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You’d never know Eleni Kounalakis was taking an oath of office for an afterthought of a job that has been occupied by men who generally become answers to political trivia questions.

As U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, four other members of Congress and numerous legislators looked on, Gov. Gavin Newsom swore Kounalakis in as California’s 50th lieutenant governor—the first woman to be elected as governor in waiting.

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm served as master of ceremonies for the event at a packed Sacramento Public Library auditorium that bears the name of Kounalakis’ father, developer Angelo Tsakopoulos.

No governor in recent memory had sworn in a lieutenant governor. In fact, most governors look upon lieutenant governors as upstarts to be kept at arm’s length. Governors and California’s independently elected lieutenant governors “don’t always see eye to eye,” Newsom noted.

“That’s about to change,” Newsom said.

Exactly what duties Newsom might cede to Kounalakis remain to determined. There was no promise.

As “lite guv,” Kounalakis’ duties—at least when Newsom is around—are limited to serving as a University of California regent; a California State University trustee; a member of the State Lands Commission, which has oversight over beaches and offshore oil drilling; and presiding over the hazily defined and sporadically funded California Commission for Economic Development.

She also will be acting governor when the governor leaves the state. Newsom quipped that she should not “start appointing judges,” a reference to Mike Curb, who was lieutenant governor when Jerry Brown was governor the first time and attempted to fill judicial openings.

Two of California’s four most recent governors—Gray Davis, who also attended her swearing-in, and Newsom—served as lieutenant governor. During his tenure and itchy with ambition, Newsom would joke about the job, repurposing the old witticism by another ex-lieutenant governor, John Kerry, that his post mainly required its occupant to “wake up every morning, pick up the paper, read the obituaries, and if the governor’s name doesn’t appear in there, go back to sleep.”

Once in 2013, when a mother and her son asked Newsom to pose with them for a photo, the boy asked him what a lieutenant governor does. “I ask myself that every day,” the guv lite replied though a Hollywood smile for the camera. 

But clearly Newsom made the most of the post, and over the years came to see it more generously. And Kounalakis, a longtime Democratic activist and fundraiser, campaigned hard for it, pumping $9 million of her own money into her campaign, besides an independent expenditure of more than $5 million by her father and other major donors.

“It ain’t such a bad job,” Newsom said on Monday.

Kounalakis, 52, was U.S. ambassador to Hungary under President Barack Obama. She defeated Democratic state Sen. Ed Hernandez with 56.6 percent of the vote in November.

Kounalakis paid homage to her father, who arrived in Lodi from Greece at age 14 not speaking English, worked his way through Sacramento State College and became a major developer, a Democratic donor and a philanthropist. He sat in the front row as she took the oath.

Kounalakis vowed to block any attempts to expand offshore oil drilling, and work to expand access to public universities, calling it the “the best way to address our rapidly changing digital economy.” UC President Janet Napolitano was in the audience. 

In 1999, then. Gov. Davis took umbrage at one of the early actions of then-Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. Bustamante’s staff suddenly lost preferred parking privileges, though Davis’ staff at the time called it mere coincidence.

“Pay no attention to the critics who say the job has no influence,” Davis said when asked what advice he would offer to Kounalakis.

Davis suggested that she use her position as a UC regent and CSU trustee to work at each campus to “help solve their problems.” Davis noted that the colleges are the most important economic engines in most cities where they’re located.

Importantly, students, faculty, administrators, university donors and alumni vote. That can be useful for, say, a future political campaign.

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

Published in Politics

Don’t hold regular press conferences. Reward loyalty. If you’re a Californian with presidential aspirations, move to New York.

Are you taking notes, Gov-elect Gavin Newsom?

In the final days of his fourth and final term as California’s chief executive, Gov. Jerry Brown spoke at the Sacramento Press Club, offering parting, and remarkably candid, tips on how to best govern the Golden State.

The hour-long conversation, in the ballroom of the Sacramento Masonic Temple, was moderated by Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton, and Miriam Pawel, author of the family biography The Browns of California.

Brown, now 80, drew upon experience gleaned over 16 years as governor, plus job experience as attorney general, secretary of state and mayor of Oakland—and three presidential runs.

Tip No. 1: “Avoid overexposure”

Pawel asked Brown if he had learned anything from his father, Pat, who served as the state’s governor between 1959 and 1967.

