CVIndependent

Tue11202018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The California Legislature, controlled by Democrats for decades, will be even bluer when the new class is sworn in. Exactly how many more Democrats have been elected is still not certain, because it takes a long time to count votes in California. But all signs point toward growing Democratic caucuses in both the Assembly and the Senate—and a supermajority that sidelines Republicans to near-irrelevancy.

That means the prevailing tension in the statehouse probably won’t be between Republicans and Democrats—but between different shades of blue. It could make for some counter-intuitive outcomes—including a Legislature that skews more toward business on some fights.

The biggest shift appears to be taking place in the state Senate, which in recent years has been the more liberal of the two houses. It is poised to tick toward the center, with two business-backed Democrats winning Los Angeles-area seats previously held by labor-friendly Dems, and two rural Democrats apparently flipping Republican-held seats in the Central Valley.

“It’s very significant,” said Marty Wilson, executive vice president of the California Chamber of Commerce, which lobbies for major business interests. “We have an opportunity to have a more profound impact on the Senate.”

Business PACs including Wilson’s poured at least $6 million into electing Democrats Susan Rubio of Baldwin Park and Bob Archuleta of Pico Rivera, who secured solid wins on election night.

Two other Democrats—Melissa Hurtado of Sanger and now-Assemblywoman Anna Caballero of Salinas—pulled ahead of their Republican opponents earlier this week in updated vote counts, apparently assuring the Senate of a Democratic supermajority. Representing Central Valley districts that stretch through California’s farm belt, the pair would bring a different perspective to the Senate Democratic caucus, which is now dominated by representatives from big cities and progressive coastal enclaves. That means not only more potential interest in water and farm policy, but also on how proposals impact inland jobs and health care.

“The issues the Central Valley and other parts of rural California face will get more attention in the caucus, because there will be more advocates on behalf of those regions,” said Bob Sanders, a Democratic political consultant who worked on campaigns for Hurtado and Caballero.

Caballero gained a track record as a business-friendly moderate during six years in the state Assembly. Democrats poured more than $4 million into her Senate race against Republican Rob Poythress for a Merced-area seat that had previously been held by Anthony Cannella, a moderate Republican. Poythress was backed by $1.9 million from the GOP.

Hurtado is a health-care advocate who sits on the Sanger City Council. Democrats spent $2.4 million to help her wrest the Fresno-area from GOP Sen. Andy Vidak of Hanford, who was helped by $428,000 from his party.

“What was different this time were the issues,” said Democratic consultant Lisa Gasperoni, who worked on Hurtado’s campaign.

Instead of focusing on water and agriculture, as most politicians do in the Central Valley, Hurtado emphasized health-care access and environmental health, Gasperoni said.

“Those issues were way more potent than I’ve ever seen them,” she said.

Wilson, whose PAC supported Vidak, said the Republican likely suffered from blowback by voters upset by President Trump.

“I think a lot of it was attributable to Trump going out there and railing on caravans,” Wilson said. “It does have a negative impact on California.”

With results still being tallied, Democrats have been cautious about declaring victory. But late ballots generally skew more liberal, so Democrats may pick up additional seats in the Assembly, where they have already flipped two.

With supermajorities in both chambers, Democrats—in theory—could pass taxes, change the state’s political ethics law, and put constitutional amendments on the ballot without any Republican support. In reality, however, it’s difficult to get all Democrats to agree on controversial proposals—a challenge that could complicate Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom’s agenda, which is ambitious, expensive and could require a tax increase. Many legislators are spooked by the successful recall this year of Democratic Sen. Josh Newman over his vote to increase the gas tax.

Still, with a union-backed governor-elect whose leanings are more progressive than Gov. Jerry Brown’s were, organized labor sees benefits to the growing number of Democrats in Sacramento, even if some of them come with backing from more conservative business interests.

“We’ve got a good situation with a very pro-worker Legislature in both chambers,” said Steve Smith, spokesman for the California Labor Federation, a union group.

But he acknowledged that with more Democrats come more factions—and disagreements that may not fall along traditional fault lines that, for example, pit environmentalists versus the oil industry. The gig economy presents new political issues that may divide Democrats next year, as tech companies will likely push to change a court ruling that limits the use of independent contractors, and labor unions work to hold it intact. Some Democrats who are progressive on environmental issues may skew more business-friendly when it comes to pressure from Silicon Valley or charter schools.

“This is not your grandfather’s labor versus business fight any more,” Smith said. “There are all kinds of layers that didn’t exist 20 years ago.”

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

Sporting starred and striped jackets and Make America Great Again hats, the California Republicans who gathered on election night in the U.S. Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego were in a remarkably chipper mood.

They cheered when the results came in from Florida, showing the GOP candidate apparently won the narrow race for governor. They lustily booed and jeered when the face of San Francisco Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the likely next speaker of the House, appeared on the monitor.

If the assembled party activists were disappointed by the fact that, closer to home, they had lost their bid for every statewide office in the state, most seemed to take it in stride. Certainly, no one seemed particularly surprised.

Just as the polls predicted, John Cox, California’s Republican candidate for governor, lost the job to Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. In fact, none of the five Republicans vying for statewide office this year won their races. In the contests for the two remaining statewide offices and the U.S. Senate, a Republican candidate didn’t even make it onto the general election ballot. That leaves GOP voters without a single statewide representative for the third election cycle running.

Adding insult to injury, the only right-of-center candidate to mount a realistic statewide campaign was former Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who got as far as he did after ditching the Republican brand entirely and running as a political independent.

With votes still being counted, Democrats also were within striking distance of reclaiming supermajorities in both the state Assembly and the Senate.

Maybe most painful of all was the fate of Proposition 6. This was the effort to repeal a recent increase in the gas tax—or, at the very least, to tap into the California voters’ historic dislike of higher taxes and expensive commutes, and convince them to once again vote Republican. The measure failed, and Republicans were quick to blame the defeat of Prop 6 on Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat whose office was responsible for writing the text describing the measure on the ballot.

