Trump, math, political games: Dissecting California’s primary
Only three days have passed since California’s primary election, and at least 2.8 million ballots still have to be counted, local elections offices said Thursday. And it isn’t yet clear in four statewide and numerous congressional and legislative races which two candidates will advance to the general election in November.
Nevertheless, some key takeaways have started to come into focus, four of California’s top political experts said Thursday during an election post-mortem hosted by the Sacramento Press Club.
Here are some points that stood out to me during the hour-long discussion:
- One reason why it may be so difficult for no-party-preference candidates to gain traction — as evinced by the performances of Michael Shellenberger in the governor’s race and of Anne Marie Schubert in the attorney general’s race — is that no-party-preference voters often do, in fact, prefer one party over another. “There’s this overwhelming assumption that continues to persist that all people who are NPP voters are somehow in the middle, they’re all somehow between Republicans and Democrats,” said Republican political strategist Matt Rexroad. “And that’s just not true.” Indeed, a 2021 Public Policy Institute of California survey found that 52% of likely independent voters lean Democratic, while 36% lean Republican. As of May 23, around 47% of California voters were registered Democrats, compared to 24% Republicans and 23% no party preference.
- As shown by the numbers above, any Republican running for statewide office in California faces a formidable foe: math. So, although independent expenditure groups backing Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta sought to catapult his Trump-aligned opponent Eric Early into the November general election over the more moderate Nathan Hochman, “we didn’t care what Republican we got” in November, said Bonta campaign consultant Dana Williamson. And, although Republican controller candidate Lanhee Chen may have secured more votes than his four Democratic opponents in the primary, he will mathematically face an uphill battle in November when he squares off against just one Democrat, CalMatters’ Sameea Kamal reports.
- There are many possible reasons why voters appeared to largely ignore Tuesday’s election — including former President Donald Trump’s relative absence from the headlines. “Trump ignited an interest in politics that we had not seen before,” said San Francisco-based pollster David Binder. He had the effect of “igniting people to come to the polls who otherwise might not have — more on his side than the other side, but it worked on both sides.”
- You can take politics out of the game, but you can’t take games out of politics. California’s top-two primary system, which debuted in 2012 after being approved by voters, was intended to limit partisanship and elevate moderate candidates. But “I think it increased shenanigans,” said Marva Diaz, editor of the nonpartisan California Target Book. “I mean, we had shenanigans before, but it increased shenanigans to another level and I just don’t like it.” Rexroad countered that other systems would just result in a “different kind of gamesmanship.”
But voters control the outcome of the game — even if they may not realize it. “Voters are unhappy, and when voters are unhappy, then surprises can occur,” Binder said.
Latest coverage of the 2022 general election in California
Coming up on Monday…
… an explosive four-part series from CalMatters reporter Julie Cart that examines the mental and emotional toll borne by California’s wildland firefighters. As climate change fuels longer fire seasons and more dangerous blazes, stress, PTSD and concerns about suicide are on the rise at Cal Fire. Firefighters seeking workers’ comp for emotional injuries say their claims are denied. Crews working forced overtime shifts say they can spend weeks away from home.
To find out how the state is responding to what’s widely being called a mental health crisis at Cal Fire, tune in Monday to catch Julie’s reports.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 9,058,902 confirmed cases (+0.8% from previous day) and 90,892 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 Will CA prisons get a Norway makeover?
As California voters send somewhat of a mixed message on criminal justice reform, a bill is moving through the state Legislature — so far with unanimous support — that would allow some prisoners with two years or less left on their sentences to move into a campus on prison grounds where they would cook their own food, do their own laundry, make their own beds and receive job training in areas with worker shortages, CalMatters’ Nigel Duara reports. The program is modeled on a similar system in Norway, which is credited with drastically reducing the rate of inmates returning to prison within three years. And it has the support of both prison reform advocates and the powerful prison guards’ union.
- Carlos Villapudua, the Stockton Democrat who introduced the bill: “People always think reform is a bad word. … The key is to separate folks who know they made a mistake and know they’re going to be normal citizens again, not being in there faking it. If you fake it, you go back to general population.”
- Matthew Easley, a lobbyist for the prison guards’ union, said the program could help inmates who want “to keep to the straight and narrow. Prison politics can often be inescapable when programs and housing are delivered in the same environment as those who have no intention of improving themselves.”
2 The workers are not all right
California’s workers are tired, fed up and burnt out after two-plus years of a pandemic that have exacerbated preexisting staffing shortages and brought long-festering inequalities to the fore. Here’s how they’re responding:
- In the health care arena, two private California universities are leveraging multimillion-dollar federal grants to create burnout-prevention programs in an effort to retain more health care workers, Joliamour DuBose-Morris and Colleen Murphy report for CalMatters’ College Journalism Network. “We have to stop pretending like there are two buckets of people, and one is the patients and the other is the provider,” said Adrienne Martinez-Hollingsworth, associate dean of operations and scholarship at Samuel Merritt University’s nursing school. “We really need to critically shift our brains and think about how we, at some point in our lives, are going to be the patient.”