“One thing I learned was not to have an open-ended press conference every week,” the governor said. The reason: Reporters have the nasty habit of calling you out when you contradict yourself.

“It’s hard to be consistent in the face of an ever-complex, ever-unfolding story,” he said.

Appropriately, this was Brown’s first visit to the state Capitol’s reporters’ club since returning to Sacramento as governor in 2011. When Skelton asked whether the governor planned on commuting the sentences of any of the 739 people on death row in California, Brown made it clear that he was not there to provide fresh fodder to the reporters in the room.

“If I said something, that would give you a story,” he said. “I’m not here to make news; I’m here to enlighten.”

Tip No. 2: Don’t try to make everyone happy.

Ever since running for governor in 1974 on the promise to introduce an “era of limits,” Brown has cultivated a reputation as being willing to buck his party’s big-spending tendencies.

Apparently, there is political logic to being a budgetary tightwad.

“The idea that you’re going to make people happy and build a lot of support by doing a lot of stuff—frankly, it turns out that there’s a downside,” he said. “The more that you do, the more that people are empowered to demand that you do even more.”

Tip No. 3: Do try to make some people happy

As a politician known for sprinkling Latin into his speeches, Brown paid tribute to the wisdom of the phrase quid pro quo.

“In politics, you should take care of your friends,” said Brown, noting that both Michael Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, and Rose Bird, former chief justice of the California court system, started out working for his various campaigns.

“Loyalty is important. Keep the meritocracy within limits.”

But there are limits on repaying loyalty, too.

“Politics is a difficult business,” he said. “You need to raise massive sums of money from people who all want something, and if you give it to them directly, you’ll go to jail. But if you don’t give it to them in some form, you won’t be elected to the next office.”

“So you square that circle.”

Tip No. 4: Don’t get distracted by ideological labels

Brown was Oakland’s mayor between 1999 and 2007. That stint taught him that just because someone claims to represent a particular viewpoint that you happen to share, that doesn’t mean they have the best idea.

“People show up to City Hall and argue for the stupidest things in the name of all good things,” he said. “Environment, labor, historic preservation, ethics, police accountability—everybody’s got a good story.”

Tip Number 5: If you’re running for president, don’t do it out of California

“Nixon paved the way” for Californians running for the White House, he said. “He moved to New York.”

With so many early primary states located on the East Coast, and the daily news starting three hours earlier, “proximity is a key issue that works against Californians.” Part of that could change in 2020: Last year, California legislators voted to bump up the 2020 state primary to March 3.

Brown tackled other topics, all the while honoring his pledge not to say anything too newsworthy.

On the state’s high-speed rail, he assured Skelton that it will be built. “I think at our age we shouldn’t be driving,” he said.

On the recent court ruling out of Texas that declared the entirety of the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare to be unconstitutional, Brown said that he was “not really worried about it,” confident that the ruling will be overturned. And if it isn’t, there will be electoral hell to pay for the Republicans, he said, allowing Democrats to replace Obamacare with “something even better.”

On his imminent departure from elected office, he said he will miss the constant activity that comes with the job.

“I like sparring with the press; I like raising money; I like attacking my opponents; I like being attacked by my opponents,” he said.

But come Jan. 7, he will be giving that all up and heading up to his ranch in Colusa County, where he said he’ll have to deal with “real rattlesnakes.”

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

Published in Politics

An Election Day decision by eastern Coachella Valley voters could have a positive impact on all valley residents’ access to quality healthcare moving forward.

Voters overwhelmingly approved Measure BB—written by the Desert Healthcare District in conjunction with the Riverside County Board of Supervisors—as the final step required in the DHCD’s efforts to expand its borders east beyond Cook Street. While the expansion of services to some of the valley’s most underserved communities may have seemed like a no-brainer during the run-up to the election, the process did not get this far without a lot of work.

“I think it’s important to note that this has been an extremely robust, kind of overwhelming process just to get to this point,” said interim DHCD CEO Chris Christensen during a recent phone interview. “There were times when there was concern whether the public would potentially (be able to) vote for passage of the measure. With all of the polling, the focus groups, the negotiations with the county board of supervisors and all the effort that has gone into this over the last year and a half, it was extremely close that this would not have made it onto the ballot this year. … I was told that no other health-care district in the state has ever had to go through this process of expansion, so it’s unprecedented. Our next step is to get the funding and continue the good things the district does.”

