Lanhee Chen comes clean on Trump, abortion
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Lanhee Chen has a few confessions to make.
The Republican candidate for California state controller, who will face off against Democrat Malia Cohen in the November general election, told me in an exclusive interview on Thursday that he did not vote for Donald Trump for president in either 2016 or 2020 — and doesn’t plan to support Trump if he runs in 2024. “There are a lot of people who I believe would be better for the job than the former president,” he said.
Chen has taken pains to distance himself from Trump — in an April interview with CalMatters, he described the Jan. 6, 2021 siege on the U.S. Capitol as an “abomination” and “an attack on democracy” — but has never before publicly revealed whether he voted for the former president.
So why now, a few weeks after the June 7 primary when California voters made him the top vote-getter for controller?
“He’s still an issue in our politics,” Chen told me. “I’ve been watching these hearings that have been going on, on what happened on January 6th … and I think it’s disgusting. The more I look at it, the more disgusted I am with the kind of behavior we saw that day from people. … I believe that the former president bears some culpability for what happened on January 6th, and I think now we’re discovering the extent of that culpability.”
He added, “As more is revealed, people are gonna want to know” how he voted.
- So here’s how he voted: Chen said he’s “pretty sure” that in 2016 he wrote in Mitt Romney, on whose presidential campaign he had previously worked. And in 2020, “I actually left my ballot blank,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I could vote for either President Biden, nor could I vote for former President Trump.”
Chen also shared his stance on abortion in more specific terms than he has in the past. Cohen, who has vowed to “do everything under my power to uphold funding for our reproductive freedom,” has repeatedly called on Chen to disclose his views on abortion. Following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week striking down the federal constitutional right to an abortion, Chen pledged to “never restrict nor interfere with a woman’s ability to get an abortion or access to abortion services.”
But he went a bit further in our Thursday conversation. “I support women’s reproductive freedoms,” he told me. “And that includes access to family planning services, to contraceptives and abortions, as allowed under California law.”
- Nevertheless, Chen said he has “some concerns” about a November ballot measure to enshrine in California’s constitution the right to abortion and contraception — an initiative Cohen says she supports.
- Chen: “On the one hand, I have heard from people who are abortion rights advocates that there’s a concern that the way the amendment’s been written” could “result in more litigation and potentially endanger women’s reproductive freedoms. I don’t think we want to do that. … On the other side are people who oppose abortion, who argue that this would open the door and create a possibility to go beyond what’s allowed in California law now, and potentially, for example, raise the possibility of late-term abortions, which I oppose.”
Chen stressed that he’s sharing his views on these topics not because of pressure from Cohen, or because of the mathematically uphill battle he faces in solidly Democratic California — a challenge he plans to tackle with sustained outreach to Asian American, Latino and African American voters — but because “it’s just a sense I have” that “they continue to be questions that people are asking.”
- Chen: “Let’s answer them, let’s make it clear kind of where the perspective is, and then let’s move on to talk about the issues that the controller really has control over. And, you know, by the way, abortion is not one of them. And nor, by the way, is who’s president in four years.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 9,378,193 confirmed cases (+0.7% from previous day) and 91,516 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 An extremely busy day in Sacramento
The California State Capitol was enveloped in a flurry of activity on Thursday as lawmakers raced to wrap up key action items before their month-long summer recess starting today. Meanwhile, state election officials hurried to finalize the list of seven measures that will land on voters’ ballots in November. It won’t include an initiative to hike California’s minimum wage to $18 per hour because county officials didn’t verify enough signatures ahead of the Thursday deadline, CalMatters’ Jeanne Kuang reports. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know:
- Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law the $300 billion budget lawmakers approved Wednesday night for the fiscal year that begins today. In a press release that included the phrases “Cha-ching! You just received a deposit” and “Climate change is real y’all” — in addition to some statements that seemed to stretch the truth — Newsom applauded the budget for “model(ing) what progressive and responsible governance can look like.” He also signed more than two dozen other bills that guide how the money will be spent, including a controversial energy bill that’s concerned some lawmakers and environmental justice advocates. In a signing message, the governor directed the state “to work with stakeholders … to ensure clean energy resources are prioritized over fossil fuels.” Newsom’s “commitment to resolve our concerns before the end of August is promising,” said Mary Creasman, CEO at California Environmental Voters. But “we should all be watching and holding our leaders accountable to addressing the deeply troubling changes to California’s energy policy signed today.”
- Newsom also signed into law a legislative workaround to an initiative to reduce single-use plastics, soon after the proponents withdrew it from the November ballot. But some industry groups, including the Plastics Industry Association, came out in opposition to the law.
- Speaking of ballot measures, lawmakers rejected a proposal that aimed to end forced labor in California prisons. CalMatters’ Byrhonda Lyons has the inside story on the failed constitutional amendment, which was crafted by an incarcerated man named Samual Brown.
- Lawmakers got one step closer to sending to a controversial bill to Newsom’s desk that would authorize safe consumption sites in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland. The pilot programs would permit people to use drugs with sterilized supplies under the supervision of medical professionals.
- Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that California will restrict state-funded travel to Arizona, Indiana, Louisiana and Utah due to “anti-LGBTQ+ legislation recently enacted in each state,” bringing the total of banned states to 22.
