California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis
In probably the strangest outcome of California’s elections so far this year, a new state senator was sworn in Monday—with just three weeks left to go in the legislative session.
Vanessa Delgado, a Democrat from Montebello, was elected last week to replace former Sen. Tony Mendoza, who resigned in February after an investigation found he likely harassed several young employees.
But voters had two chances to vote for Delgado this year—once to complete the remainder of Mendoza’s term and again to serve a new four-year term that begins in December—and in an odd twist, they chose her only to fulfill the rest of the current term. That means Delgado will serve as a senator for just three-and-a-half months.
“This is an unexpected result, but it’s what the voters decided,” she said in a brief interview after being sworn in while her parents and 15-year-old daughter looked on.
Delgado, a real estate developer who resigned as Montebello mayor to join the Legislature, will be the shortest-serving state senator in more than a century, according to legislative historian Alex Vassar. (The last time a senator served a shorter term was in 1903, Vassar said, when Orrin Z. Hubbell served 15 weeks before he died.)
Delgado arrived in Sacramento Monday as the Legislature begins the most consequential final three weeks of the legislative year, a time when lobbying is intense and lawmakers face tough decisions on hundreds of bills. In September she’ll return to the district in southeast Los Angeles County and work on constituent issues until Dec. 2. Then—poof—her time as a senator will be done.
The man who hopes to replace Delgado on Dec. 3 was also in Sacramento Monday. Democrat Bob Archuleta, who faces Republican Rita Topalian on the November ballot, mingled with lobbyists and Democratic senators at a campaign fundraiser near the Capitol, just minutes before Delgado began her super-short term.
State Sen. Kevin de León, a Democrat who is challenging U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s re-election this fall, continues to assail her response to a constituent’s accusation of sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, saying the explanation that emerged over the weekend didn’t mollify his objection.
“I don’t believe it was handled correctly,” de León said today in an interview with CALmatters.
Feinstein learned of the woman’s allegation in July but did not reveal it until last week, when the Intercept reported that Feinstein had a letter describing the alleged assault that she did not share with her Senate colleagues. Feinstein said she was honoring the anonymity her constituent requested, and had referred the issue to federal investigators.
De León—who last week called Feinstein’s approach a “failure of leadership”—said that if he were in Feinstein’s situation, he would have shared a redacted version of the letter with fellow Judiciary Committee members.
“I believe that Christine Ford’s confidentiality could have been kept and at the same time this issue could have been dealt with,” he said. “But it was neither. And it wasn’t until the pressure mounted, because of the press, because of the leaks, that (Feinstein) started acting.”
Ford, a psychology professor from Palo Alto, went public with her account on Sunday, telling the Washington Post that a drunken Kavanaugh attacked her during a party when they were high school students in Maryland in the 1980s. She said he pinned her down on a bed, attempted to take off her clothes and covered her mouth when she tried to scream—allegations Kavanaugh denies.
Ford also said that although she reported the incident to her congressional representatives in July, she wanted to remain anonymous because she feared that going public would wreak too much havoc in her life. She eventually decided to tell her story to the Post, she said, because she was concerned her identity would be exposed in an inaccurate story.
Ford’s attorney told the New York Times that Feinstein’s staff remained in touch with Ford throughout August to see if she wanted to go public; she didn’t. Ford was happy with how Feinstein handled the situation, the lawyer said in numerous media interviews Monday.
De León’s contention that Feinstein should have handled the letter differently amounts to pure campaign politics, said her longtime consultant Bill Carrick.
“He is a classic losing candidate trying to create an issue out of nothing,” Carrick said. “Victims themselves should have the ultimate say-so on whether they go public or not. The idea that ‘redacted’… is not a violation of confidentiality is kind of silly.”
De León won the California Democratic Party endorsement this summer but trails Feinstein in fundraising and polls. He is challenging the Democratic stalwart from the left under California’s nonpartisan election system.
De León’s criticism of Feinstein has raised some hackles in Sacramento, where he was the leader of the state Senate during a sexual harassment scandal that rocked the statehouse. De León said in the fall that he had no knowledge that then-Sen. Tony Mendoza, his Democratic colleague and housemate, was being investigated for harassment—even though de León headed the committee overseeing the investigation. He repeated that assertion Monday, saying “there was an internal failure within our system.” Still, he contrasted his situation with Feinstein’s.
“I wish that information would have been brought to my attention, but that’s different than having information and documents within your reach… and not acting on the issue,” he said.
De León pointed out that he moved to overhaul the Senate’s procedure for handling harassment claims as soon as he learned of the allegations against Mendoza.
