Third Party Candidates Widening Trump’s Lead Over Biden

There’s a reason why Democrats are freaking out over comparative anti-interventionists RFK Jr., Jill Stein, and Cornel West.

Adam DelGiudice/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom

Though the majority of general-election presidential polls at this stage of campaign 2024 feature only President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, a growing number are beginning to reflect what most voters’ ballots are going to actually look like: pretty crowded.

So what happens when other names are added to the two least popular presidents in the modern polling era? Led by former Democrat and current independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr., they combine to attract support in the low double digits, usually. But what really has Democratic operatives in a funk is how the introduction of competition affects the spread between the Big Two. Long story short, it widens Trump’s lead. At least as of now.

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There have been at least 19 polls taken since mid-January that include both the simple Trump-Biden option and a choice that adds 1–5 additional candidates, thereby allowing an apples-to-apples numerical evaluation of the third party/independent impact on the same set of voters. In only two of those polls—one in Pennsylvania, the other in Georgia—did Biden’s position vis-à-vis Trump improve with those extra names; in 13, Trump gained ground.

For example, an I&I/TIPP survey of 1,266 registered voters released Wednesday showed Trump leading the two-way race within the margin of error—43 percent to 41 percent (with 10 percent saying “other” and 6 percent undecided). But adding five new candidates to the mix extended Trump’s lead by 4 points: 40 percent to 34 percent, with Kennedy receiving 8 percent, presumed No Labels candidate Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W. Va.) 3 percent, independent progressive Cornel West 2, and presumed Green nominee Jill Stein and presumed Libertarian Lars Mapstead tied at 1 percent apiece. (“Other” shrinks down to 2 percent, and undecided shoots up to 10.)

No Labels will decide whether it will jump into the fray, and if so with what ticket, sometime after the March 5 Super Tuesday primaries; the organization has amassed ballot access in 14 states and expects to achieve 32, with hopes that any eventual nominee can elbow onto most of the remaining 18. Cornel West, who raised just $250,000 in the third quarter of 2023 (compared to RFK’s $8.7 million in the third and $7 million in the fourth), and whose personal finances are notoriously shambolic, nevertheless has unofficially qualified for ballot access in two states, and is (like RFK) forming new political parties in selective states to reduce his petitioning burden.

The Libertarian Party, which has led the non-Democratic/non-Republican field for presidential ballot access five elections running, says it expects to be on 48 ballots; the Greens north of 30.

While much of the Democratic Party’s freakout over third-party challengers has focused on No Labels, with its untold millions and clustering of well-known centrist politicians (Manchin, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, former Sen. Joe Lieberman, and perhaps former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie), at least two factors suggest a low electoral ceiling for the group: 1) As I pointed out last July, “the centrist moneybags lane of presidential politics over the past half-decade is full of carcasses: Evan McMullinLarry HoganJohn KasichHoward SchultzMichael BloombergBill Weld, and American Renewal, for starters.” And 2) the organization and its floated candidates are considerably more hawkish on foreign policy than Joe Biden, at a time when much of the political passion being expressed particularly on the left is focused on criticizing Israel (and Biden’s support thereof) for its war in Gaza.

“It will be difficult for [Biden] to talk about redeeming the soul of the nation when he is enabling genocide,” Cornel West told The Washington Post in an article published Thursday.

Biden in his public appearances has been serially hounded by anti-Israel protesters. White House staffers in the hundreds have been engaging in semi-regular protests against his Mideast policy. Fifty-one percent of Democrats, per a YouGov survey in November, and 55 percent of all Americans ages 18–29 (a key Democratic Party demographic) consider Israel’s actions in Gaza to be a “genocide,” compared to just 29 percent of independents and 20 percent of Republicans.

A December New York Times/Siena poll showed that the 18–29 cohort thinks that Biden has been too supportive of Israel (45 percent vs. 6 percent who said too supportive of Palestinians); that the Palestinians were the most sympathetic side (46 percent to 27 percent for Israelis); that America should not send more support (55 percent); that Israel is not seriously interested in a peaceful solution (59 percent); and that Israel should stop the war even before all its hostages are free (67 percent). All of those numbers are way out of whack with the rest of American adults, and help explain why—in this one poll, anyway—the under-30 vote prefers Trump over Biden 49 percent to 30 percent.

“Forget No Labels. Biden’s Third-Party Peril is on the Left,” went the headline on a Politico magazine article this weekend written by the influential campaign journalist Jonathan Martin. “How many Biden speeches must be shouted down,” Martin wondered, “until Democrats realize that a hot war in Gaza this fall may mean 30,000 fewer votes apiece in Madison, Dearborn and Ann Arbor and therefore the presidency?”

In five-way general election polls this cycle—Trump vs. Biden vs. Kennedy vs. Stein vs. West—Stein and West are polling at around 2.2 percent apiece. That may not sound like a lot, until you consider that a combined 4.4 percent for left-of-the-Democrat candidates would be the highest number since the Progressive Party’s Robert La Follette over a century ago. Also, in the five such polls taken in 2024 that also feature the simple Trump vs. Biden matchup, the bigger ballot saw Trump’s lead widen by an average of two percentage points.

