contentious issues in state politics: vaccination exemptions. A bill advancing in the Legislature would require that state public health officials decide whether the underlying condition cited to exempt a child from state vaccination requirements meets guidelines set by the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Under current law, a doctor’s say-so alone can suffice. Critics complain that some doctors have made a cottage industry of doling out unwarranted waivers, putting public health at greater risk for outbreaks of measles and other diseases.

“I like doctor-patient relationships,” Newsom told reporters. “As a father of four that goes through this on a consistent basis, that’s just something we need to pause and think about.”

An early warning fails:

Kicking off the convention yesterday, interim party chair, Alex Gallardo-Rooker issued a warning: absolutely no booing or disruption inside the convention hall would be tolerated. The policy was inspired by the raucous and contentious party convention two years ago. “I don’t want a 2017 here again…not under my watch.”

Spoiler alert: It didn’t work. Read on….

Hickenlooper feels a chill:

John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado, had a bit of strategic advice for the assembled Democrats: “If we want to beat Donald Trump and achieve big, progressive goals, Socialism is not the answer.”

The assembled Democrats were not receptive to that message. The booing lasted for about half a minute. It picked back up again when Hickenlooper argued that a national universal health insurance policy shouldn’t abolish private health insurance.

Kamala Harris upstages Klobuchar…

At a Saturday morning gathering of the California Democratic Party’s women’s caucus, the love for U.S House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco was thick in the air. But Pelosi wasn’t the only one with hardcore fans. As Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar was working to woo the packed room, she was interrupted by the entrance of California Sen. Kamala Harris. The crowd’s uproar was so disruptive, Klobuchar ended her pitch with a nod to Harris.

“And I always like to joke, as my friend Kamala comes in, may the best woman win,” she said.

And then gets upstaged herself:

At a “Big Ideas” forum held near the convention by the group, Harris lost the spotlight briefly  herself when an animal rights protester rushed the stage as she spoke about how she plans to tackle gender pay inequities and grabbed her microphone. The protester was identified as Aidan Cook of Direct Action Everywhere. He was ultimately escorted offstage, and Harris recovered and responded with “It’s all good,” and the event continued. Not as far as BitchMedia cofounder Andi Zeisle was concerned: On Twitter, she described the the protester as a “walking kombucha burp.”

As some delegates clamor for the “I word,” Pelosi stops short:

Nancy Pelosi had much to say about President Trump on Saturday morning. She vowed to continue to “legislate,” but also “investigate and litigate” (a rejoinder to Trump who said during his most recent State of the Union address that “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation”). She said he was “undermining America.” She asked what he was “covering up.” But she did not use the “I” word.

But plenty of delegates in the audience were happy to play Mad Libs, shouting “Impeach.”

Pelosi didn’t seem flustered. “I told you this is like coming home to me,” she said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom later said that he had “absolute confidence” in Pelosi’s approach to hold off for now.

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Election 2018

May 31, 2019 10:33 am

Californians can be nation’s first to cast 2020 primary ballots—and that’s shaking up presidential race

Political Reporter
California's move to near the front of the 2020 primary season is altering the campaign. USA flag with palm trees and sunset in the background.
California’s move to near the front of the 2020 primary season is altering the campaign.

With the state’s Democratic Party kicking off its convention in San Francisco today, you’ll be able to count at least 14 presidential candidates descending on California this weekend. And for a change, they’re here not just for our money, but for our votes.

California will be sidling up to the front of the electoral line next year, holding its primary on March 3. That’s a break from the last two election cycles, when California voted in early June, long after most candidates had dropped out or seen their chances mathematically eliminated. And given the propensity of most voters here to vote by mail, Californians can fill out their ballots as early as February 3, just as Iowans are heading to the caucuses.

The state’s size alone makes it impossible to ignore: Nearly one in five registered Democrats nationwide is a California. But pushing the state into the first round of primary and caucus states changes the whole makeup of the early electorate in the vital early phase.

The upshot, thanks to California: Candidates will be wooing a population that is not only vast, but more diverse (with a significantly larger share of Latinos and Asian Americans), more urban, and more focused on housing affordability than ever.

The state’s new primary falls on the first “Super Tuesday”—a nation-spanning ballot bonanza in which voters in more than a dozen states vote for their favored candidate to represent their party of choice on the general election ballot in November. While Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada get special permission to hold their contests earlier, doling out their delegates in a slow trickle throughout February, early March is when the floodgates open.