The Desert Healthcare District was created by the state of California in 1948. Today, the DHCD provides support to a variety of organizations (such as Find Food Bank, Volunteers in Medicine, Coachella Valley Rescue Mission, etc.) that provide health and wellness services to residents. However, the district’s boundaries stopped at Cook Street—until the passage of Measure BB finally expanded the district valley-wide.

The fundraising challenge ahead for the DHCD is daunting—more about that later—and a number of milestones need to be achieved soon to keep the bureaucratic end of this process on track and on time. One of the first requirements stemming from the voters’ expansion approval is the appointment of two new DHCD board directors who live in the annexed areas. According to a current DHCD timeline, the board must adopt a resolution to increase the number of its members from five to seven by no later than Jan. 2, 2019. Once that commitment is confirmed, the board will start to accept applications from east valley residents who would like to serve. Any interested residents will have until Jan. 8 to submit an application. During this same period, the DHCD staff will be managing a multi-pronged information-outreach effort to the annexed communities.

This candidate search will culminate at a public meeting of the board on Jan. 15, where applicants of interest to the board will be interviewed and considered. By the meeting’s conclusion, two new board members will be appointed, with one serving a term ending in December 2020, and the other serving until December 2022.

“Obviously, we’re looking for individuals who have a passion for our mission and what we’re doing,” Christensen said. “We’re willing to hear from anyone. But whether the board chooses to hear from all the applicants during the meeting interview opportunity will be at its own discretion. There are some limitations where a candidate cannot have worked in management, or as an executive, at the Desert Regional Medical Center or other hospitals in our region.

Doug Morin, the executive director of Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine in Indio, welcomed the forthcoming expansion, while taking a realistic view of the overall process.

“Though this has passed, I don’t know that the district really understands fully yet how they’re going to proceed,” Morin said. “Nobody has come to us to say, ‘Hey … you’re going to get access to more money.’ None of that has happened yet. For many of us agencies, we’re all very pleased and excited, because the valley is the valley. It shouldn’t be eastern valley and western valley; it’s one valley. … It certainly is the beginning of treating everyone in the valley equally regardless of where you live.”

A first step toward that end will be the creation of two new zones of service, which will get under way in February 2019. It will require the redrawing of boundaries for the existing five districts, as well as the establishment of new boundaries for the annexed area zones. According to the DHCD informational materials, a resolution to be passed in February will call for the new zones to be properly established; outline a public-outreach process; explain the zone-creation process and encourage public participation; and offer a schedule of public hearings regarding the new maps. A vote to adopt a final map of the seven new zones is set to take place sometime in October.

“We will be making concerted efforts in community relations in the expanded areas to better understand what the needs are, and how to provide access, program services, facilities or whatever options there are that make the most sense relative to the resources we have available,” Christensen said. “Obviously, we’re planning to increase those resources to provide additional opportunities. We’ll establish an office presence in the expanded area. We’re currently looking at a property where we would set up a satellite office so that we can have access to the community members there. We don’t want them to feel that they have to go all the way to Palm Springs to talk with staff or communicate with the board.”

As for that aforementioned fundraising challenge: The DHCD is currently facing an estimated budget shortfall of roughly $3 million in order to service the new zones completely and in their entirety.

“At the end of the day, it’s certainly our goal to match the funds currently available in the existing districts (roughly $3.5 million) to provide services in the new districts,” Christensen said. “Ideally, it would be nice if we could hypothetically receive the same allocation of property taxes from the expanded district residents as we currently get from district residents. That would be neat and simple.”

Last summer, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors turned down a request from the DHCD to receive a portion of county property taxes collected from the annexed zones’ residents, as has been the case in the previously existing districts. The Board of Supervisors may re-examine the question now that Measure BB has passed.

“We’ve got our backs against the wall in the sense of developing funding,” Christensen said. “First and foremost was to get the measure passed to approve the expansion. Now we have to address additional funding sources. It’s not going to be easy, but it will be up to the new board. We’ll have three new board members come January, with new thoughts and ideas that might come to play in helping to further the fundraising.”

Published in Local Issues

The resignation of California Democratic Party chairman Eric Bauman comes at a particularly emotional moment in California politics—on the heels of historic wins for Democrats and after a year of bipartisan reckoning over the apparent culture of sexual bullying within the political class.

Bauman became the latest casualty of the #MeToo movement when he resigned last week, hours after Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom called on him to step down over allegations he harassed staff members and party activists with numerous lewd comments and incidents of inappropriate physical contact. Bauman said he has a drinking problem and would seek treatment.

“I have made the realization that in order for those to whom I may have caused pain and who need to heal, for my own health, and in the best interest of the party that I love and to which I have dedicated myself for more than 25 years, it is in everyone’s best interest for me to resign my position as chair of the California Democratic Party,” Bauman said.

The fact that Bauman’s alleged behavior persisted even as the public gaze focused so heavily in the last year on rooting out sexual harassment may be a testament to the counterproductive role alcohol too often plays in Capitol culture. Or it may point to the declining significance of political parties—how important can a party leader be, after all, if he can decree “zero tolerance,” as Bauman did, for sexual harassment, and then openly proceed to harass his staff?

But most of all, Bauman’s resignation is a sign that the #MeToo story is far from over.

“There are a lot of untold stories, and frankly, a lot of bad actors who haven’t been held accountable yet,” said Samantha Corbin, a lobbyist who helped coordinate a public letter that last year kicked off the anti-harassment movement in the state Capitol.

During the past year of tumult and introspection, three legislators resigned, facing harassment allegations, and several others were publicly reprimanded for behavior ranging from using vulgar language to giving unwanted “noogies.” On the same day Bauman resigned, the Assembly released records saying Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia violated sexual harassment policy by acting “overly familiar” with a staffer when, in a drunken state, she grabbed him at a legislative softball game. Throughout this year, the Legislature passed dozens of laws to combat harassment in workplaces statewide, and formed a special committee that crafted a plan to improve the culture inside the Capitol.

Bauman, who is gay, spoke out last year in favor of legislation to give Capitol staffers whistleblower protection if they report misconduct. The Democratic convention he organized in February included new precautions to keep participants safe, such as extra security and a hotline for reporting harassment and assault.

Now Bauman himself will be the focus of an inquiry by a new Commission of Inquiry and Recognition being formed by a Democratic party activist in Los Angeles who says he’s been a victim of Bauman’s inappropriate advances. The commission includes former state schools superintendent Delaine Eastin.

“There is going to be a lot of focus on who enabled this. There are still people in party leadership who enabled this to persist as long as it has,” said Hans Johnson, president of the East Area Progressive Democrats club. “They are part of the breakdown in governance in the party that contributed to the worsening and widening of the hurt (Bauman) has been allowed to inflict.”

Johnson said Bauman doesn’t deserve credit for California Democrats’ electoral victories this month—which included flipping seven seats in the House, capturing every statewide office and gaining supermajorities (and then some) in both chambers of the Legislature.

Political scientists and campaign strategists agreed that party leadership seemed to be only one factor among many in the blue wave this election. Democrats, they noted, also were buoyed by Californians’ deep dislike of Republican President Donald Trump, as well as a strong push from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and numerous labor and activist groups that raised huge sums of money and organized campaign volunteers.

“The state party did not have a major role in what happened in regards to Congress,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a retired political science professor at the University of Southern California.

“What the state party is, by and large, is a way for donors to launder money,” she said, because the law limits how much they can give to individual candidates—but not how much they can give to the state party.

The party hired an employment lawyer to investigate the accusations against Bauman. That process will continue despite his resignation, said acting Chair Alexandra Gallardo Rooker. An executive summary of the findings will be made public.  

Rooker will continue to serve as the party chair until delegates elect a new leader, likely at their convention in May. What’s not clear, however, is how many more political figures will fall before the #MeToo story is over in California.

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

Published in Politics

On this week's evergreen-scented weekly Independent comics page: Red Meat sends Milkman Dan's truck in for repairs; Apoca Clips quizzes Li'l Trumpy about the immigrant caravan; Jen Sorensen looks at what's not changing following the midterms; The K Chronicles has a modest proposal for coal mines; and This Modern World brings us the latest mystery for the detective-in-chief.

Published in Comics

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

Millions of Californians dropped off their ballots on Tuesday or mailed them in, but they might want to double-check online—because a missing or a mismatched signature could void their vote.

Counties are contacting voters because they’re now required by law to do outreach. Still, voters should confirm online that their ballots were tallied. If not, they should call their county election office to be sure their vote counts, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

“Voters need to be alert and aware,” she said.

After this year’s June primary, California lawmakers passed the Every Vote Counts Act, which gives voters time to correct a mismatched or missing signature. The law was enacted after a lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, which argued that 45,000 ballots were rejected last year because of mismatching signatures.

Already county offices are contacting voters asking them to fix their signature issues, such as this instance detailed by a Shasta county voter.

But other voters found out on their own—by checking themselves—including well-connected Democratic communications guru Roger Salazar. As he documented on Twitter, he learned his ballot was rejected due to a non-matching signature, so he went and voted in person instead.

Voters who failed to sign their ballots have eight days after Election Day to make their ballots count. Voters whose signatures don’t match have two days prior to the certification of an election to fix their ballots, Sam Mahood, press secretary for the Secretary of State Alex Padilla, confirmed in an email. This year, county officials have until Dec. 7 to certify election results. However, Alexander warned that some counties may certify their results sooner.

As of today, the state still has millions of unprocessed ballots. California’s massive size along with other measures the state takes to count and certify ballots mean the state takes much longer than other states to officially call some contests.

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

If you’re thinking about staying up all night to watch California election results, grab some coffee: It will probably be a long night … or week … or month—the price we pay for enabling more procrastinators to vote.

The holdup? Voters here prefer voting by mail, and California—unlike most other states that allow mail-in ballots—counts every ballot postmarked by Election Day, even if it arrives up to three days later. Typically, mail ballots must be received before or by Election Day in order to count, according to a review by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Four years ago, California was among the 36 states that required mail ballots to arrive by Election Day, with three states requiring mail ballots to arrive even earlier. But Sacramento lawmakers, on a party-line vote, enacted a Democratic proposal in 2014 to expand the window for voting.

Now, as the state increasingly moves away from polling places and toward vote-by-mail ballots, registrars in most counties are having a difficult time meeting the public’s impatience for instant results.

In this year’s June primary election, more than two-thirds of California voters mailed in their ballots. But on election night, workers were able to tabulate only about 58 percent of the total ballots cast—another 3 million-plus arrived over the next three days to be tallied. That left many counties scrambling to handle the avalanche of mail-in ballots days after election night.

“There are just more tasks that we have to do after election day that we didn’t have to do years ago,” said Joseph Holland, president of the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials. “It’s more work. We’re having to hire more people. We’re having to train more people.”

Three states—Oregon, Washington and Colorado—eliminated polling places and conduct all their elections via mail. But Colorado elections director Judd Choate says that unlike California, his state requires all mail-in ballots to arrive at the registrar’s office by the time the polls close.

Colorado’s system offers another incentive for voters to get their mail ballots in early, enabling a quicker count: “The other thing that is a big advantage for mail-in early is you stop getting the robo-calls; you stop getting the cardboard in your mailbox, because we process that within 24 hours of the submission of your ballot, and then that information is released to the parties,” Choate said. “And then they stop bugging people.”

Counting ballots is a four-step process, which in California can begin 10 days before the election: 1. Scan the barcodes on ballot envelopes to track received ballots. 2 Process ballots by verifying signatures, removing them from envelopes and ensuring they’re clean enough for the counting machines. 3. Machine-count the votes. 4. Tabulate those votes into results. The last step cannot be done until after polls close on election night.

California lawmakers who supported pushing back the date by which ballots could arrive argued that voters were often confused and thought they could just drop their ballots in the mail on Election Day. Proponents cited a 2010 case in Riverside County, when more than 20,000 ballots were misplaced and discovered in a post office the day after the election.

The bill analysis at the time noted that it would be difficult to predict what extending the tabulation time by three days might cost.

“If we really want to see these ballots counted faster, one hard question we will have to ask ourselves is: How much money and support are we willing to give our registrars to do this?” said Mindy Romero, founder and director of the California Civic Engagement Project, a nonpartisan research group.

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

Published in Politics

On this week's post-Election Day weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World ponders the truth and Donald Trump; Jen Sorenson looks at the future of voter disenfranchisement; The K Chronicles reveals the author is the subject of a TV pilot; Red Meat goes camping; and Apoca Clips begins the Trump 2020 campaign.

Published in Comics

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