Both Stein and West and the entire field currently seeking the Libertarian Party nomination are decidedly more anti-interventionist, and critical of the American empire, than Biden or Trump. For most of the 21st century, comparative foreign policy skeptics have punched far above their weight in presidential elections: Ralph Nader in 2000, Howard Dean in 2004, Ron Paul and Barack Obama in 2008, Paul again in 2012, Trump in 2016.

The wild card this time around might be RFK Jr., who initially thrilled many anti-interventionists with his dovish take on the Russia-Ukraine war only to alienate them with his staunch post–October 7 support for Israel. According to The Washington Post, Kennedy’s advisers “say he will deliver a speech soon to address concerns both among leftist activists and libertarians that his approach to Israel is too hawkish.”

You will rarely go broke betting against independent and third-party candidates to undershoot their expectations and to fail (as they have every presidential election after 1968) to win a single state. Many, though not all, of the conditions that dampened third-party enthusiasm in 2018, 2020, and 2022 remain in place, chiefly high negative polarization and the related anxiety that the worse of the two major parties will introduce authoritarianism. Third-party poll numbers almost always march steadily downward from February to November, and even the final day’s polling typically overstates support by a third.

But America’s anti-interventionist sentiment almost always dwarfs that of their highest representatives in Washington, even those who were elected promising a more humble foreign policy. And it’s not hard to imagine overseas entanglements sprouting all over the globe this calendar year, against a domestic backdrop of highly charged politics and profound youth-vote alienation from the rest of the country.

“This is a disaster politically,” an unnamed House Democrat told Politico‘s Martin. “The base is really pissed—and it’s not just the leftists. I have never seen such a depth of anguish as I’ve seen over this Gaza issue.”

Click here to read the full article in Reason

No, Pete Wilson wasn’t right, and other takeaways from Carl DeMaio’s absurd ad

Former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio is invoking former California Gov. Pete Wilson in his bid for California state Assembly.

Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG

DeMaio’s campaign has released an ad highlighting the former governor’s stand against illegal immigration. Wilson championed Proposition 187 in 1994 which sought to prohibit undocumented immigrants from receiving public services, including healthcare and education.

“Gov. Pete Wilson was right,” declares DeMaio on Twitter. “CA Democrats and liberal media blame Gov. Wilson and his strong position against illegal immigration for Republicans losing seats since 1994. I disagree – it’s time we make SECURING THE BORDER & ending illegal immigration a core message in CA politics!”

There are a few things to unpack here.

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For one, it has to be said that, yes, Pete Wilson’s fixation on undocumented immigrants blew up in the GOP’s face. As broken down by the Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh, while Hispanics in California split fairly evenly between voting GOP and Democratic in gubernatorial races in 1986 and 1990, ever since 1994, that has changed. Hispanics overwhelmingly opposed Proposition 187 and even decades later have associated the GOP with Pete Wilson, in a negative way, for the record.

This was anticipated by then-former Rep. Jack Kemp, who went on to be the Republican vice presidential candidate under Bob Dole in 1996, who warned at the time, “Where the battleground will be fought is if they want to carry this nationally and turn the party away from its historic belief in opportunity and jobs and growth, and turn the party inward to a protectionist and isolationist and more xenophobic party.”

If only he knew how prophetic his warnings were.

The idea that what the California Republican Party really needs is a return of Pete Wilson-esque rhetoric about people who come here to work and find a better life is nonsensical on its face. Republicans are in the superminority in the California Assembly and California Senate and a Republican won a statewide office since Arnold Schwarzenegger. If Republicans listen to DeMaio, their party’s irrelevance in California will only continue to deepen.

It’s also just practically hard to take DeMaio seriously. DeMaio claims he “will secure the border” as a Republican state Assemblyman in the superminority party. Sure.

His ad also claims he will fight sanctuary cities and work to enact a voter ID law.  Invoking voter ID in the context of an immigration ad is an obvious dog-whistle to those who really want to believe undocumented immigrant-voters are swaying elections. And while complaining about sanctuary cities is popular among those who don’t understand federalism or the separation of powers, here DeMaio is just complaining about policies which leave immigration matters to federal authorities so that local police can focus on enforcing state and local laws.

DeMaio’s whole “Pete Wilson was right” schtick may or may not boost his prospects at being among the superminority in the Assembly, but it will just make it that much easier for Democrats to point to the still-present xenophobic strain of the modern Republican Party.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Would you like to Supersive that? California’s fast food workers gain new, first-of-its-kind union to represent them

California’s fast food workers have a new union to advocate for higher pay and safer working conditions, organizers announced Friday.  

 Photo by Jules Hotz for CalMatters

Thousands of workers statewide will be able to join the California Fast Food Workers Union, an organization that will likely represent a small share of workers but advocate for all fast food employees in the state. 

The organization doesn’t have the same collective bargaining power of traditional unions, but it will be affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, a traditional union that represents workers in various industries and for more than a decade has fought to raise pay at fast food restaurants. Recently it helped secure a $20-an-hour minimum wage for all fast food workers in California.

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“Today is a historic day in the launching of the first-of-its-kind in the U.S. fast food workers union,” said Joseph Bryant, international executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union. “The idea of it is to really build the voices by bringing hundreds and eventually thousands of workers together to be able to make demands, to be able to ensure they are getting treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

Workers who join will pay $20 monthly in membership dues.