- In the fast food industry, workers at more than 300 restaurants across California went on strike Thursday and rallied outside of the state Capitol and Los Angeles City Hall. One of their main demands: that state lawmakers pass a controversial bill that would allow California to negotiate wages, hours and work conditions for the entire fast food industry. “They’re making millions and millions of dollars off of us, the workers,” Leticia Reyes, a 55-year-old-cook at a Sacramento County Jack in the Box, told CalMatters recently. “And we aren’t very safe.” But a coalition of small business owners, restaurateurs and franchisees argued the bill would “raise prices for millions of working Californians” based on union leaders’ “false narrative of widespread labor and wage violations.”
- And at the state Capitol itself, former legislative staffers and advocates for sexual assault survivors gathered Thursday to launched a new initiative called Stop Sexual Harassment in Politics, writes CalMatters political reporter Sameea Kamal. The group is calling on political candidates to pledge “zero tolerance” for harassment and discrimination, and also wants the state Legislature to hold a hearing to evaluate its process for handling sexual harassment allegations. The organization was co-founded by Ruth Ferguson, a former staffer who said she experienced harassment while working in the Legislature, and Faith Pulido, a former director for Democratic state Sen. Henry Stern of Los Angeles and former consultant with the Senate Democratic Caucus.
3 A trifecta of environmental updates
A wave of environmental news crashed over California on Thursday, so let’s dive right in:
- During a nine-hour meeting, members of California’s powerful Air Resources Board questioned the practicalities of their staff’s proposal to ban the sale of all gas-powered vehicles by 2035, citing concerns about buying and charging electric cars, CalMatters’ Nadia Lopez reports. “If we don’t create a market that is creating affordability, we’re going to end up in the same situation that we’re in now with housing, where there are many homes on the market that are just out of reach for most of California,” said air board member Diane Takvorian.
- Gov. Gavin Newsom and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — whom Fox 11 political reporter Elex Michaelson noted could be mistaken for brothers — met at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles to sign an agreement on shared strategies for tackling climate change. But it wasn’t all handshakes and camaraderie: Activists from the environmental justice groups Stand.earth and Amazon Watch deployed banners calling on Newsom to “stand up to Big Oil” and “end California’s role as primary importer” of crude oil sourced from the Amazon rainforest.
- As a triple-digit heat wave descended across California — one that’s only expected to intensify today and over the weekend — PG&E warned possible power outages could result from the state’s grid getting overstressed. PG&E also pled not guilty to criminal charges stemming from its role in 2020’s deadly Zogg Fire, even as Cal Fire investigators released a report that found PG&E’s “excessively delayed response” contributed to the rapid spread of 2021’s Dixie Fire, the second-largest in state history.
DAs are public prosecutors, not public defenders: Memo to district attorneys, especially Democrats: First and foremost, do your day job — prosecute people who commit crimes. If you have time left over, you can dabble in criminal justice reform, argues Democratic strategist Garry South.
California needs to invest in voter education and outreach: As it stands, many eligible voters don’t know how or where to vote, and, most significantly, don’t feel voting makes a difference to their lives — leading to an unrepresentative democracy, writes Mindy Romero, director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at USC’s Price School of Public Policy.
Other things worth your time
‘They don’t even know this law exists’: A new alcohol rule hangs over state bars, restaurants. // Los Angeles Times
Paul Pelosi DUI: California district attorney reviewing charges against Speaker’s husband. // Sacramento Bee
Why London, Paris restaurants are serving California food. // Los Angeles Times
Anthem must repay $9.2 million to California consumers, agency says. // Sacramento Bee
San Francisco’s COVID-positive tests at second-highest level ever. // San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco, Alameda counties report four more probable monkeypox cases. // San Francisco Chronicle
Appeals court backs rules preventing former inmates from becoming firefighters. // San Francisco Chronicle
Sacramento among cities hardest hit by baby formula shortage. // Sacramento Bee
Oakland declares racism a public health crisis. // San Francisco Chronicle
California Democrat’s ‘red flag’ gun proposal might become law. // Los Angeles Times
‘Red flag’ law in California kept guns from 58 potential mass shooters, research shows. // Sacramento Bee
Voters will watch as Mayor Breed faces critical decision on new district attorney. // San Francisco Examiner
‘Cabal’ ringleader pleads guilty in Anaheim corruption case. // Los Angeles Times
California prison lifer rearrested after mistaken release. // Associated Press
Oakland estimates a cost of more than $20 million per year to shelter 1,000 people at former Army base. // San Francisco Chronicle
Scores of drivers to face DMV liens under renewed toll bridge crackdown. // Mercury News
California cities have spent millions to keep trash out of the San Francisco Bay. Regulators say it’s not enough. // San Francisco Chronicle
Momentum growing to repeal San Diego’s free trash pickup. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Forest thinning proposal fuels controversy at Big Bear Lake. // Los Angeles Times
Coastal Commission OKs Del Mar bluff stabilization projects over objections. // San Diego Union-Tribune