Divisions Plague California Democratic Party

When Gov. Gavin Newsom delivers his annual State of the State speech on Tuesday, he’ll face the same challenge that confronted the California Democratic Party at its convention this weekend: uniting many fractured groups under one umbrella.

However, Newsom is in a more politically stable place than he was last year, when he used his State of the State address to kick off his campaign against the recall attempt that he soundly defeated. But despite their iron-clad grip on state politics, the same can’t be said for California Democrats, who are rushing to energize voters ahead of key midterm elections expected to result in Republicans gaining control of Congress.

Here’s a look at a few key takeaways — and controversies — from the convention, some of which illuminate the political fissures that can make or break a bill’s fate in California’s supermajority-Democratic legislature:

  • Labor leaders clashed with party leaders on numerous fronts. Andrew Meredith, president of the powerful State Building and Construction Trades Council, accused the party of forgetting its “blue-collar roots,” adding, “We must refrain from being the mouthpiece for unrealistic policy goals that hurt the working class or hurt the working poor” — an apparent reference to certain housing and environmental policies.
  • Meanwhile, Art Pulsaki — the outgoing leader of the California Labor Federation — slammed some Democrats for being influenced by corporate interests: “They don’t just count on Republicans to carry their water anymore. They turn to Democrats to do their dirty work,” he said.
  • And tensions are still running high with the party’s progressive wing over policy and political donations: “The Party exercised every opportunity … to silence progressive voices and the policies supported by the majority of Californians,” tweeted Amar Shergill, who leads the progressive caucus. “In the coming months, (we) will chart an organizing path outside of the Party where progressive activists are valued.”
  • Rusty Hicks, chairperson of the California Democratic Party, told CalMatters political reporter Alexei Koseff: “I’m not focused on the things that we solely disagree on. I’m focused on those things that unite us. … Some make too much of the rambunctious nature of a democratic institution when people disagree with one another on approach or direction or objective.”

Meanwhile, as San Francisco political columnist Joe Garofoli notes, few top Democrats addressed issues top of mind for many voters, such as crime, homelessness and rising inflation rates that pushed California’s average price for a gallon of gas to a record $5.29 on Sunday.

  • One notable exception: Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta, who denounced his “right-wing opponents” — including Republican Nathan Hochman and no party preference candidate Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, who recently secured endorsements from powerful law enforcement groups — for refusing to say whether they support strengthening gun control laws or protecting abortion rights.

The party also approved endorsements for the June 7 primary, including for some closely watched Dem-on-Dem races:

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters

He’s Been Convicted, Disbarred And Called A Slumlord. Now He’s Endorsed By The California Democratic Party

An 84-year-old San Diego man with an ignominious past won the endorsement of the state Democratic Party over the weekend, despite a history that includes spousal abuse, legal sanctions for being a slumlord and a restraining order keeping him away from an actor on a beloved TV sitcom.

Michael “Mike” Schaefer, who calls himself “The Equalizer,” is running for re-election to the state Board of Equalization, a post he first won in 2018. Schaefer represents five Southern California counties — San Diego, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Imperial. The largely unknown board regulates and administers property taxes, alcoholic beverage taxes and taxes on insurers.

The oldest Californian to hold a state constitutional office, Schaefer has a lengthy political past — much of it unsuccessful. An attorney by training, Schaefer has also run afoul of the law multiple times, and has been disbarred in California and Nevada.

The California Democratic Party did not weigh in on the race in 2018, when Schaefer faced Republican Joel Anderson, who was fresh off his own scandal in which he was reprimanded by state Senate leaders for confronting a Capitol lobbyist and threatening to “bitch slap” her. Anderson went on to win a seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors in 2020.

But during its convention held over the weekend, the Democratic Party voted to support Schaefer in his re-election bid.

In his speech to the convention, he said that he deserved the party’s endorsement because he spent the last four years fighting for “tax justice and equity for all Californians” and that he worked with Newsom to help small businesses avoid tax penalties during COVID.

“When the pandemic struck, I worked with Gov. Newsom to initiate an executive order that helps small businesses by delaying penalty statements for property tax statements and lead deadlines and that helped to keep many small businesses afloat during trying times,” he said. “I co-led a 50 person statewide COVID tax force that created many innovative solutions to protect our taxpayers and reform our tax laws.”