The union won’t be able to negotiate contracts with individual employers, but it will be able to advocate for better working conditions across the industry through a recently created statewide fast food council in a process similar to typical union bargaining, organizers said.

Last year the Service Employees International Union won a major victory with the passage of a law that created a fast food labor council that will set working conditions and standards in California and increase the minimum wage for fast workers to $20 starting in April. The fast food council will elect representatives and begin meeting by March 15. 

State legislative leaders and Gov. Gavin Newsom will appoint 11 representatives to the council, including fast food workers and restaurant industry representatives. 

Fast food workers sign up in LA

Hundreds of workers from across the state gathered at the Watts Labor Community Action Committee’s Phoenix Hall on Friday in Los Angeles to learn about their new union, begin the sign-up process and discuss potential priorities. 

Workers were enthusiastic about how the union could support them in solving a range of issues they deal with, because they’ve already seen change with their involvement in the national Fight for $15 movement. The Fight for $15 launched in 2012 when 200 fast-food workers walked off the job in New York City to demand $15 an hour and union representation. 

In many ways the new union is a formalization of the work the Fight for $15 movement has been doing for years, said Ken Jacobs, co-chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

Through Fight for $15, workers advocated for the 2016 law that set California on a path to a  $15 minimum wage and they pushed to create the fast food council.

“Historically Fight for $15 has used tactics like doing one-day strikes and other actions on employers, as well as pushing for public policy that benefits fast food workers,” Jacobs said. “I expect the fast food workers union to do very similar sorts of actions. The change here is to codify this into a membership organization where workers are paying dues. It’s their organization, and they are formally part of the Service Employees International Union.” 

This type of union, often called a minority union, is not unusual, he said. Another example of a minority union is the Communication Workers of America’s union for T-Mobile workers, Jacobs said. 

But the fast food workers will have a unique opportunity to implement desired changes through the fast food council, a mechanism that other minority unions don’t have, he added.

Maria Rosalva Najera Lopez, a McDonald’s worker, said the new union is the culmination of years of effort. She said her involvement in organizing with the Fight for $15 campaign had already improved conditions at work, and that with the new union, employers will be less likely to retaliate or push back against employees. 

“Finally we’ve accomplished what we’ve been fighting for for so many years,” she said. “That’s what we’re celebrating.” 

Chain restaurants are notoriously difficult to unionize because of high employee turnover and because the restaurant corporations are often not direct employers of the workers. Even when restaurants are able to unionize, such as Starbucks stores, corporations often employ delay tactics that make bargaining difficult, like shutting down stores, Jacobs said. 

“Is the endgame to build enough power in the industry to try to win collective bargaining, or to build and strengthen the fast food worker council and ultimately have some form of sectoral bargaining through the state?” Jacobs said. 

He said gaining and keeping strong union membership will also be challenging.

Bryant said the union’s goal is simple: to make restaurants safe and sustainable places to work. 

“This is an economic justice fight, a racial justice fight,” he said. “We feel today marks a new chapter in being able to lift the standards for so many families throughout California who are primarily Black, Brown and female.” 

Restaurants warn of higher costs

Critics say this is a publicity stunt and that the union will struggle to gain members. 

Michael Saltsman, managing director of the Employment Policies Institute, called the California Fast Food Workers Union a “face-saving exercise” by the Service Employees International Union. The institute, based in Washington DC, has argued for lower minimum wages.

The Service Employees International Union “needs something to show for the significant investments it has made in California and nationally, even if this new creation is primarily a lobbying and public relations vehicle,” Saltsman said. “However, it’s unclear who or what this new group speaks for, outside of  Service Employees International Union leadership or the small number of aligned employees.” 

Saltsman added, the union ensures the likelihood that at least four seats on the fast food council — two seats for workers and two for worker representatives — are controlled by the union.  

 “Today marks a new chapter in being able to lift the standards for so many families throughout California who are primarily Black, Brown and female.”JOSEPH BRYANT, AN EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OF THE SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION

Wage increases for workers will likely lead to higher prices for consumers, said Jeff Hanscom, vice president of state and local government relations for the International Franchise Association, which represents restaurant chains.  

“Local restaurant owners are pillars of their communities and proud of their commitment to employees, including the new $20/hour wage increase starting April 1,” he said in a statement. “However, that increase will add about $250,000 to the operating cost of each restaurant. Food prices will have to go up, customers will feel it, and restaurant owners will look for other ways to manage the additional cost while also keeping their small businesses afloat.”

What workers want

Despite a strong turnout at Friday’s event, workers said there’s still a lot more work to do to bring other employees on board because many of their colleagues express fears of retaliation. 

“A lot of people are scared,” Lopez said. 

Celeste Perez, a Burger King worker in San Jose, said she signed up to be a union member days ago without thinking twice.

“It’s worth it,” she said. “We don’t have anything: health insurance, paid vacation. We don’t see our loved ones enough. We just work all day.”

Organizers outlined a few priorities for the union: In addition to annual wage increases and seeking better work schedules, the union plans to introduce local ordinances in San Jose and Los Angeles to strengthen job protections. 

Gloria Gonzalez, a Subway employee, said she feels confident the new union will offer strong support and resources. 

“If we have violence at work, I know they’re going to support us in the protections we fight for. We have a lot of things we want to accomplish,” she said. 

Click here to read the full article in the CalMatters

Walmart, Target push for new shoplifting crackdown in California

The retailers and two mayors are proposing a proposed ballot measure to undo Proposition 47.

Photo by RMG News

Two of the nation’s largest retailers and a pair of Democratic mayors are supporting a campaign to roll back California’s landmark criminal justice reform, which has been blamed for a spike in retail theft.

Walmart and Target are the top funders of a proposed ballot measure that aims to undo Proposition 47, a voter-approved law from 2014 that reduced penalties for many lower-level drug and property crimes in the state.

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The latest initiative would give prosecutors more power to charge accused thieves as felons and force drug users into treatment with the threat of jail time, said Greg Totten, head of the California District Attorneys Association, which is spearheading the effort.

Also see: ‘Smash-and-grab’ robberies fuel new laws, but critics question the need

The campaign has gained the support of San Francisco Mayor London Breed and San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan, who represent two of the most liberal cities in the US. Their backing reflects a growing frustration felt by the public and city leaders with the consequences of Proposition 47, which some say has emboldened criminals.

Critics point to a recent wave of smash-and-grab robberies at department stores and the prevalence of open-air drug use on city streets as evidence of the law’s shortcomings. In September, Target closed three California locations as well as six stores in other states, citing crime.

Proposition 47 was a “well-intentioned initiative” that has had “significant unintended consequences,” Mahan said at a press conference this week. “A small number of people brazenly commit crimes without fear of accountability. People are so trapped in addiction that they refuse services and subsist in misery on our streets.”

Other large backers of the campaign include a prison-guard union, Macy’s Inc., and businessman and political donor William Oberndorf, who was a major contributor to a 2022 recall effort that ousted San Francisco’s progressive district attorney, Chesa Boudin.

The mayors’ stance puts them at odds with other Democratic leaders in the state, including Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Supporters of Proposition 47, who include civil rights groups, public defenders and some law enforcement officials, credit the decade-old law for slashing incarceration rates, reducing racial disparities in arrests and cutting prison costs. The measure has also funneled funds to effective crime prevention programs, they say.

Retail theft

US retailers say they have suffered an increase in inventory losses, known as shrink, due in part to organized retail crime, which targets both high-end goods and everyday items like toothpaste and baby formula.

Also see: Retail group pulls back on claim organized retail crime accounts for nearly half of inventory loss

According to a study last year by the National Retail Federation, a trade group that includes Walmart and Target, shrink rose to 1.6% of sales in 2022, up from 1.4% the previous year, but in line with the two years before that. That worked out to about $112 billion in lost merchandise, and theft — both external and internal — accounted for almost two-thirds of the total. Shrink also includes losses from damage and administrative error.

Los Angeles and San Francisco topped the list of US metro areas most affected by organized retail crime, followed by Houston and New York, the trade group said. Sacramento, California, also ranked in the top 10.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Finally Waking Up? Mayor London Breed joins GOP-led effort to overhaul Prop. 47

San Francisco Mayor London Breed is joining a Republican-led campaign to roll back parts of a law that aimed to reduce jail populations but that critics say has emboldened thieves. 

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

Breed on Thursday threw her support behind the proposal to increase jail time for dealing large quantities of fentanyl, make it easier to charge drug dealers with murder, and increase jail time for repeat thefts and organized retail theft. San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan also announced his support for the measure Thursday morning.

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They’re among a wave of Democrats this year who are backing efforts to overhaul or reform Proposition 47, a 2014 law approved by voters that reduced punishments for drug possession and theft of property worth less than $950.

Breed said she initially supported Prop. 47. But she said she’s seeing some of the unintended consequences of the measure as she tries to crack down on illegal drugs and thefts in San Francisco. 

“Our goal is not to keep people locked up,” she said. “But when there are no real consequences for crimes that are committed in this city, that’s a real problem.”

Breed, who is campaigning for reelection, is under pressure to combat what many residents view as a scourge of crime in San Francisco, even though data shows some of the characterizations of lawlessness in the city are exaggerated.

Supporters of the proposal she’s backing are collecting signatures to place it on the ballot in November. They must collect more than half a million signatures by April 23. The campaign’s top donors are Walmart, Target, Macy’s and a powerful California prison guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

California Republicans have long been the harshest critics of the law and have repeatedly tried to overturn it. They argue it has emboldened people to steal without fear of consequences. The initiative’s chief proponent and campaign chair are both Republicans. Rep. Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin (Placer County), who introduced an unsuccessful measure as a state lawmaker to roll back Prop. 47, hosted an event last week encouraging supporters to sign the petition to put the measure on the ballot. Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer and Assembly Member Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, have also announced their support. State Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, has contributed $15,000 to the effort, according to campaign finance filings.

Supporters of Prop. 47, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, argued that reducing jail time for lower-level offenses would be good for communities and save the state money that could be used for education and other government programs aimed at keeping people from committing crimes in the first place.