“A lot of people are going to wake up tomorrow very angry because they were tricked,” said San Diego Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric. He pointed to polling that showed voters approved of repealing the gas tax, but not Proposition 6. (An alternative explanation offered by Public Policy Institute of California president Mark Baldassare: Voters approve of the low gas taxes in concept, but worried about the specific consequences of repeal).

“We won on the issue,” insisted Carl DeMaio, who chaired the “Yes on 6” campaign. The lesson he took from the election wasn’t that the message itself was flawed, but that the party simply needs to fight harder.

“Every single election, every single race, we are going to make the fraudulently stolen gas-tax-repeal initiative a main issue in regular elections, and, yes, I predict, a couple recall elections very soon,” he said to the crowd. DeMaio has vowed to recall Becerra, as well as Democratic state Sens. Anthony Portantino and Richard Roth. He then led the crowd in a cheer: “We will fight!”

It was a cheer of defiance in the face of the declining fortunes for the GOP. That, of course, is not a new story. Earlier this year, Republican registration among California voters dipped below those of political independents, making the party of Ronald Reagan the state’s third-most-popular political affiliation, behind Democrat and “no thanks.”

But as national Republicans secured their grip on the U.S. Senate while surrendering control of the House, for California Republicans, the 2018 midterms feel like a new low.

It’s been more than 130 years since Californians replaced a Democratic governor with another Democratic governor. And while Gov. Jerry Brown was a fiscal conservative by Sacramento standards, Newsom can be considered the stuff of Republican nightmares: a San Francisco progressive who supports single-payer healthcare, picks Twitter fights with the president and has flirted with the idea of reforming Proposition 13, the property-tax-capping ballot measure that helped give birth to the modern conservative movement and the Reagan revolution.

“This will be the third time that higher taxes have won as an argument at the ballot in California,” said Bill Whalen, a former speechwriter for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. In 2012, voters approved Proposition 30’s “millionaire’s tax” and then voted to extend it again four years later.

The fact that the average California voter elected not just to stick it to millionaires this time, but agreed to pay higher taxes at the pump, might suggest that “taxes are not the third rail” of California politics that they once were, he said.

“I think Republicans forgot that it’s not 1978 anymore,” added Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, referring to the year that voters approved Prop 13 by a nearly 30-point margin. “That was a different time and a different electorate.”

For sure, California has changed a lot over the last 30 years. But even as the state has become more ethnically and racially diverse, the profile of the typical Republican voter has stayed relatively static: relatively white, old and affluent. Fortunately for the state GOP, this is the same demographic niche that most predictably turns out to vote. But in the absence of a message that might begin to convince Democrats and independents to switch parties, that may only postpone the inevitable. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, millennial voters are more likely than their elders to identify themselves as liberals, favor single-payer healthcare, and oppose the president. 

“This is a failing franchise,” said Whalen. He argued that the state party has two fundamental problems: “message and messengers.”

Cox put the blame for whatever messaging shortcomings his own campaign experienced on the press, at least in part.

“I wanted to have a dialogue and a discussion about what we needed to do to get rid of that money in politics,” he said. “At some point in time, the message has got to get out, and it’s got to be the media.”

But according to Whalen, the party put itself at a disadvantage when the most-prominent state Republican on this year’s ballot, Cox, was relatively unknown to most California voters prior to the final months of the campaign. Those further down on the ballot were—and likely still are—largely anonymous to all but the most politically engaged. With the exception of Steven Bailey, the retired El Dorado County judge who ran for attorney general, none of the party’s statewide candidates had experience in elected office.

“You’re counting on rookie quarterbacks to lead you to the Super Bowl,” said Whalen.

But even where experienced Republican political leaders do exist in California—city, county and congressional representatives increasingly concentrated in the exurbs and rural stretches away from the state’s populated coasts—it’s tough to convince an all-star player to join a team with such a lousy track record. A Republican hasn’t won statewide since 2006. And one of those candidates was Arnold Schwarzenegger, the rare “international movie star willing to run for office,” said Pitney. “But that bracket seems empty right now.”

In the lead up to the June primary election, state party insiders at least thought they’d finally settled on an appealing message.

“I’m telling every candidate: When you run for office, you should come out … with, ‘Repeal the gas tax,’ and, ‘Oppose the sanctuary state,’” Krvaric told CALmatters earlier this year.

But as late as of this spring, the majority of Californians said they support state policies to protect undocumented immigrants.

Manuel Pastor, a sociology professor at the University of Southern California and the author of State of Resistance: What California’s Dizzying Descent and Remarkable Resurgence Mean for America’s Future, says that the state already tried that political line in the 1990s. In 1994, state voters passed Prop 187, a ballot measure that would have stripped undocumented immigrants of state services had it not been struck down by the courts.

“That was when we should have been paying attention to how to restructure our economy instead of turning inward and blaming other people for the problems that we had,” he said. While the nation as a whole may now be having its own “Prop 187 moment,” brought on in part by national demographic trends that mirror California’s a few decades back, voters here have “wisened up from that experience,” he said.

As for the gas-tax message, which Cox made one of the cornerstones of his campaign, the election results speak for themselves. The gap between the preferences of the state party’s base and those of the average voter seem increasingly impossible to bridge. And yet that is precisely the task before any Republican candidate who hopes to compete statewide.

Cox faced his own version of this challenge with his on-again, off-again relationship with the president over the last year. In 2016, Cox, famously, did not vote for Trump, instead casting his ballot for the libertarian Gary Johnson. But in a lead-up to the June primary, Cox noticeably warmed to the commander-in-chief, touting their biographical similarities and their mutual support for a southern border wall. It was the president’s endorsement that helped Cox secure a place on the general-election ballot.

But once Cox found himself competing for a wider electoral audience, he began doing his best to distance himself from Trump’s more-controversial policies and tweets, but without offending the president’s many supporters. “I’m not running for president,” he has said, employing a defense popular among Republicans across the state, and country.