In 2016, the early primary and caucus states—beginning with Iowa and continuing through Super Tuesday—made up just under 30% of the national population. This year, with the fresh addition of California and North Carolina (but with almost four times the population, it’s mostly California), the total is 45%.

Just on its own, voters in the California Democratic primary will provide more than 1-in-10 of the elected delegates who will be pledged to one of the (now 23) candidates.

According to the most recent Census data, 39% of the state’s residents identify as Latino or Hispanic. To put that in perspective, that adds up to roughly 15 million—nearly five times the entire population of Iowa.

Adding California to the early primary contest means the states in the running on or before Super Tuesday have a combined population that is 22% Latino. That’s compared to 17% in 2016.

Likewise, the California-bolstered pack of early voters are, on the whole, more likely to live in an urban area and less likely to have voted for President Trump in 2016.

Of course, California voters tend to be whiter, wealthier and more educated than the state’s overall population—all the more so during primary elections. But even if you look at who is most likely to participate in the early primary next year, California stands out.

Based on data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study survey, which was conducted just after the 2018 midterm election, registered Democrats or Democratic-leaning voters in California are less white, more Latino and more likely to be renters than their counterparts in other early voting states.

A more diverse—and more Californian—electorate playing a larger role earlier in the election season could shift the terms of political debate. That was the hope of Ricardo Lara, the state’s insurance commissioner who introduced the bill to move up the state’s primary when he was a Democratic state senator. The change in the electoral calendar would put “California voters in the front seat in choosing our next president,” empowering them to “drive a different agenda at the national level,” he said at the time.

Rather than spend quite so much time tromping through Iowa cornfields paying homage to ethanol, candidates, the theory goes, might feel compelled to head to southeast Los Angeles to talk about affordable housing or to Tulare to talk about water policy.

But some remain skeptical. John Putnam, who studies campaigns at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and publishes the election website FrontloadingHQ, says the “California effect” in shaping the 2020 discourse is likely to be limited.

The state held its primary early in 2008 and that election was hardly a referendum on Golden State issues, he said. And these days, fewer and fewer voters are motivated by regional concerns.

“More and more, these races are nationalized,” he said. Though a campaign may focus on “lily-white Iowa or lily-white New Hampshire” and give an occasional nod to the federal farm bill or the obligatory photo-op with a corn dog, most issues discussed on the campaign trail are national in scope: healthcare policy, immigration, climate change and, invariably, President Trump.

And new research suggests that Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters in California don’t even hold positions all that different from Democrats elsewhere. With a few exceptions, Democrats in Los Angeles support gun control, oppose restrictions on abortion, want expanded healthcare and disapprove of the president in roughly equal numbers as those who live in Ames, Iowa.

But if the state’s front-loaded electoral role won’t translate to a larger focus on wildfire or homelessness, it’s likely to help California candidates. Or at least one in particular.

A recent Monmouth University poll, found that while California’s U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris was trailing in 4th place among registered Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents in states with later primary elections. But among the early-voting states, she came in second—neck-in-neck with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Across the entire crowded field, Harris saw the largest advantage bump among early voters.

That is largely due to California, where Harris is generally well-liked among Democrats and certainly well-known, said Monmouth poll director Patrick Murray. At this early point in the election cycle, mere name recognition still counts for a lot.

The newest poll, conducted after former Vice President Joe Biden entered the race, shows him surging to the lead in California. The Change Research poll showed him at 30 percent among California Dems—ahead of second-place Sanders and with twice the support of third-place Harris.

That survey also identified the issues state Democrats cite as most important to them: housing affordability led the list at 56 percent, followed by homelessness.

But for those hoping California will be determinative? Murray says not to get your hopes up. The first four states—Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada—still serve as the gatekeepers.

“Very few candidates are looking past those contests because there’s no point,” he said. A false start in February could lead a potential candidacy to flounder by the time it gets to California, as the bulk of voters throw their support behind the candidates who seem most viable. The fact that California is so large and so expensive is another argument not to spend too many resources here.

So for many candidates, their new fondness for California may still come down to money.

“The reason you might see candidates in California right now is that they’re doing a double dip,” said Murray. “They’re doing a fundraiser and then they’re having a campaign rally, as long as they’re out there.”

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Election 2018

May 6, 2019 2:29 pm

Can they do that? California Dems again try to force Trump to show his taxes

Political Reporter
President Donald Trump on the campaign trail. Photo by Michael Vadon
President Donald Trump on the campaign trail. Photo by Michael Vadon

For the second year in a row, California Democrats have passed a progressive crowd-pleaser: a bill that would require all presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns if they want to make it onto the state primary ballot next year.