Newsom reaffirmed his support for the measure last month when asked about efforts to revamp the law. He pointed out that the $950 threshold for felony theft in the law is actually one of the lowest in the country. Texas, for example, has a minimum felony theft threshold of $2,500.

“Everyone is rushing to reform Prop. 47 to raise the threshold,” he told reporters at a news conference last month. “That’s not the fundamental issue.”

Instead of reforming Prop. 47, Newsom said the state needs to do more to crack down on organized retail theft, which he said has become a major problem.

Newsom is also taking a more tough-on-crime approach to governing, recently sending more state police officers to crack down on theft and violence in Oakland and drug dealing in San Francisco. Last month, he called for lawmakers to send him legislation to increase punishments for people who steal, including by making it easier for police to arrest suspects even if they did not witness them stealing and imposing harsher penalties for car thieves and people who resell stolen goods. He’s also calling for changes to the law that would make it easier for prosecutors to show a person met the $950 threshold for stolen goods.

Though most Democrats have backed Prop. 47, there has been some support for overhauling the proposition among the party’s moderates for years. But the endorsement of the ballot measure by Mahan and Breed indicates distaste for the law is growing among Democrats. They join San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, a fellow Democrat who said the law needs to be changed during his State of the City address earlier this month.

“That law may have made sense at the time,” he said. “However, since it was implemented, we’ve seen criminals exploit these reforms.”

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

California bill would ban all plastic shopping bags at grocery stores

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California would ban all plastic shopping bags in 2026 under a new bill announced Thursday in the state Legislature.

California already bans thin plastic shopping bags at grocery stores and other shops, but shoppers at checkout can purchase bags made with a thicker plastic that purportedly makes them reusable and recyclable.

Democratic state Sen. Catherine Blakespear said people are not reusing or recycling those bags. She points to a state study that found the amount of plastic shopping bags trashed per person grew from 8 pounds per year in 2004 to 11 pounds per year in 2021.

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“It shows that the plastic bag ban that we passed in this state in 2014 did not reduce the overall use of plastic. It actually resulted in a substantial increase in plastic,” Blakespear, a Democrat from Encinitas, said Thursday. “We are literally choking our planet with plastic waste.”

Twelve states, including California, already have some type of statewide plastic bag ban in place, according to the environmental advocacy group Environment America Research & Policy Center. Hundreds of cities across 28 states also have their own plastic bag bans in place.

Click here to read the full article in the AP News

High-speed rail is coming to the Central Valley. Residents see a new life in the fast lane

FRESNO, Calif. —  The piling rig was in position, ready to drive a concrete pillar 40 feet into the ground. Just beyond the rig on this winter afternoon, trucks and cars continued streaming down State Road 198 in Hanford, separated from the construction site by white dividers.

Then, the pile-driving began. Foot by foot, the rig’s hammer slammed the pillar into the ground with the rhythmic beat of a metronome. With every blow, the ground shook and exhaust spewed. The beam would be one more in a network of pillars pounded deep into the earth to create the foundation for a high-speed rail line that in a matter of years will glide along tracks above the state highway, launching a new era in California’s Central Valley.

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From earth-moving equipment to heavy trucks ferrying massive beams and bulldozers clearing piles of debris, construction related to California’s high-speed rail project is evident across the San Joaquin Valley. Farther north, crews worked atop a viaduct that will carry the high-speed line above existing freight tracks that cut across the state north to south. And in Fresno’s Chinatown, restaurant and retail owners eagerly served a steady influx of construction workers, engineers and electricians, part of a broader transformation of the city’s downtown and economic prospects.

California’s high-speed rail may still be a matter of carping debate in some political circles, but it’s fast becoming a reality for residents of the Central Valley. This heavily farmed region — historically separated from Los Angeles, San Francisco and the California coast by both conservative politics and physical distance — is first in line to benefit from an infrastructure project being built with tens of billions of dollars in state and federal funding.

The 171-mile stretch of rail running between Merced and Bakersfield could be operational as early as 2030, with testing of the bullet trains slated to begin in 2028, according to the High-Speed Rail Authority. The project has created more than 12,000 construction jobs, with 70% of those workers coming from the Central Valley. Authority officials cited 25 active construction sites, with the Kings/Tulare station outside Hanford being the largest. The authority is closing in on finishing 22 miles of rail north of Shafter, set to be the first segment of the rail line completed.

In December, the Biden administration awarded the authority a $3.1-billion grant, the authority’s biggest award to date. The funds will go toward purchase of six electric trains for testing and use, design and construction of the Fresno station and designs for the Merced and Bakersfield extensions.

Residents and local officials acknowledge there has long been dissent over the project. Some of the region’s big farm interests have mounted fierce opposition, rallying conservative lawmakers to their cause. But the tenor of the conversation has changed as more jobs are created and structures go up.

When Interstate 5 was conceived in the mid-20th century as a major transportation corridor connecting California from north to south, the Central Valley’s interests were not part of the equation. The route skirts the valley’s rural western edge, and its major population centers — Fresno, Modesto, Bakersfield — were left out. In contrast, the high-speed rail line will cut through the heart of the valley, and Fresno and Bakersfield are key transportation hubs along the route.