- And, with California’s gas excise tax set to increase today by nearly 3 cents per gallon, the Assembly Select Committee on Gasoline Supply and Pricing held its first hearing. The main takeaway, according to Assemblymember Chad Mayes, a Rancho Mirage independent: “All of the public policy decisions that California’s made is increasing the costs compared to other states.”
2 Fallout from U.S. Supreme Court rulings
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Thursday ruling drastically limiting the power of the federal Environmental Protection Agency to regulate planet-warming emissions drew swift condemnation from top California officials including Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta, but it likely won’t have much impact on the Golden State’s efforts to combat climate change, CalMatters’ Nadia Lopez reports.
But, as CalMatters political reporter Ben Christopher notes, the same can’t be said for the court’s ruling last week striking down New York state’s tight restrictions on who can carry a concealed gun in public. That opinion not only compelled California to toss out its own similar system, but also called into question the constitutionality of a whole range of the state’s gun laws.
- Case in point: On Thursday, the nation’s highest court asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider whether California’s ban on high-capacity magazines — which voters passed in 2016 — meets constitutional muster in light of its ruling last week. The court sent similar orders to lower courts over a high-capacity magazine ban in New Jersey, an “assault weapon” ban in Maryland and a concealed carry statute in Hawaii.
- But the Ninth Circuit is already conducting reassessments of its own: On Tuesday, the federal appeals court vacated a ruling upholding California’s assault weapon ban, ordering a district court to take another look in light of the Supreme Court decision.
- Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle & Pistol Association: “It’s a hard reset for Second Amendment jurisprudence.”
- Ari Freilich, state policy director of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence: Last week’s opinion has opened “the floodgates for the gun industry to potentially re-litigate many, many cases under the Court’s radical new ‘history-only, ignore the safety benefits’ legal standard.”
In other U.S. Supreme Court news:
- The court on Thursday declined to consider a challenge to a California law giving flight crews based in the state more generous meal and rest breaks than required by the federal government.
- Some experts are concerned that the court’s decision to take up a controversial case dealing with election law next year could potentially bring an end to California’s independent redistricting commission — and return the power of drawing district lines every 10 years to the state Legislature.
3 An end to state eviction protections
Even as Democratic lawmakers applaud the state budget’s historic investments in social safety net programs, two CalMatters stories expose holes and gaps in existing frameworks:
- On Thursday, California’s fourth and final round of eviction protections expired for tens of thousands of households still waiting for payments from the state’s multibillion-dollar rent relief program, which has struggled to quickly distribute money. More than 135,000 people — or nearly a third of all households — who applied for rent relief had their applications rejected as of June 17, CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias reports. And more than 28,000 initial applicants and 57,000 people who reapplied have yet to hear back, according to PolicyLink, a nonprofit reviewing the state program. “Tenants who are eligible for assistance are being denied with these cryptic notices that don’t tell them why. It just doesn’t make sense,” said Madeline Howard, a senior staff attorney at the Western Center on Law & Poverty.
- And the infant formula shortage gripping the nation has been particularly perilous for low-income California families receiving government assistance, who have been hamstrung by cumbersome state and federal regulations restricting the types of formula they can buy, CalMatters’ Elizabeth Aguilera reports. “At this point, at this level of shortage and with zero alternatives and selection they should loosen the restrictions to the greatest degree possible,” said Jennifer Kelleher Cloyd, CEO of First 5 San Jose.
Saving Diablo Canyon won’t stop power outages: Nuclear power peddlers are blaming power outages on California’s shift to renewable energy to justify keeping the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant open. This is a false narrative, argues Robert Freehling, an independent consultant focused on clean energy policies.
Other things worth your time
Nearly 1 out of 5 classes in California taught by underprepared teachers. // EdSource
Arizona women schedule 175 abortions in San Diego, Imperial and Riverside counties since Roe overturn. // San Diego Union-Tribune
California to end contract with AIDS Healthcare Foundation, alleging improper negotiation tactics. // Los Angeles Times
Sacramento councilman’s employee and her family live in the house where he says he lives. // Sacramento Bee
Wife of Bay Area solar company owner sentenced to 11 years for role in billion-dollar Ponzi scheme. // Mercury News
$3,000 bonuses, 10.9% raise in first California state union contract of bargaining season. // Sacramento Bee
San Diego’s price tag to unwind Prop. B pension cuts nearly doubles to $150 million. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Kaiser mental health patients waiting months for appointments in Sacramento area, employees say. // Sacramento Bee
Victims of violence want California courts to prioritize child safety in custody cases. // Los Angeles Times
San Francisco vacant homes tax headed to ballot, campaign says. // San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco rents haven’t bounced back to pre-pandemic levels. // Wall Street Journal
State agency clears way for Oakland Athletics $12 billion ballpark plan. // Associated Press
A father and son drove off Highway 1 — 30 years apart. This road’s deadly past isn’t over. // San Francisco Chronicle
Big cats in urban jungle: L.A. mountain lions, Mumbai leopards. // Associated Press
Extreme heat, drought will permanently scar California and its social fabric. // Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles to launch ‘extreme heat campaign’ today, says city’s first heat officer. // Los Angeles Times
Improving weather aids fight against Sierra Nevada wildfire that injured 7 firefighters. // Associated Press
Fast-moving new Sandra Fire in Butte County prompts evacuation orders. // San Francisco Chronicle
Big Basin Redwoods State Park to reopen for first time since 2020 fire. // Mercury News