Political relevance is an unfamiliar feeling for Californians. But now the fate of the U.S. House—and whether it’s Democrats or Republicans who’ll garner the power to make budgets, launch investigations, and fend off or draw up articles of impeachment—might just come down voters in Orange County, San Diego and the Central Valley.
The problem for the average voter: California is a big state, and by our count at least 10 congressional districts are very much in play this year.
So today we kick off a weekly roundup of the most significant (or most funny or interesting or just plain weird) developments across California’s 53 congressional districts:
1. Newsom campaigns for Congress: Lt. Gov. and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom hit the campaign trail this week, but his focus seemed less on Sacramento then on Washington D.C. From Orange County up through the Central Valley, Newsom hit three of the most competitive congressional districts (CA-25, CA-21, and CA-10) and 8 state legislative races too. He’ll hit more districts on his way back down south. The goal is to bring about “presidential-level Democratic turnout” in these elections, the Sacramento Bee reported. Or, according to the article’s headline, “Gavin Newsom doing his best to pretend he has no opponent.”
Newsom may not be particularly popular in some of the state’s purpler districts, (in Fresno, where he campaigned with Democrat TJ Cox on Wednesday, Newsom lost the June primary vote to his opponent John Cox—no relation—by 17 percentage points). But as the San Francisco Chronicle reports, candidates still appreciate the media attention—and the gobs of money—that follow in Newsom’s wake.
2. Knife fight: A man allegedly pulled a knife on Republican congressional candidate Rudy Peters (CA-15) at an outdoor festival in Castro Valley on Tuesday. The attacker reportedly shouted profanities about President Trump at both Peters and GOP Assembly candidate Joseph Grcar (AD-20) before brandishing a switchblade. Authorities arrested 35-year-old Farzad Fazeli; no one was hurt.
3. The world’s most unadvisable aside: In Orange County, Splinter News unearthed footage from a February Voice of America interview with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48) in which the Republican incumbent unnecessarily, cringingly redirects a conversation about the Chinese celebration of the Year of the Dog to note that he does not “blame (the Chinese people) for eating dog.” “I mean, if that’s what tastes good, that’s what tastes good,” he added.
Incidentally, the House of Representatives passed the Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act of 2018 yesterday, banning the slaughter of household pets for food. The bill passed unanimously.
4. Carpetbagger Watch: Democratic candidate Jessica Morse (CA-04) dropped $200,000 on a new broadside against incumbent GOP Rep. Tom McClintock accusing him of being an out-of-touch out-of-towner. McClintock represents the 4th, but lives in the 7th congressional district. It’s not a new attack against McClintock, who is now going for his sixth term and whose district (er, the one he represents in Congress) is among the most Republican in the state.
And as the Sacramento Bee reports, questioning your opponent’s hometown bonafides is a common attack in districts around the state.
5. Snub from the Birther-in-Chief: On Wednesday, the CNN’s KFile investigative news team dug up old radio episodes from far-right congressional candidate Tim Donnelly (CA-08), in which the candidate speculated that former President Barack Obama was a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood. This comes a week after President Trump endorsed Donnelley’s opponent, Republican Rep. Paul Cook, to the dismay of right-wing activists, who are now saying the president was “tricked.”
6. Gender gap: On Thursday, the American Association of University Women used newly released Census economic data to calculate the size of the wage gap between men and women in each state—and each congressional district. Incidentally, the three congressional districts with the biggest disparities (#1: CA-17, #2: CA-33, #3: CA-18), also happen to have among the highest average incomes (#2, #5, and #3).
In the lead up to this year’s primary election, no topic was the subject of as much hand wringing as California’s “top two primary.”
Democrats feared the dreaded “shut out” scenario, whereby a surplus of eager progressive candidates in a single race would divide up the left-of-center vote, leaving the top two spots to Republicans. Republicans faced the prospect that in a blue state, they would fail to muster enough votes to make the cut-off—and indeed, voters have once again been left to choose between two U.S. Senate finalists who are Democrats.
By allowing only the first and second place winners of the June vote to move onto the general election ballot, the top two system was supposed to bring bipartisan comity and sensible centrism to state politics. And yet, while Democrats avoided the nightmare scenario (Republicans weren’t so lucky), eight years after the change was introduced, ambivalence still abounds.
A recent survey of political insiders shows as much. As part of our Target Book Insider Track Survey series, we asked respondents for their assessment of top two. The results suggest that at least among those who do politics for a living, top two is far from an unqualified hit.