The state party won’t have an easy time distancing itself from Washington, D.C., anytime soon, even if it wanted to, said Graeme Boushey, a political science professor at the UC Irvine.

“With a national GOP that has itself moved toward more-extreme politics, it’s hard for the state GOP to escape that shadow,” he said. Politics are increasingly nationalized, he continued. Many voters don’t know who represents them in Sacramento, or even in Congress, but they do know who the president is, and to which party he belongs.

Given the president’s political instinct to appeal to his base (a base that increasingly does not look like California) and not the electorate as a whole, that puts the state GOP in a bind, he said. “If that’s going to be the argument that the party has for the next 10 years, I don’t know that the Republican party nationally, and certainly not in California, can sustain that.”

Once again shutout from statewide office, some of the California candidates said they hope to instead to advance conservative policy in California through ballot measures.

Voters “don’t want anything with an ‘R’ next to its name,” said Konstantinos Roditis, the candidate for controller who had the “R” next to his name. “If we want to make change in California that people want, the best way, I believe, is to do it through the initiative process.”

Both he and the candidate for treasurer, Greg Conlon, discussed the possibility of putting a state proposition on the ballot aimed at reducing California’s public-sector pension liability as soon as 2020.

“Our positions are not really Republican; they’re really bipartisan, because the people want it,” said Roditis. “Democrats in Sacramento don’t want it.”

In the short term, the California Republican Party’s greatest hopes for broader political relevance may lie with the governor-elect. Many Republicans believe that Californians will tire of Democratic rule if and when Newsom begins to push through the many ambitious and expensive policies he’s promised on the campaign trail.

The lesson of the last few elections is that Californians have a modest appetite for certain taxes, said Jack Citrin, a UC Berkeley political scientist who has written about the politics of the California tax revolt. “It doesn’t mean that Californians are ready to embrace all kinds of higher taxes,” he said. “I would bet you that if you put Proposition 13 on the ballot as it applies to homeowners, it would pass again easily.”

A recession, and the budget crunch that would likely follow, could result in a similar political backlash. “You can’t sit around and wait for the revolution,” said Whalen. “But I would not get too far down the road with grim prophecies. Things can change quickly in politics.”

Think back to 1974. In the midterm elections after the Watergate hearings and the resignation of President Richard Nixon, the state Republican Party lost five seats in a once-in-a-generation electoral pummeling. But six years later, Ronald Reagan, another Californian, ran for president and won.

“This Republican Party will be back in this state,” Cox said, “and our path to success is going to be based upon delivering the quality of life that people need so desperately.”

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

You’ve heard the term, “All politics is local”? California Republicans had better hope so.

The pre-vote polls told us that this week’s gubernatorial matchup in Virginia would be a nailbiter. Instead, it was an electoral thrashing. Voters handed the governor’s mansion to Democrat Ralph Northam with a decisive 9 point margin while stripping the state GOP of its firm grip on the legislature’s lower chamber, reducing a supermajority to a virtual tie.

By all accounts, this blue wave—which also swept up statehouse races in New Jersey and New Hampshire, municipal contests in Pennsylvania, a special election in Washington state, and a Medicaid expansion vote in Maine—was as much a referendum on what’s happening in Washington, D.C., as it was a rebuke of local lawmakers. Or as Republican political consultant Mike Murphy told the Washington Post, Virginia was a test of whether the GOP’s electoral fates are tied to the president’s approval numbers. “The canary in the coal mine didn’t just pass out,” he said. “Its head exploded.”

Though political analysts are still analyzing the numbers, it sure looks that way. Virginia saw its highest increase in voter turnout in two decades, with the bulk of the bump coming from Clinton-winning districts in the suburbs. Young voters and voters with college educations flocked to the Democratic side. According to exit polls, a third of all voters said they cast their ballot in part to “express opposition to Donald Trump.”

“There may have been some local issues involved, but the main driver of what happened was the energy among base Democratic constituents who finally woke up,” said Mike Madrid, a Republican political consultant who advises the campaign of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa.

California Democrats are hoping for a similar awakening in the elections of 2018. On the line: their lock on power in Sacramento, where the party holds a commanding two-thirds supermajority of legislative seats, along with all statewide constitutional offices. At the same time, the GOP’s control of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., could also be decided here. Of the 14 California districts that last sent Republicans to Congress, seven voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.

Hours before Tuesday’s election returns rolled in, GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of Vista became the first of those 14 to withdraw support for the current House GOP tax plan, saying it would strip away tax deductions disproportionately used by Californians. Democrats had identified Issa as a top target for 2018.

So how nervous should California Republican candidates be? Very, said Jason Cabel Roe, a Republican political consultant in San Diego.

“They’ve got to assert their willingness to step up to the president when they feel he’s wrong,” he said, but do so without alienating the party’s base. Though only 27 percent of California likely voters approve of the president, 7 in 10 Republicans still stand by their elected man.

“A majority of Republican voters don’t seem to really care about winning as much as they care about voting for someone who they believe will be a shot to the system,” Roe said.

Indeed, some Trump loyalists are arguing the election results merely prove that Republican candidates fell short because they failed to embrace President Trump even more enthusiastically.

While many other Republicans are wringing their hands, Democrats are imagining 2010 in reverse: Recall the historic shellacking the party took that year when conservatives—driven by Tea Party fervor, equal parts anti-Obamacare and anti-Obama—turned statehouses red across the country and flipped the House.

“Trump is clearly the giant orange blob blotting out the sun for Republicans,” said Dan Newman, a political consultant and spokesperson for Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the early Democratic frontrunner to be governor. “He's depressing moderate Republicans, alienating swing voters, and motivating Democrats—who are fired up like they haven't been in years.”

That’s the inversion California Democrats hope for heading into the 2018 midterms: depressed Republican numbers (as the base fails to turn out and moderates cross over to vote blue) and jacked-up Democratic turnout among so-called “low propensity” voters—non-white and younger voters who typically lean Democratic but who are usually less likely to turnout during off-year elections.