The first operating segment of the high-speed line will run from Bakersfield in the south to Merced in the north. The vision is to ultimately extend service to Los Angeles and San Francisco. But even before those planned expansions, the rail line will intersect with existing passenger rail in Merced and a satellite bus network in Bakersfield to create more seamless nonauto travel options.

Local officials believe that connectivity will open all sorts of horizons: making it easier for people to live inland, where housing is relatively affordable, and still work on the coast. Access to jobs — particularly nonfarm jobs — and top-notch colleges will expand. And a region notably lacking in hospitals and healthcare professionals will have more options.

“To say I’m excited is an understatement,” said Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer, a Republican. “High-speed rail is a game-changer for Fresno and the Central Valley in many ways. No. 1, it will reconnect Fresno and the entire valley with the rest of the state and connect us with the California economy.”

In Fresno’s Chinatown, there is a rich history of diverse communities driven together by redlining policies.

Dating to the 1860s, Chinese migrants working on the freight railways were forced west of the tracks. Pretty much anyone who was not white migrated to what became Chinatown, and a thriving community evolved as people from Africa, the Philippines, Mexico and Japan settled in the area. All that began to unravel in the 1960s when urban renewal projects brought freeway construction that severed Chinatown from the rest of the city and forced mass displacement of residents. Businesses shuttered, buildings were abandoned, and those who remained lived amid blight.

Central Fish Co., opened in 1950, is one of the longest-standing businesses that remain. Owner Morgan Doizaki, who took over the shop from his parents, is a big proponent of the rail project. He, along with other business and property owners, formed the nonprofit Chinatown Fresno Foundation to support the rail line and advocate for the neighborhood’s inclusion in Fresno’s transformation. The Fresno station will be built on the site of the city’s historic depot center in downtown, and related renovations involving roads and walkways will connect commuters to Chinatown.

The massive reconstruction is not without challenges. Carniceria y Taqueria La Nueva Reyna, which has served traditional Mexican dishes on Tulare Street for more than a decade, has put up large, colorful banners to let people know they remain open. To get inside, patrons must navigate bright orange netting, maneuvering around missing sidewalks and large machinery. While they have lost some old customers, owner Reyna Cruz said, they’ve also gotten new business from construction workers stopping by for lunch and beverages on their breaks. “There are good times and bad times,” she said as workers streamed in to buy sodas on a Monday afternoon.

Central Fish Co. customers have to navigate a maze of road closures that sometimes box in the store, Doizaki said. Still, he is hopeful. In 2019, he purchased a building in Chinatown that he envisions turning into an apartment and retail complex.

“When the time is right, we’ll be in a position to capitalize on the state’s largest project ever coming into our backyard,” he said. “It’s like a gift.”

Orlando Viloria, who works for Doizaki, is also excited by the rail line’s promise. He envisions day trips to Los Angeles to see his family and them zipping up to see him. “That’s always been my dream,” he said. “I just can’t wait.”

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Lawmakers get cold feet on adding a fixed charge based on income to California utility bills

Statehouse Democrats backtrack after getting an earful from constituents; defenders say the new charge is needed to help lower-income ratepayers and boost electrification

Rob Nikolewski/The San Diego Union-Tribune

Legislation establishing perhaps the most sweeping change in how Californians pay their utility bills may get swept right out of existence before it even gets implemented.

Passed at the end of the 2022 legislative session in Sacramento, Assembly Bill 205 was a massive omnibus, or “trailer,” bill that ran 21,633 words. Though almost completely overlooked at the time, AB 205 included provisions to adopt a fixed monthly charge onto utility bills — with the amount based on household income.

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The precise amounts won’t be determined until July 1 by the California Public Utilities Commission, but state assembly members and senators have gotten an earful from constituents worried or angry about paying an added fee.

Supporters say the awkwardly named “income-graduated fixed charge” would lead to lower monthly bills for low- and moderate-income ratepayers, if implemented correctly.

Even though AB 205 passed on the strength of votes from Democrats who hold a super-majority in both chambers of the State Capitol, a sizable chunk are now back pedaling.

Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, has introduced legislation to completely repeal the language in AB 205 that deals with fixed charges. She was joined by 14 other Democrats during the announcement, including Assemblymember Chris Ward of San Diego and Sen. Catherine Blakespear of Encinitas.

“AB 205 should have had a very robust conversation among all legislators and to have it as part of a huge trailer bill is, in my opinion, not appropriate,” Irwin said at the Jan. 30 news conference.

Republicans who originally opposed AB 205 and have since tried to eliminate the fixed charge by amendments to other pieces of legislation are saying, “I told you so.”

“Let this unfortunately harsh reality serve as yet another example of how the majority party’s poor policies are driving people out of this state,” Sen. Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, said in a statement.

When asked whether Gov. Gavin Newsom supported or opposed Irwin’s bill, the governor’s press office said in an email to the Union-Tribune, “We typically don’t comment on pending legislation,” and pointed to multiple proposals submitted to the utilities commission, known as the CPUC for short.

“The governor is aware that the Public Utilities Commission is working diligently … and he looks forward to seeing a Commission proposal that is consistent with AB 205 when it is released,” the governor’s office said the day Irwin filed her legislation, called Assembly Bill 1999.

How a fixed charge would work

The impetus behind establishing a fixed charge based on income is two-fold:

  • to help lower-income customers who are straining to keep up with utility bills have shot up between 72 percent and 127 percent in the past 10 years among California’s investor-owned utilities, including San Diego Gas & Electric, and
  • to encourage customers to transition to a power system more reliant on electrification and slash the use of energy generated by fossil fuels.

Under AB 205, average prices per kilowatt-hour for electricity would be reduced for all customers — and, the thinking goes, would encourage households to install appliances like electric heat pumps, add battery storage systems and charge electric vehicles.

But AB 205 also creates a fixed monthly charge that escalates by income bracket and would be tacked on to residential bills each month.

The key is determining how much rates will be reduced and — crucially — how high the fixed charge will be and how much customers in each income tier will pay.

The language in AB 205 assigns the CPUC to implement specifics, which includes establishing a fixed charge program with at least three income brackets.

An administrative law judge at the commission is expected to release a proposed decision in a matter of weeks that will provide much-anticipated details. The proposed decision will then go before a vote of the CPUC’s five commissioners.

AB 205 requires the CPUC to authorize a fixed charge by July 1 — although its eventual impact on customer bills in SDG&E’s service territory is not expected to take effect until the second half of 2025.

Last year, the administrative law judge called on utilities, consumer advocates and environmental groups to submit respective proposals.

The judge and the voting commissioners don’t have to pick one proposal or another; the CPUC has a free hand to accept, reject, combine or alter any recommendations — or even come up with its own plan from scratch.

It’s also important to note that whatever the CPUC authorizes by July 1 will be the first iteration of a fixed charge. The dollar amounts are expected to change in succeeding years and the income brackets will likely expand from three to four.

All that said, here are some of the most recent proposals:

The three major investor-owned utilities that are regulated by the CPUC (SDG&E, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric) submitted a joint proposal last fall.

SDG&E officials suggested reducing the average per kilowatt-hour rate by 35 percent for its residential customers. Three income brackets break down like this:

  • Households enrolled in the California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) program who earn less than $28,000 a year would pay a fixed charge of $24 per month
  • Households with annual income between $28,000 to $69,000 would pay $34 per month, including all other CARE customers, plus those enrolled in the Family Electric Rate Assistance (FERA) program)
  • All other households would pay $73 per month

The Public Advocates Office, the independent arm of the CPUC created to look out for utility customers, has a proposal that reduces the average per kilowatt-hour rate by 11 percent in the SDG&E service territory. Its income tiers call for:

  • CARE customers with incomes below the federal poverty level in SDG&E’s service territory paying a fixed charge of $4 per month
  • All other CARE customers and those in FERA paying $7 per month
  • All other customers paying $32.15 a month

The Utility Reform Network (TURN), a consumer group based in San Francisco, teamed with the National Resources Defense Council, a well-known environmental group. Their proposal would reduce average residential SDG&E rates by 21 percent. Their income brackets would see:

  • CARE customers paying $5 per month in fixed charges
  • FERA customers also paying $5, and
  • charging about $30 a month for all other residential customers

Rather than three brackets, the Sierra Club submitted a proposal with five tiers, with monthly charges as low as zero dollars for CARE and FERA customers and as high as $136.14 for upper-income customers. The Sierra Club proposal reduces the average per kilowatt-hour rate for SDG&E customers by 15 percent.

As per CPUC instructions, the proposals must be revenue-neutral, meaning an income-graduated fixed charge is not designed to increase the revenue collected nor the profits earned by investor-owned utilities such as SDG&E.

Rather, it reshuffles energy costs with the intention to benefit financially vulnerable customers while also helping California meet its decarbonization goals.

“My constituents are pissed off”

Creating a fixed charge has plenty of detractors on multiple fronts.

Many of the criticisms highlight long-time complaints that the CPUC has too cozy a relationship with the utilities and too often sides with them on policy decisions.

The Coalition for Environmental Equity and Economics praised Irwin’s repeal bill, saying the fixed charge plan “does not intend to lower energy bills but to bolster (investor-owned utility) profits with the highest guaranteed monthly fees in the United States.”

Some say encouraging greater electricity use while tacking on a monthly fee will curb incentives for customers to reduce their energy consumption. “This means that even if a household conserves by using solar or hanging out the clothes to dry in the sun, they cannot avoid a large fixed charge in the hundreds of dollars per year,” the Environmental Working Group said.

Others predict AB 205 will be challenged in court on the grounds that higher-income customers will pay a more expensive fixed charge than lower-income households even though they receive the same service.

But the biggest complaint centers on the prospect that utility bills for many customers will get even higher than they already are.

“My constituents are pissed off,” Assemblymember Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, said at Irwin’s news conference. “I know because they told me over and over again at every community coffee that I had in the fall and in the winter. Their rates keep going up.”

Irwin’s AB 1999 repeal would cap the fixed monthly fee at $10 for residential customers and $5 for those enrolled in the CARE financial assistance program. Any increases to the cap would be adjusted to the Consumer Price Index.

Irwin’s bill is expected to have its first hearing in early March before the Assembly Utility and Energy Committee.