And once again, Republicans are denouncing the proposal as partisan anti-Trump trolling masquerading as a transparency initiative, and say it is all but certain to be shot down in the courts.

What’s different this time is the man who occupies the governor’s mansion.

Last year, both the Assembly and Senate passed a virtually identical bill along party lines only to see it vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Whatever the bill’s “political attractiveness—even the merits,” Brown wrote, the idea rested on shaky constitutional ground and could invite future politicians to erect ever-higher barriers to entry for those hoping to run for office.

This year’s version passed the Senate on Thursday and is expected to sail through the Democratic-dominated Assembly before landing on the governor’s desk. Gov. Newsom has yet to say whether he will sign it.

Democrats insist this is just about good governance. “President Trump is a strong example of the need for this legislation, but he is not the only one,” said Sen. Mike McGuire of Healdsburg, the bill’s author, on the Senate floor last week.

Republicans were only too happy to take that argument at face value and suggest that the state apply these tax return requirements to all federal officeholders in California—the majority of whom Democrats. With that idea going nowhere, Sen. Brian Jones, a Republican from eastern San Diego County, castigated his Democratic colleagues for “playing the Resistance card.”

Lawmakers in other blue states such as Illinois, New Jersey and Washington are considering comparable proposals this year. Another bill died in Hawaii last month.

On Monday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that he would not be turning over the president’s tax returns, refusing a formal request from Democrats in Congress.

We covered the thorny constitutional issues raised by this idea when it came up the first time last year.

Here’s the CliffsNotes version:

  • The U.S. Constitution says a presidential candidate must be a natural born citizen over the age of 35 who has lived in the United States for at least 14 years. That’s it.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted that to mean that states cannot place additional requirements on would-be candidates. In the past, that has included term limits (which would require a candidate not to have previously held a certain office) along with rules forcing candidates to disclose some bit of information, such as their race or where they stand on a particular political issue.
  • But the Court has said that states are free to regulate the time, place and manner of elections, which include rules requiring candidates to pay filing fees, gather signatures or submit forms by certain deadlines.

So the key question is this: If California asks a candidate to publicize his or her tax returns, is that a constitutionally verboten “requirement” or a permissible “procedural regulation”?

Read the rest here.

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Election 2018

April 1, 2019 10:33 pm

Kamala Harris backs idea to unionize child care workers

Political Reporter
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris points off camera as she greets members of organized labor at a conference in downtown Sacramento, April 1, 2019.
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris greets members of organized labor at a conference in downtown Sacramento, April 1, 2019. CALmatters photo.

Democratic presidential contender Kamala Harris was just about to take the stage tonight at Sacramento’s Sheraton Grand Hotel ballroom when she spotted and ran over to a group of women sporting yellow t-shirts sitting on right side of the auditorium. They were California child-care workers hoping to win collective bargaining rights in Sacramento. And Harris, a U.S. senator from California, put her stump speech on hold to exchange hugs and snap selfies.

It was a brief, unscripted moment in what was to be a fairly conventional campaign stop, but it was a notable one.

In her 20 minute speech to the conference put on by the California Labor Federation and the State Building and Construction Trades Council, Harris spoke broadly about the value of organized labor— “unions built the middle class of this country”—and stuck mostly to national politics. She promised to repeal the changes to the federal tax code signed into law by President Trump last year, and spoke about the aspirational nature of the American character.

Her one tangent into California state policy belonged to the women in yellow.

“I was going over there to talk to my sisters in the child-care workforce, and I thank you for all that you are doing to organize a critical workforce—to organize and unionize,” she said, speaking to the cheering members of the Service Employees International Union and the United Domestic Workers of America.

“The greatest expression of a society’s love of its children,” she continued, “is to put resources and support into anybody who is caring for those children.” 

For more than a decade, child-care workers in California who receive state subsidies to serve low-income families have been lobbying in the state Capitol to get the right to bargain with the state over reimbursement rates, licensing requirements and other policies that affect their industry. Supporters say that direct negotiations with state agencies are the best way to improve working conditions and child-care quality, though some skeptics worry that higher reimbursement rates could eat away at state funding that could be used to serve more children. Others see the campaign as yet another way for organized labor to consolidate political power.

This year, Santa Barbara Democrat Assemblywoman Monique Limón said that she is more optimistic than ever that her bill to OK the unionization effort will be successful this time. 