In the small number of elections we’ve seen in California this year—a special Congressional election, an assembly primary matchup, a handful of municipal races like the one in Palm Springs—we have haven’t seen that kind of turnout.

This week, in Virginia and elsewhere across the country, those stars finally seem to have aligned. But then again, 2018 is still a year away. And California is not Virginia.

According to Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data, Inc., the Golden State has been shielded in the recent past from the political waves that buffet the rest of the country.

As statehouses went red en masse in 2010, for example, Democrats in California actually picked up a legislative seat. “There some evidence to suggest that the waves stop at Reno,” he said.

Plus, the Democratic party’s current political dominance could serve to buffer the effect of an anti-Trump wave. Typically, the voters most animated during midterm elections are those hoping to rebuke the party in power. This week, voters in Virginia, New Jersey and Maine found ready targets for their frustration with the status quo among the Republicans occupying their statehouses and governor’s mansions. But in California, powerful Republicans are hard to come by.

And then there’s the simple fact of geographical distance: While national politics may weigh heavily on the mind of a D.C. suburbanite, said Mitchell, national politics might seem more abstract to a California voter, whereas the quality of local education, the housing crunch or the price of gas might feel more pressing.

California Republicans are certainly banking on that anyway—although the list of Republicans who didn’t respond to requests for comment on this story includes Republican National Committee member Harmeet Dhillon, Assembly Minority Leader Brian Dahle, and Assemblyman/gubernatorial candidate Travis Allen.

“In a low-turnout midterm election, at least some California Republican incumbents will find other issues to help them achieve re-election. Those who do survive, however, will do so in spite of their party’s leaders,” wrote Dan Schnur, a former GOP consultant who was a key aide to the state’s last Republican governor, and now a professor at the University of Southern California.

As far as Schnur is concerned, national Republicans have sized up California’s changing ideology and demographics and concluded “it’s not even worth fighting to retain a foothold in the nation’s largest state.”

So on the campaign trail, state Democrats will do everything in their power to remind voters that every last Republican dog catcher shares a party label with a wildly unpopular president.

“Here in California, the reason they want to talk about Donald Trump is because they don’t want to talk about the record they’ve created here,” Jim Brulte, the state GOP chairman told a gathering of Republicans at the party’s convention last month. After rattling off a list of economic and social ills facing the state (presumably all the fault of the party in power), he then tried out a phrase that is sure to resurface in campaign ads and talking points in the months to come: “They broke it; they own it.”

With that, the California Republicans have crafted themselves a midterm strategy. Keep it local. Talk about the gas tax. Talk about the state’s first-in-the-nation poverty rate. Donald Trump’s latest Twitter spat with Kim Jong Un? No, I’m afraid I haven’t seen that.

Or as Brulte put it while speaking at the Sacramento Press Club last week: “I don’t get the vapors over what’s going on in Washington D.C.”

Nor, presumably, in Virginia, New Jersey, or Maine.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

Days after losing his position as leader of Assembly Republicans, Chad Mayes was entertaining lobbyists and lawmakers at a bar near the state Capitol, raising money for his re-election with a live video message from Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“I think you are the future of the Republican Party,” Schwarzenegger said to Mayes from the big screen, as guests sipped cocktails and nibbled on ahi tuna hors d’oeuvres.

The Republican former governor went on to praise Mayes—a Yucca Valley resident whose 42nd District includes much of the Coachella Valley, from La Quinta going west—for negotiating a bipartisan deal to extend California’s cap-and-trade program, an environmental policy Schwarzenegger helped create to curb global warming by forcing companies to pay for emitting greenhouse gases. Schwarzenegger called the deal “a fantastic way to move forward.”

If the Republican Party will go in that direction, then we will have an increase in the membership of the Republican Party,” Schwarzenegger said. “Because this is what the people want us to do.”

The comment illuminated a vast schism among California Republicans, who are divided over how to bring their shrinking party back to relevancy. The very reason Schwarzenegger called Mayes the “future of the Republican party”—his work on climate change—was what ultimately cost him his leadership post. Most of his fellow Republicans voted against the cap-and-trade bill, even though it was backed by traditional GOP interests including oil companies and the Chamber of Commerce. Republican activists saw Mayes’ support for a program that adds costs for businesses and their consumers as a betrayal of GOP values. They turned up the pressure until he was forced in late August to resign. Schwarzenegger, by contrast, saw a modern Republican taking pragmatic steps to broaden the party’s appeal in a state where voters overwhelmingly support policies that address global warming.

Mayes’ ouster shows how hard it is for California Republicans to embrace a more moderate stance. A decade ago, Schwarzenegger famously said California Republicans were “dying at the box office,” because hard-right politics appealed to so few people in an increasingly diverse state. Since then, the GOP has slipped even further. Today just 26 percent of California voters are registered Republicans, and internal polling Mayes highlighted shows that 7 percent of state Republicans are considering abandoning the party because of its stance on climate change. The GOP holds only one-third of the seats in the Legislature—too few to be of any consequence on most issues—and a Republican hasn’t won a statewide contest in California since Schwarzenegger’s re-election in 2006.

“We have one of two options,” Mayes said during a recent interview in his Capitol office. A stack of books on the table included a collection of Christian prayers and photos from the Civil Rights Movement. On the wall hung a Teddy Roosevelt quote: “Dare mighty things.”

“We can either convert individuals to become Republicans, or we can reflect California values and as a party begin to move toward Californians. What we’ve been doing for the last 20 years is not converting Californians to our ideas. We’ve been repelling them, and we haven’t been reflecting Californians; we’ve become more insular and ideologically pure. And both of those are not winning strategies.”

Donald Trump’s victory last year, campaigning against climate policy and immigration, made it harder for Mayes to convince fellow Republicans that moderation was the key to electoral success. Even though Trump was trounced in California, he won the highest office in the land by appealing to the far right.