Click here to read the full article at the SF Chronicle

Current One-Party System is Bad for California

californiaTechnically speaking, California’s political system is a “two party system,” but that is largely in name only in most places in the state.

California has become a “one party state” controlled by the California Democratic Party and California Democrat politicians.
Two key drivers was the decline of the Republican Party in the wake of Pete Wilson’s Prop. 187, and the redistricting deal in the early 2000s that helped Congressional Republicans and Republican incumbents by making most of California’s districts solidly Democrat or solidly Republican, according to a conversation with the late Allan Hoffenblum, legendary GOP strategist and former publisher of the California Target Book.

Republicans are not competitive in the vast majority of districts, and once the 2016 election is over it has been reported by David Crane, Stanford University, that there will be no open Assembly seats in the state until 2024. Campaign consultants are already sulking over the lack of potential competitive elections in the years following 2016.

This lack of party competition will primarily hurt California working families and the declining middle-class and help powerful special interests. The reason is that the lack of a viable political opposition in the vast majority of districts allows politicians to pander to their “core constituencies” and ignore the vast majority of voters including independents and the political center.
The one bright spot is the passage of the “top two primary system” as the result of a back door budget deal which has enabled the rise of the “moderate democrat” in California politics which tend to be less tied to the Democratic pro-labor base and more sensible on business and independent voter issues (i.e. taxes, government regulation).

Republican challengers, and their backers, tend to be the ones who can challenge California Democrat politicians on their weakest policy stances including taxes, out of control government spending, and onerous and costly government regulation.
But in most legislative races in California the Democrat establishment candidates do not have a viable Republican challenger. The result is that many of the key issues facing California are not even debated in the campaign. This is bad for the state’s political system and its voters.

Most competitive legislative races in California are characterized as a race between a far-left “progressive, pro-labor” Democrat, and a more moderate “pro-business” Democrat. This trend is the result of the state’s relatively new “top two primary system” and is surely better than having no competition but does not provide the same benefits as a true two party system.
Most “moderate Democrats” are still pro-labor, just not as far left as the organized labor establishment–backed Democrat candidates. And most “moderate Democrats” stick to the California Democratic Party platform on most economic and social issues. They are essentially Democrats, with a pro-business slant, which is good for the state and its political debate, but does not tend to challenge the Democratic status quo on most important issues in the state.

For example, take the example of Senator Bill Dodd (D), running as a moderate Democrat in the Sacramento valley in 2016. He is selling himself as a reasonable centrist Democrat who can work with both Democrats and Republicans to get things done. But he is still “pro-labor” and tied to the Democrat labor base on most issues including environmental regulation and state spending issues–perhaps the state’s two most important current policy issues.

Perhaps most alarming, is that after 2016 many of the “moderate Democrats” may not even have the threat of a viable moderate pro-business challenger, which makes it likely that they could sway back to the left, even the far-left, staked out organized labor and California Democratic Party.

In conclusion, there are really two potential paths to bringing back electoral competition to California politics.
First, the Republican Party and its candidates could move closer to the political center to better challenge Democrat candidates. This is unlikely to happen because the state’s Republican candidates are simply a reflection of the state’s Republican voters who tend to be very conservative.

Second, the more likely scenario is that you will see an increasing split in the California Democrat Party between its “pro-labor” base and “moderate Democrats.” This split has increased dramatically in the last year, and likely to continue.
If one considers voting data, one finds that the political center is huge, larger than either party, and there is really a lot of room for new varieties of Democrat candidates to stake out a more centrist positions that appeal to independent voters who tend to be more fiscally conservative than the Democratic base yet still pro-environment. These voters tend to be more reasonable on regulatory issues and other common sense policy positions, such as keeping a lid on the state’s rising tax burden and expansion of the welfare state.

Only time will tell, but one thing is for certain, the state’s current one-party system is bad for California and the average voter, particularly independents, who in many cases do not even have the option to vote for a candidate that fits their political and policy preferences.

Kersten Institute for Governance and Public Policy

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily