Chad Mayes Selected as Next Assembly Republican Leader

Come January, Assembly Republicans will have a new leader.

On Tuesday, the 28 Republican members of the lower house selected Assemblyman Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley as their next leader. The caucus did not release the specific tally for the caucus vote nor indicate any other candidates for the leadership post.

“I am fortunate to inherit a Caucus that is united in its commitment to fiscal responsibility and meeting the needs of a 21st Century economy,” Mayes said in a press release following the announcement. “For California to thrive, legislative leaders must provide solutions that offer a pathway to prosperity. Too often politicians take actions that limit opportunity in the very communities they claim to serve.”

He added, “I look forward to working with our Caucus to make California a better place to call home.”

Mayes, who was elected to the state Assembly in 2014, will take over for current GOP leader Kristin Olsen when the Legislature reconvenes on January 4, 2016.

Second consecutive GOP leader to reject anti-tax pledge

Mayes said that he intends to carry on Olsen’s philosophy and approach to the post.

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“I am humbled by my colleagues’ confidence in my ability to lead the Caucus,” Mayes said. “I plan to build upon Kristin’s vision of bringing the Caucus and its supporting operations into the 21st Century. She has worked tirelessly to position our Caucus and its members for maximum success.”

Since taking over as minority leader, Olsen has embraced a more moderate approach and rejected the anti-tax rhetoric that is considered orthodoxy to traditional conservative Republicans. In 2012, Olsen publicly criticized the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a promise by elected officials to oppose higher taxes.

“The problem with the no-tax pledge is that entrenched special interests interpret what is or is not a violation of the pledge in order to serve their own agendas – and sometimes their interpretations defy logic,” Olsen wrote in a Sacramento Bee opinion piece before taking over as leader. “To grow the Republican Party, we have to get away from relying solely on ‘No’ messages. We are better than that, and Californians deserve and desire solution-focused leadership that will help bring legislative Democrats over to our side on the need for lower taxes and substantive reforms.”

As a candidate for state Assembly, Mayes similarly rejected the anti-tax pledge. Mayes told the Desert Sun last year that “he’s not the kind of Republican who is out to blow up government … and said he declined to sign the taxpayer protection pledge.”

Mayes brings experience from more than a decade serving at the local government level. He was first elected to the Yucca Valley Town Council in 2002 and was twice re-elected. During his time on the town council, Mayes served as president of the Desert Mountain Division of the League of California Cities.

He also worked as a political staff member at the county-level, serving as chief of staff to San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford.

Olsen’s tenure as leader

Olsen earned praise from her colleagues for her tenure as leader.

“Kristin may have been a transitional leader in terms of time, but she has been transformative in her impact on Caucus operations,” said Assembly Republican Caucus Chair Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita. “Her changes set a pathway to Republican relevancy and she worked to lay the foundation for a Republican majority in the near future. Thanks to Kristin, our Caucus is united, focused, and motivated.”

Olsen, who is termed out of the state Assembly next year, welcomed the leadership transition and said she’s proud of her accomplishments, which included a major staff shake-up as part of an effort of “modernizing caucus operations.”

Kristin_Olsen_Picture“My goal as Assembly Republican leader has been to unite our caucus and advance core principles that resonate with Californians and will revitalize our state: good jobs, great schools, and a more transparent, effective, and citizen-driven government,” Olsen said. “I am pleased that we have been able to accomplish this while modernizing our Caucus operations, hiring top-notch staff, and becoming pro-active and solution-focused.”

Mayes will have company learning the ropes as a new Republican leader. Last week, the Senate Republican Caucus announced that Sen. Jean Fuller of Bakersfield had unseated Sen. Bob Huff as Republican Senate leader.

Huff is running for an open seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to replace longtime Supervisor Mike Antonovich. Other candidates for that seat include gang prosecutor Elan Carr, Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian, Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander and Kathryn Barger, Antonovich’s chief of staff.

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GOP Lawmaker: Fund Schools With High-Speed Rail Bonds

A Republican lawmaker wants to turn money for California’s high-speed rail project into funding for schools.

Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, introduced Assembly Bill 6, which would cancel outstanding bond funds approved by Proposition 1A, a 2008 voter-approved initiative to fund the state’s high-speed rail project with $9 billion in bonds. In its place, voters would be asked to spend the remaining funds on constructing and modernizing dilapidated school facilities throughout the state.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love trains and would be happy to be able to take one from Los Angeles to San Francisco for ‘dinner and a show’ and back,” Wilk wrote in a recent piece at the Los Angeles Daily News, “but not at the expense of the people of California.”

Before allocating up to  $8 billion for school construction, AB6 first would first pay off the outstanding debts incurred for the state’s high-speed rail project. The bill requires two-thirds approval of the state Legislature and a majority approval of voters.

“Our students deserve to have well-maintained facilities and it is irresponsible to continue prioritizing the crazy train over our schools,” Wilk said, echoing a favorite phrase coined by GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari, who on Nov. 4 lost to Gov. Jerry Brown. “The high-speed rail boondoggle has been a proven failure and it’s time we spend taxpayer dollars in a responsible way.”

State Allocation Board: California needs as much as $12 billion for schools

Wilk points to a Jan. 2014 report by the State Allocation Board that contends California needs to devote as much as $12 billion toward new school construction and another $5 billion to modernization of existing facilities. The obscure board, which includes representatives from the governor’s office and the Legislature, couldn’t definitively peg the total cost of school modernization.  Other State Allocation Board estimates put the figure between $5.9 billion and $6.6 billion.

“There is demand for new construction and modernization funding,” the State Allocation Board School Facility Program Review Subcommittee concluded earlier this year. “The Subcommittee did not come to a consensus on a total dollar amount needed for future school facilities or the exact structure of a future bond.”

The committee struggled to identify the state’s total school modernization costs, in part, because “California does not track the number of schools and classrooms available for use. …

“Currently, data on the number of school sites and classrooms and/or the age of the facilities in the State is unknown.”

Wilk: Put schools before bullet train

highspeedrail-300x169How likely is Wilk’s idea to gain traction in Sacramento? Brown remained a steadfast supporter of the project during his reelection campaign. However, support is wavering among other Democratic leaders and state lawmakers. Wilk’s proposal to transfer rail funds to schools could provide liberal Democrats a reason to join a burgeoning right-left alliance against the state’s rail project. contributor Chris Reed, who has reported extensively on the problems with California’s high-speed rail project, noted that one of the  biggest critics has been Kevin Drum, a reporter for the liberal Mother Jones magazine.

Drum has questioned the ridership assumptions produced by New York-based Parsons Brinkerhoff, which claimed “the high-speed rail system could carry 116 million passengers a year, based on running trains with 1,000 seats both north and south every five minutes, 19 hours a day and 365 days a year.” Drum also pointed out the potential conflict of interest: Parsons Brinkerhoff  helped fund the initiative and has a stake in the outcome.

Flaws in California’s use of school facilities

Wilk’s idea is likely to gain support among conservatives and taxpayer groups, who view the state’s high-speed rail project as an irresponsible boondoggle that enriches private companies at public expense. Since 1998, state voters have approved $35 billion in school construction and modernization bonds. The most recent state bond package, $5 billion approved in 2006, has nearly been exhausted, with just $187.3 million remaining for school construction and $142.4 million left for seismic repair.

California’s school facility repair program, much like the state’s high-speed rail project, has faced similar questions about flawed oversight and accountability. School bond funds have been spent to modernize portable school buildings, despite their shorter life spans.

“Some concerns about the current program included whether a portable can be truly modernized, as well as the concern that was also expressed in the new construction section that 30 year funds were being spent on buildings that would not have a 30 year life span,” the State Allocation Board found in its Jan. 2014 report.

Any attempt to shift the high-speed rail bonds to schools would different state political functions to the head of the class. Brown has made the rail project his baby, but also is working on reforming school finances.

The teachers’ unions are strong Brown allies. But in addition to the need for school construction and repairs, the California State Teachers Retirement System needs $4.5 billion a year from the general fund to remain solvent.

With such financial problems ahead on the train tracks, high-speed rail may be a ready candidate for the junk yard.

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