Mayes’ cap-and-trade vote in July was the tipping point for conservative activists who wanted him out, but it was not the first time Mayes had tried to craft a different image for California Republicans. Earlier this year, he took criticism from the right after the Assembly Republican caucus honored gay-rights icon Harvey Milk in a social media post.

During almost two years as leader, Mayes brought his caucus to a homeless shelter and spoke often about California’s soaring poverty rate. He wrote a bill (still pending) that would give welfare recipients incentive grants for completing their education. He negotiated with Democrats on a bill enacted last year that taxes health plans to bring in more money to provide health care for the poor. Mayes and Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon became known for their rare bipartisan bromance.

Yet Mayes is hardly a liberal sop. The son of an evangelical preacher, Mayes opposed Democrats’ plan to raise gas taxes to pay for road repairs. He voted against bills to increase the minimum wage and pay overtime to farmworkers. He earned an A+ rating from the Firearms Policy Coalition for his votes supporting gun rights.

Still, his chummy approach to Democrats didn’t fly with Republican party activists, who publicly accused him of having an extramarital affair with a former assemblywoman as the cap-and-trade vote loomed. (Mayes declined to answer questions about his personal life, other than to confirm that he is going through a divorce.) After the vote—and his participation in a bipartisan celebration in Gov. Jerry Brown’s office—the California Republican Party took the unusual step of formally urging Mayes to step down. Party leaders felt the cap-and-trade extension was both bad policy and bad politics, because in delivering Republican votes for the bill, Mayes allowed some Democrats to vote against it. The Democratic supermajority had splintered over cap and trade, with some progressives opposing it as too business-friendly, and some moderates withholding support to appease conservative voters in their swing districts.

Harmeet Dhillon, who represents California on the Republican National Committee, said Mayes was too focused on being liked by Democrats, and criticized him for handing Brown a victory by supporting cap and trade.

“We should all be bipartisan on issues that genuinely two sides can agree on. But there are no two sides to over-taxing Californians,” she said. “This is not an area where we can agree to have different shades as Republicans.”

Dhillon believes the new caucus leader, Assemblyman Brian Dahle, will be more reliably conservative. Dahle is a farmer who voted against extending cap and trade. His hometown of Bieber in Lassen County has 300 residents, and his rural district is solid Trump country.

Dahle is also known for building relationships across the aisle—he has already hosted the Democratic Assembly speaker at his home—and said Mayes’ bipartisanship makes sense in a statehouse so heavily dominated by Democrats. But Mayes “moved a little faster than the party could keep up with,” Dahle said during an interview at the Sacramento fundraiser.

“He takes huge gambles. And unfortunately, it was maybe too fast for some of the Republicans in California.”

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics. For more analysis by Laurel Rosenhall, visit calmatters.org/articles/category/california/politics.

Published in Politics

In the beginning, it isn’t clear if Donald Trump will even make it inside.

It’s around 10 a.m., April 29, on Burlingame’s Old Bayshore Highway—just south of the San Francisco International Airport—and protesters have just finished forming the second of two human fences that they hope will block access to the only road entrances to the adjacent Hyatt Regency, site of the 2016 California GOP Convention.

The protesters forming the fence sit cross-legged across the road, their arms joined through sections of plastic tubes that are penned with slogans such as “Stop Hate,” “Capitalism Kills” and “Love Trumps Hate.”

Trump, the leading GOP candidate, is slated to speak at a 12:30 p.m. luncheon, and Burlingame police officers line the sidewalk nearby, their eyes fixed on the protesters.

About 100 yards north up the road, closer to the hotel lobby, the crowd of activists surrounding the other human fence is far larger. There, dozens of anti-Trump protesters hold signs that read, among other things, “Make America Hate Again” and “Californians Against Trump/Hate.”

A brass band snakes through the crowd, lending an air of festivity to an otherwise tense scene. Tania Kappner, a Bay Area activist, directs much of the action through a megaphone.

“I need about half of you to go support the folks locked down on the other side. Not everybody, just half!” she says. “We need to shut this entire road all the way the fuck down!”

Inside the Hyatt, past the line of police, the mood is expectant, almost giddy. The line to see Trump speak stretches more than 100 feet long, and because he has a Secret Service detail, it moves slowly—aside from a bag check, attendees must pass through a metal detector.

Inside the banquet ballroom, after it is announced Trump made it into the building, albeit a bit late (he was secreted in through the rear), he is introduced by State Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, who hails Trump as “our next president,” and then gets the crowd involved. “To all the lobbyists who think they can buy our freedom,” he says, and then the crowd joins in, “you’re fired!”

When Trump finally enters, the mood is electric.

“That was not the easiest entrance I’ve ever made,” he says, drawing laughter. “It felt like I was crossing the border.”

Trump then goes on a rambling account of his campaign thus far, how he’s proven his doubters wrong, and how he’s more popular than the other candidates. (Just days later, the other two remaining Republicans would suspend their campaigns, clearing Trump’s path to the GOP nomination.) True to form, he calls Ted Cruz “Lyin’ Ted” and Hillary Clinton “Crooked Hillary.” He mocks John Kasich for eating during news conferences.

Trump says he will be heading to Indiana soon to hang out with coach Bobby Knight.

“He’s a winner,” Trump says. “That’s what we need now, we need winners.”

Aside from trade deals and immigration, Trump avoids talking about the issues, and mostly praises those who support him. He mentions an endorsement he received from 16,500 members of the U.S. Border Patrol, and refers to them as “phenomenal,” “great-looking,” “strong” and “in-shape.”

He also assures the crowd he will have no trouble building the wall he’s promised on the Mexican border.

“It’s so easy,” he brags. “I can just see that beautiful pre-cast plank, good solid foundations, nice and high … ”

One can barely hear his words through the applause.