“This is a new era,” Limón told CALmatters last month. “We have a new governor who cares a lot about child care.”

And now they appear to have the backing of one of the Democratic front runners to be the next president of the United States. At least that’s certainly how many of the assembled childcare workers interpreted it. Harris did not take questions before or after her speech.

“It felt good,” said Nancy Harvey, who runs Lil’ Nancy’s Primary Schoolhouse out of her house in West Oakland. “She’s on our side.”

“I loved what she was saying,” added Celeste Galeno, who owns Little Lambs Daycare in Tulare. “She knows that child care affects every single one of us in this place because every single one of us has been a child.” 

Harris wasn’t the only state politician to show up at the union confab to rub elbows and to seek possible endorsements. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra also made an appearance, as did at least three dozen state legislators. Also today, Harris’s campaign announced that the Oakland native and former state attorney general had raised $12 million in the first quarter of her presidential campaign, and her public appearances in the state have been sandwiched between private fundraisers. 

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Election 2018

March 5, 2019 5:08 pm

Centrist summit encourages California GOP to go its own way

Political Reporter

New Way California has a message for all California Republicans: You don’t have to be like President Trump. You don’t even have to like him.

“The California Republican Party must not be a carbon copy of the national GOP,” Kevin Faulconer, the Republican mayor of San Diego, said to the modest crowd of political centrists who had flocked to the Crest Theatre in downtown Sacramento this morning for the group’s second annual summit.

“California Republicans need to create a party tailored to the people of California,” he continued, pointing to his own example as a center-right politician who has authored a local climate change action plan and recently announced a five-year campaign to make the city more welcoming to immigrants.

“Let’s take him out of the equation,” former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said of President Trump. “It’s a mistake for a state party to mold themselves after the national party.”

New Way is the product of Republican Assemblyman Chad Mayes. As an organization it is eager to show after the 2016 election that California Republicans need not doubt the science of climate change, cater only to business or consistently stand by the president. Schwarzenegger sits on the board.

The morning’s event offered a notable contrast with the California Republican Party’s convention, held two weeks ago just a few blocks away, where headliners included Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and President Trump’s former press secretary Sean Spicer.

At this morning’s event, there wasn’t a single “Make America Great Again” hat. It was also considerably smaller—some 80 to 100 attendees sat spaced out across the theater auditorium.

But crafting a more centrist GOP brand separate from the national party is likely a hard sell to both sides of the political spectrum. According to a recent poll, 77 percent of self-identified Republicans said they support President Trump’s job performance. Mayes, the former Republican leader in the Assembly, was tossed from that top job by the caucus for supporting a renewal of the state cap-and-trade program. Meanwhile, many Democratic and independent voters may be unable or unwilling to distinguish state and local Republicans from the policies and persona of Trump.

The day’s program offered a series of panels and guest speakers who touched on such indisputable but nebulous themes as inclusivity, economic mobility, and “bridging the partisan divide.”

As telling as what was said was who said it.

The early morning workforce development panel was composed entirely of people of color. That was followed by a short speech from Samuel Rodriguez, a Latino evangelical pastor from Sacramento who argued that “the future of the California Republican Party lies embedded in names like Sanchez, Miranda, Rivera and Rodriguez.”

Two moderate Republicans—former Assemblywomen Kristin Olsen and Catharine Baker—then spoke of bipartisanship with Sen. Steve Glazer, a centrist Democrat from Orinda.

The event also included a speech by Bill Kristol, the neoconservative political commentator and fierce Trump critic, and a short discussion between Olsen and Schwarzenegger about political reform.

“It’s important for the country to have healthy political parties if possible,” said Kristol. “Maybe we’ll have to go beyond the two-party system. I’m open to that.”

None of the other Republicans at today’s event went quite so far as to entertain abandoning the GOP altogether. But expectations about the future of successes of the party were tempered.

“A vibrant, competitive two-party system is essential for our state,” said Faulconer.

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Election 2018

Feb. 24, 2019 2:27 pm

With new Latina chair, party insiders say GOP “dodged a bullet.” Now what?

Political Reporter
California Republican Party chair, Jessica Patterson, shakes hands with a delegate.

That hissing emanating from Sacramento is the sound of the entire California Republican Party establishment breathing a sigh of relief.

At the party’s weekend  convention, state GOP delegates selected Jessica Patterson, a millennial Latina with a lengthy resume as a behind-the-scenes party operator, as their new chair.

Depending on whom you ask, Patterson’s election offers a ray of hope for a struggling party, marks the continuation of a failed strategy, or is bound to make absolutely no difference for a party tethered to an unpopular president.

Travis Allen, the Trump-supporting firebrand from Huntington Beach and former candidate for governor who had vowed to take on a party establishment came up short. So did longtime Republican activist Steve Frank. They both lost despite entering into a political alliance to “resist” Patterson.

“I think we did dodge a bullet,” said Assemblyman Chad Mayes from Yucca Valley, a regular critic of the party’s fervent Trump-leaning base. Prior to the chair’s race, he had warned that an Allen election would lead elected Republicans to leave the GOP.

“This will make a huge difference,” said Luis Alvarado, a consultant, adding that the election of Patterson gave him “hope” for the future of the party.

George Andrews, a party delegate and chief of staff to Assemblyman Tom Lackey, went even further, saying Patterson’s “saved the party.”

Allen’s singular appeal to Trump-supporting diehards had little draw outside of California’s few remaining red districts, he argued. “She can do the math,” Andrews said. “If you can’t do math you probably shouldn’t be chair of the party.”

Patterson is hardly a moderate. She is unequivocally opposed to abortion, is backed by the House minority leader and noted Trump whisperer, Kevin McCarthy, and spent the convention referring to Democratic legislators as the “enemy.”

After winning, the president’s eldest son congratulated Patterson on Twitter:

“She’s not anti-Trump,” Andrews said of Patterson, “But she knows how to campaign.”

Unlike Allen, her closest competitor in the race, Patterson did not make her political views or her loyalty to the president the centerpiece of her campaign. That’s a continuation of the approach adopted by Jim Brulte, her immediate predecessor, who viewed the chair position as an operations and logistics manager, not a spokesperson.

“There are too few of us to continue to push people out of the party,” Patterson said the day before the vote. “We are not going to shout people out. We are going to be inclusive.”

But as Allen and Frank spent the entire weekend pointing out, that hands-off approach has not been working.

“We face an existential decision,” Allen said during a moderated discussion on Saturday. “Will we change to fight to win again or will we continue the failing status quo?”

Republicans now make up 24 percent of the California electorate. In last year’s election, they lost half of their congressional delegation and saw their minorities in the state assembly and senate reduced to near political irrelevance.

Both Allen and Frank argued that the party’s core problem was not its association with President Trump, whose approval numbers hover around one-third, but its failure to adequately fund voter registration efforts.

After winning, Patterson invited Allen and Frank to lead a newly created “voter registration task force.”

“We can only hope that the Republican Party starts fighting again for the good of all Californians,” Allen said after the results of the vote were broadcast to the convention center auditorium.

Patterson’s victory represents a break from that status quo in one very obvious way. She is the first woman to hold the position of chair and the first Latina. That may be a notable achievement in and of itself. The Republican Party has struggled with white, educated women and Latino voters in the Trump era.

The party delegates also elected Peter Kuo, a Taiwanese-born Silicon Valley businessman, as its vice chairman. Greg Gandrud, an openly gay man from the Santa Barbara area, was elected party treasurer.

Lest anyone accuse the new leadership team of championing multicultural diversity for its own sake, Gandrud recently formed a nonprofit to sue the Santa Barbara public school district for, according to his website, a “curriculum that is racist against white people and teaches students that white male Christian capitalists are oppressors.”

Contrary to the party’s national image, Patterson joins a long list of women in leadership positions within the California GOP, including Sens. Pat Bates and Shannon Grove, the current and incoming minority leaders in the Senate, and Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, the top Republican in the Assembly.

“In the legislative bodies that have supported me, I am so incredibly grateful for the leaders—having three women on the legislative side,” Patterson said at the convention hall. “Senator Grove, Senator Bates and Assemblywoman Waldron: let’s go out there and do this.”

“This” presumably refers to new efforts to expand the allure of the state GOP. But that broader ideological appeal was not reflected in the line up of speakers at this weekend’s convention. They included former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, Wyoming congresswoman Liz Cheney and Housing and Urban Development secretary Ben Carson.

It’s unclear whether the events of the convention—including the election of Patterson—will resonate with California voters outside the most fervent Republican activists. But according to Mayes, Patterson’s election is a good step in the right direction.

“We still have an incredible amount of work to do,” he said. “Having a new chair is not going to solve our problems. We have to be inclusive, we have to start reaching Californians where they’re at…they’re not going to come to us, we’ve got to go to them. I think Jessica knows that and understands that.”

Editors’ note: An earlier version of this story failed to correctly note that this will be Gandrud’s first stint as party treasurer.

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Carl DeMaio endorses Jessica Patterson for CAGOP chair, vociferously anti-endorses Travis Allen.

There’s only room enough for one “anti-establishment” bomb thrower in the California GOP.

Or so some might conclude after San Diego Republican activist Carl DeMaio held a press conference this morning at the party convention in downtown Sacramento denouncing former Assemblyman Travis Allen, who is running to be the next state GOP chair. His election, DeMaio said, would be the “final nails in the coffin” for the party.

The bad blood between the two rabble-rousers dates back at least a year. During the Prop. 6 campaign, Allen spent over $300,000 raised to push for the ballot measure on ads that prominently featured himself. At the time, Allen was running for governor.

“Travis Allen was never interested in qualifying a gas tax repeal for the ballot,” said DeMaio. “Travis Allen was interested in one thing: promoting Travis Allen. In fact, it’s the only thing he seems to be good at.”

DeMaio instead endorsed Jessica Patterson for the chair’s job. Patterson, a Latina millennial with a lengthy resume as a behind-the-scenes party organizer, has been endorsed by an overwhelming majority of elected Republicans in state government—many of them Allen’s former colleagues. Steve Frank, a Republican activist from Simi Valley, is also running for chair. Last week, Frank and Allen formed a coalition of “resistance” to Patterson, vowing to back whoever gets more votes after the first round vote on Sunday.

This is the latest development in a feud between DeMaio and Allen, two conservatives who otherwise have plenty in common.

Both cast themselves as representatives of the party’s grassroots, ready to make trouble with an out of touch party “establishment.” Both were prominent supporters of the failed effort to repeal an increase in the state gas tax last November. Both are firebrands with a talent for stirring up convention crowds and gathering fervent support on social media.

DeMaio warned that if Allen wins funding resources for the party would “dry up.”

“With Travis Allen you’ll have a vanity party centered around one individual who is an egomaniac who will turn off most of the donors,” he said. “Travis Allen shouldn’t be entrusted to run a rotary club, let alone the California Republican Party.”

Asked about the press conference, Allen hit back at DeMaio.

“Unfortunately, after failing Californians with a badly managed campaign to Repeal the Gas Tax, he now is looking for excuses and issues to distra(ct) from his failure,” he said via text message.

Asked to respond in turn, DeMaio said: “Travis, just go away.”

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Election 2018

Jan. 3, 2019 2:06 pm

Plan B: Kevin de León says he’s considering bid for Democratic party chair

Political Reporter
U.S. Sen. candidate Kevin de León addresses the California Democratic Party convention, winning a much larger share of delegate support than his opponent, veteran Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
U.S. Sen. candidate Kevin de León addresses the California Democratic Party convention, winning a much larger share of delegate support than his opponent, veteran Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

You know what they say: If at first you don’t succeed, run to be the chair of a major California political party.

Perhaps that explains the case of two runner-ups from the 2018 election season. State Sen. Kevin de León of Los Angeles—the former Senate Democratic leader who in November failed to unseat a fellow Democrat, veteran U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein— says he’ll decide within a few weeks whether to run for chair of the California Democratic Party. That follows former Republican gubernatorial candidate and state Assemblyman Travis Allen, who was defeated in the June primary and later announced he will be running to be the next leader of his party.

In a telephone conversation today with CALmatters, de León said that he has been asked to take up the California Democratic Party’s mantle by “a lot of activists and elected officials” within the party and is giving the matter serious thought. “My phone has been blowing up,” he said. He declined to say who has been calling and texting without first getting their permission to share that information.

De León won the endorsement of the party’s executive council for his Senate challenge last July. He ultimately lost to Feinstein in the general election by more than 8 percentage points.

If he does decide to run, de León would be seeking to replace Eric Bauman, who resigned in late November after being accused of sexual harassment. Allen hopes to replace current California Republican Chairman Jim Brulte, who decided not to seek re-election.

Neither job is uncontested. In the Republican camp, Allen would be running against the party’s vice chair, Trump-skeptic David Hadley, as well as party activist Stephen Frank. If de León decides to run, he’d be facing off against Kimberly Ellis, the progressive activist who narrowly lost the chair race last year in a bitter contest with Bauman. Ellis has plenty of support across the more left-leaning elements of the Democratic base, but de León said that he could unite “the Bernie and the Clinton folks.”

That is, if he decides to run in the first place.

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