When Trump finishes, the hotel is on lockdown, with police holding the line against an increasingly riled-up group of protesters. The only way out is a side door leading to the parking garage, and broken eggshells—from raw eggs thrown by protesters—line the walkway as luncheon attendees shuffle uneasily to their cars.

Back inside, the Monterey County Republican Party is the only county party with a booth, as was the case at the state GOP convention last fall. And once again, the table is set up with a “Delete Hillary” cornhole game that aims to bring light to Clinton’s so-called scandals. The game is in keeping with the wireless password for convention attendees: “hillarycantbetrusted.”

Monterey County GOP shotcaller Paul Bruno, the Central Coast regional chair for the Ted Cruz campaign, is sipping a cocktail near the table later in the day.

“We’ve been deleting Hillary, and we’re going to continue deleting Hillary,” he says. Bruno adds that he just got back from a Cruz rally in Indiana, and praises Cruz for being “somewhat of a maverick.” But, he says, all the GOP candidates “bring a lot to the table.”

The evening brings a speech by Kasich, the most moderate of the GOP candidates, who was trailing heavily in the polls. His tone is wistful, as if he already knew that his defeat was sealed.

“I’ve been endorsed by over 70 newspapers,” he says. “Wish it mattered.”

Kasich ended his campaign several days later.


The next morning, the Hyatt is packed with attendees wearing “Team Cruz” stickers. Cruz will be giving a speech at a 12:30 p.m. luncheon. For Cruz, the most conservative of the candidates, it’s been a tough week: On April 26, Trump swept Cruz in five states, and on April 28, former House Speaker John Boehner referred to him as “Lucifer in the flesh.” It would get even tougher in the week that followed: On May 3, Cruz suspended his campaign after getting trounced in the Indiana primary.

But on this day, the excitement in the banquet room is palpable, and Cruz is introduced by former Gov. Pete Wilson, a surprise guest who recently endorsed Cruz.

“Never has the California Republican primary election been so critical to the future of our nation,” he says.

When Cruz finally takes the stage, he is welcomed by rousing applause. “God bless the great state of California!” he says, drawing cheers. After thanking some people, he begins praising Carly Fiorina, who he named as his running mate April 27.

“Carly terrifies Hillary Clinton. I picture Hillary thinking about Carly, tossing and turning, and tossing and turning—in her jail cell,” he says.

He then goes on to describe his platform: Abolish the IRS, rein in the EPA, end Common Core education, “rip to shreds” the Iranian nuclear deal, and repeal Obamacare.

Shortly after Cruz’s speech is a seminar about the Republican National Convention, and the complex set of possibilities that would play out if Trump didn’t win 1,237 delegates—an outright majority that would secure the nomination.

After the seminar, in a men’s room across the hall, a 50-something man tells an elderly man that he didn’t know it cost $900 to become a delegate.

“You know what they say in Poland?” the elderly man says.

“I should let you know I’m Polish,” the other man responds.

“Tough shit-ski. You know what they in southern Poland?”

“I don’t know.”

“Tough shit-ski, y’all.”

Trump, who could barely make his way into his own party’s convention, may actually find his way into the White House.

This piece originally appeared in the Monterey County Weekly.

Published in Politics

They call it a party, though there’s no music or dancing. But there’s plenty of politics in the air to liven up the rectangular, windowless room—with free drinks from an open bar to help loosen the lips.

Saturday night has arrived at the California Republican Party’s fall convention, which took place last month at Anaheim Marriott. The Saturday shindig put on by the Bay Area GOP will feature an announcement about the state party’s preliminary 2015 platform, which will be ratified by a vote the next morning.

Luis Buhler, publisher of BayAreaGOP.com and former vice chair of the Bay Area GOP, delivers the tentative platform to the room.

Things get interesting when the platform’s “equal opportunity” wording comes up.

“The platform committee added language opposing discrimination in housing on the basis of sexual orientation,” Buhler says.

A sudden interruption rings out: “BOOOO!”

Everyone turns to a smug, clean-cut young man sitting in a chair with his arms crossed.

He makes no effort to stand. “BOOO!” he repeats.

Buhler continues, acting unflapped: “That is, by the way, the law of California,” before attempting to move on to other platform details.

But there it is again: “BOO!”

The man, dressed in a sport coat, remains hunkered in his seat.

Buhler persists: “So our platform now is in compliance with the law.”

A few minutes later, immigration comes up.

“The immigration section was clearly the most controversial,” Buhler says. “In total, (it) takes some very conservative, traditional positions of the Republican Party.”

The young Republican regains his voice.

“Bullshit!”

Another smartly dressed man approaches the heckler from behind, taps him on the shoulder and says, “You need to be respectful.”

All eyes go back to Buhler, but seconds later, the heckler erupts. “Really? Really? I’ll leave, I don’t need security.”

As he walks out he says, “Bye! Go be Democrats!”

A man near the door gives the heckler a piece of his mind. “Where’s your bed?” he says, seemingly suggesting the heckler is a child, or too drunk—or both.

Leaving the room, the heckler turns.

“Liberals!” he yells.

Buhler, meanwhile, has never stopped talking: “… but it does call for language, English and English only, as the language of government.”

The man appears in another doorway to the room.

“Boooooooooo!”


En route to the convention via Interstate 5, the only English-language radio station coming through in the Central Valley is KSFO 560AM. On it, conservative talk show host Mark Levin rails for more than an hour against the media’s handling of the second Republican presidential debate, which occurred a day earlier.

He calls it a food fight, and picks on the media—both CNN and Fox News before it—for using their debates to create theatrical conflict amid candidates to boost ratings.

Levin wants substance.

The point resurfaces the next morning, after the conference begins. Tom Palzer, who’s running a campaign for U.S. Senate against more well-funded, white male candidates, approaches for a chat and ends up riffing about the media.

“When you’re running for office, you’re running against your own party; you’re running against the other party; you’re running against the independents; you’re running against the media,” he says. “The media is always waiting to chop your head off.”


For as much as GOP presidential candidates love California for fundraising purposes—it’s the richest state in the union—they often appear otherwise indifferent to California, and for good reason: Its voters haven’t supported a Republican candidate since George H.W. Bush in 1988, more than a quarter-century ago.

With 16 candidates vying for the 2016 Republican nomination, only the dregs of the current campaign—Scott Walker and Mike Huckabee—agreed to speak at California GOP’s Sept. 18-20 convention. But on Sept. 13, Walker’s campaign announced that, due to flagging poll numbers, he would not appear and instead would attempt to shore up support in South Carolina and Iowa, two states critical to securing the nomination. (Walker pulled out of the race altogether Sept. 23).

So Huckabee became the sole headliner, slated for the Friday VIP luncheon.

As the attendees munch on their salads, the room goes dark, and two giant screens light up on the left and right behind the stage.

“Every day of my life in politics was a fight; sometimes, it was an intense one,” Huckabee tells the camera, referring to his long odds in succeeding politically in Arkansas, a longtime Democratic stronghold. “But any drunken redneck can walk into a bar and start a fight. But a leader only starts a fight that he is prepared to finish.”

The three-minute film featured Huckabee’s wife, Janet, who praised him for sticking by her side after she was diagnosed with cancer early in their marriage.

When the lights come back on, California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte takes the stage to introduce the former Arkansas governor, calling him “one of the best governors in America.” After Huckabee takes the stage to a standing ovation, he immediately starts digging into the Sept. 16 debate, where he was given little time to speak—and when he did speak, he foundered. (One thing he said during the debate: “The most dangerous person in any room is the person who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.”)

“I’m excited to be here for several reasons, not the least of which I’ve been allocated three times more time than I got in three hours of the CNN debate,” Huckabee says. “I told Bill O’Reilly last night: I wasn’t sure if I was in the CNN debate, or if I was standing in line at the DMV. Insufferably, a three-hour tour. I thought I was in an episode of Gilligan’s Island, and we got shipwrecked out there. I kept looking around for Ginger and Mary Ann.

“The essence of the questions was intended to try to get us all to fight with each other,” he says. “I, for one, as a Republican, say it’s time we say to the networks: The purpose of a Republican debate is not to create fodder for your entertainment value.”

The debate, Huckabee says, should be about deciding which candidate can not just get to the Super Bowl, but win it.

“I’m also delighted to be able to spend these few minutes with you, because I do believe we have an incredible opportunity to get America going again. There are a lot of reasons for us to be disturbed, disgusted, even outraged at what’s happening in our country,” he says.

“I understand there is more than just a little bit of dissatisfaction with the way our country is going. It’s better described as a seething rage. People are not just unhappy; they are outraged, to the point that in some cases they don’t really care if they elect somebody who has any understanding of what it means to govern.

“Here’s the truth: Why am I running for president? Because I have five grandkids now. And I feel so blessed to be an American. I haven’t just read about the American Dream; I have lived it. And I for one am not willing to walk my grandchildren through the charred remains of a once-great country called America and say, ‘Here it is, kids.’”

The ballroom erupts with applause.


John Myers, senior editor of KQED’s California politics and government desk, stands in front of a camera in the Anaheim Marriott’s convention area hall, poised to deliver a sound bite on the health of the Republican Party in California.

“Set aside all of the spin and the bluster that comes with politics: The challenges of the California Republican Party are ones of numbers. There are about 4.9 million registered Republicans in the state; that’s about 400,000 fewer than there were just six years ago. Democrats have also lost numbers as people have moved to register as independents, but Republicans have lost more, and now make up only 28 percent of the overall electorate.”

Myers’ producer asks that he shift his position, so they can do another take.


It’s late afternoon Friday, and the bar at the Anaheim Marriott is filling up. At the corner are two women joined by Joy Delepine, a 2014 state Assembly candidate from District 14, which mostly encompasses Contra Costa County. After making it into the general election by finishing second in the primary as a write-in candidate, Delepine won 31 percent of the electoral vote.

Her friends commiserate with the bartender, seeking cocktail advice.

“We like alcohol,” one says.

A man I later learn is Sean Lee takes the barstool to my right. He is Asian American, in his mid-40s, and says he has never tried Guinness. He asks for a sample, and satisfied with the taste, orders a pint.

Before long, Lee—who was educated at UC Irvine and the University of Southern California—starts talking about Donald Trump, and the state of politics in America.

“We had two sessions in office, and now there’s two sessions of a Democrat in office. But what’s changed? Not much; they’re all playing politics,” Lee says.

Lee is an entrepreneur and runs a company, Political Data Inc., that he says can get the most up-to-date voter information on the market. He doesn’t sell his services to Democratic candidates.

“The core issues are what’s deteriorated: the safety of our country, our economy and relation to all the other countries,” Lee says. “That’s what needs to be fixed first. Donald Trump represents someone that’s very fresh, something different.”

But Lee later flips on the idea that Trump’s popularity is hinged on him not being a politician.

“I don’t think life is that different whether you’re a politician or a businessman,” he says. “You’ve got to deal. It’s a give and take. You’re trying to get the best deal for your side and come out on top.”


Mike Madrid’s day is not going well.

It’s day two of the convention, and one of the state’s pre-eminent campaign strategists is having a hard time controlling a basic seminar about winning local elections.

When he tells the attendees they should focus on door-to-door outreach, mailers and social media, cries from the crowd are immediate. Lawn signs, they say, are the most important thing to get elected.

Madrid is persistent, and spends another 10 minutes explaining his logic: Signs don’t ultimately sway voters. Period. “I’m not saying lawn signs are not important. What I’m saying is, they’re the least important.”

Madrid steers the conversation toward door-to-door strategies, and says candidates should spend at least nine weekends, as well some nights after work, knocking on doors and meeting their would-be supporters.

“When they go to the polls, they’re going to remember who you are,” he says. “If you knock on more doors than your opponent, your chances of success are exponentially greater.”

Then Madrid—ready to talk about how to disarm people answering the door, or how to use Facebook effectively—calls on a woman with her hand raised.

The woman wants to say lawn signs are the most important factor in getting elected in her district.

Madrid winces.

“What lawn signs are really about,” he says, “they’re about politicians needing to see their name out there and give them a sense of comfort.

“Being a candidate is not easy. It’s not that fun, and if you like it, we also have therapy.”

The room laughs.

“If (lawn signs are) my strategy, then I need to change my strategy,” he says. “After you’ve bought your slate mail, Facebook ads, after you’ve had all your events, buy a lawn sign. And if you win, let me know, and I’ll still disagree with you.”


The bald white guy talking to two other white guys is wearing a pin on his white dress shirt: “Stop Co-Ed Bathrooms,” it says.

Past him down the hall is a table covered with conservative bumper stickers, which the purveyor has qualified with a sign reading: “Warning | Politically Incorrect Area | Rampant Insensitivity Authorized.”

Among the bumper-sticker offerings: “Evolution Is Science Fiction,” “Keep Honking … I’m Reloading” and “Save the Males.”


Increasing the female vote is key for the state’s Republican party, and the subject of a Saturday afternoon seminar.

It begins with GOP strategist Richard Temple presenting some sobering statistics: 67 percent of unmarried women voted for Obama in 2012, and 58 percent of women voted Democrat in 2014.

Add to that, 58 percent of women don’t feel the Republican party understands them.

Temple then implores the women in the room to step up: “The issues are there for us,” he says. “And women can say stuff we can’t say as men.”

A handful of women follow Temple on the mic, the second being state Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, a young politician out of Modesto.

“Negative campaigning is not going to inspire women,” says Olsen. “Maybe it’s because we’re tired of hearing our kids whine all day.”

But she encourages women to run.

“The women who run tend to win,” she says. “We have a terrible track record in getting women to run in the first place.”

Next up is Roseann Slonsky-Breault, president of the California Federation of Republican Women, which she says is the largest all-volunteer political organization in the country.

“We’ve got to win back that White House, and we’ve got to get boots on the ground to do that. Women’s issues are what men’s issues are,” she says.

“Remember the soccer moms from 2004? Well, the soccer moms are back,” she adds. “Everyone is worrying about the future.”


Outside the Marriott Saturday night are women and Asian men dressed as medieval maidens.

The Marriott is across a plaza from a Hilton, and the Anaheim Convention Center sits just to its west.

It turns out the Hilton, concurrent to the GOP convention, is hosting TouhouCon, and spilling outside into the plaza are rows of slick Hondas custom-painted with Japanese anime characters. Maidens are everywhere, posing for pictures.

Touhou enthusiast David Storm, who is circulating in the plaza amid the cosplayers, explains that Touhou is a video game created in 1996 “by one drunk programmer” that has since captured a cult following.

“It’s like half of Japan’s underground culture,” he says. “If you go to anything there, it will be like half Touhou. It’s ridiculous. You go out to the raves over there; it’s ridiculous.”

But what do the cars have to do with game?

“Nothing,” Storm says. “People just like the cars.”


After Dana Rohrabacher leads the pledge of allegiance at the convention’s Saturday-night dinner event, he announces he will be singing a song.

“We just pledged our allegiance to the flag, right,” says Rohrabacher, a U.S. congressman from Costa Mesa. “That’s what this is really all about. It’s all about America. It’s all about what America stands for. It’s not about politics; it’s not about titles. It’s about our country, our country that stands for freedom, our country that is the shining example of liberty and justice for the entire world, the only hope for the world.

“I’m not a very good singer,” he hedges, and picks up a guitar. “It’s called ‘God Bless Our Freedom.’”

And then he puts his pipes to work.

“God bless America, God bless our freedom, and God bless the people who work everyday. God bless the folks, who built this great country…

“Beauty and progress are one with the land, and neighbor helps neighbor, we all understand … ”

The night’s featured speaker was scheduled to be Gov. Walker.

On short notice, the California GOP recruited John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under the George W. Bush administration, to take Walker’s place. He didn’t come to the stage with Rohrabacher’s optimistic energy, but rather, fear and loathing.

“For the eight years of the Obama administration, we’ve had our security and our place in the world put at risk,” Bolton says. “We’ve seen America retreat from positions of security that have been built up by decades of effort. We’ve witnessed international terrorism grow back to the point that it was on Sept. 11, 2001 and even gotten worse than that … .

“All across the Middle East, state structures are breaking down, and new ones are being created, and not to our advantage. ISIS now controls territory in Iraq and Syria equal to the size of Great Britain. They are creating a new country. They have a currency, a central bank, a national budget—which puts them ahead of us … ”

Laughter fills the room, briefly, and Bolton goes on about Benghazi, and how weak Obama is on foreign policy.

“There are enormous changes going on the world, all of them negative,” Bolton says. “The outlook, I’m afraid to say, is uniformly gloomy. I wish I had better news for you, but we have made a huge mistake as a country in electing this man president twice.”

The room erupts with applause.


Saturday night, after the Bay Area GOP shuts their party down, the bar at the Marriott fills up, mostly with men.

Dave Titus, chief of staff for Beth Gaines, a state Assemblywoman from the Sacramento area, pulls up to a vacant stool and surveys the scene.

“Look at all these dudes at the bar,” he says. “It’s like sword-fight city. It’s like spring training.”

Titus is talking about the high number of men at the bar, but he could also be talking the 2016 Republican presidential race—or, for that matter, the party itself. Men in a fight.

That’s not how Luis Buhler, the former vice chair of the Bay Area GOP who was heckled by the young man in the sport coat, sees it. Two days after discussing the party platform at the Bay Area GOP party, he publishes a blog post about the convention: “California Republicans wrapped up their annual fall convention Sunday optimistic and united,” it begins.

Later, he adds this: “Republicans have avoided controversial internal fights and expanded (their) reach to groups traditionally excluded from the party.”

Published in Politics