Supporters: “Get this policy right”

Defenders of AB 205 say the Legislature shouldn’t roll back the implementation of a fixed charge before the CPUC comes out with a plan.

“We urge lawmakers to focus on helping get this policy right, rather than killing equitable rate reform before it has a chance to succeed,” said Merrian Boregson, California director of Climate & Energy at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Public Advocates Office said a repeal may result in unintended consequences.

“Almost 1 in 5 customers are behind on paying their utility bills, making it critical that the CPUC be allowed to amend the current rate structure to ensure all customers pay their fair share of costs to safely maintain and operate the power grid,” said Public Advocates Office director Matt Baker. “Lower-income and working-class customers must not be unfairly burdened with these costs.”

Matthew Freedman, staff attorney for The Utility Reform Network (TURN), a consumer advocacy group based in San Francisco, said, “If the Legislature repeals current law, bills for low-income Californians, especially those living in hotter regions of the state, will skyrocket, in particular during the hottest months.”

Another sticking point — how will the income data for each household be compiled and verified? Working out those details is still under discussion.

The utilities don’t want the extra responsibility. “We are very adamant that utilities don’t have this information, nor do we want it,” Adam Pierce, SDG&E’s vice president of energy procurement and rates told the Union-Tribune recently.

One potential solution calls for a third-party working with state agencies, such as the Franchise Tax Board, that already handle financial data and protect customer confidentiality.

“Income verification is an issue with every means-tested program that we have — from Social Security on down,” Baker of the Public Advocates Office said late last year. “So it’s not something that is insurmountable at all.”

Click here to read the full article in the SD Union Tribune

The Illegal Immigrant Industrial Complex

Conflating refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants, migrants and invaders

Photo: David Peinado Romero/Shutterstock

The United States Southern border is completely broken. America is being invaded courtesy of our own President Joe Biden, who feigns he inherited the immigration invasion, when in fact on January 21, 2021, day one of his presidency, newly inaugurated President Joe Biden ordered the border wall construction halted, and dismantled. He reversed former President Trump’s immigration policies, resulting in more than 8.5 million illegal immigrants  apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The new border bill currently being pushed by U.S. Senate Democrats, some Republicans, and the President, appears to be dead on arrival in the House. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell even removed his support for the bill.

The President is still calling the bill the “toughest and fairest” in decades — and the left claims the Senate is merely adopting Trump era immigration policy.

So what’s going on?

Greased palms is what’s going on… this bill represents a redistribution of American wealth, again, as all of the COVID funding for cities and states was. Or, you can just call it the Illegal Immigration Industrial Complex.

In the Senate border bill, it was fairly evident that the Senate planned to send bailout money to blue sanctuary cities whose mayors are shrieking about the cost to feed, clothe, and house the “migrants” showing up in their cities. Handing out VISA debit cards and iPhones isn’t helping the cost. Notably, the people never voted for sanctuary cities (or states) – these were just declared by local predominately Democrat politicians and city councils.

A group called “#WelcomeWithDignity” and their 26 NGO and non-profit partners “are calling on Senators to reject the bill and consider alternative, humane solutions  to the problems facing the U.S. immigration system.”

#WelcomeWithDignity has “partners” in California:

Here is what #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign for asylum rights says:

“The newly introduced Senate funding bill, if passed, will result in more cruelty and chaos at our nation’s border. The bill is poisoned with extreme anti-immigrant policies that would essentially end access to asylum, a legal pathway for people fleeing persecution. An international aid bill is no place for immigration reform. It is unconscionable to use people seeking asylum as political pawns to gain support for the protection of others.

The #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign for asylum rights strongly condemns the Emergency National Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2024, introduced by Senators Lankford (R-OK), Sinema (I-AZ), and Murphy (D-CT). Among its most damaging provisions, the bill would make it harder to determine whether a person can apply for asylum.”

“Over the years, the U.S. has ramped up its cruelty in an attempt to curtail the number of people arriving at its border. Adults and children have been put in cages, families have been separated, the border has been closed and, still, people continue to seek safety. People flee their home countries out of necessity. This bill will not stop people from coming; it will only lead to more cruelty and chaos at the border,” said Melina Roche, #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign Manager. 

Who are these partners?

The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at University of California College of the Law, San Francisco.

Witness at the Border which says, “We are Bearing Witness. We track ICE Air Flights.”

Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project

International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) (New York, NY)

Tahirih Justice Center (Falls Church, VA) – service to more than 30,000 women, girls, and other immigrant survivors seeking safety from gender-based violence.

HIAS (Silver Spring, MD). Jewish humanitarian organization that provides critical services to refugees, asylum seekers, and other forcibly displaced people around the world

Haitian Bridge Alliance (San Diego). Guerline Jozef, Co-Founder and Executive Director (fluent in Haitian Kreyol) – Jozef is an expert in migration with an emphasis on the intersection of race and gender.

ACLU (New York, NY)

Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center (El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico)

America’s Voice (Washington, DC)

Acacia Center for Justice (National). Bilal Askaryar participated in a humanitarian delegation that visited Matamoros and Reynoso to witness the end of Title 42. While on the delegation, he witnessed the conditions people seeking asylum were forced to endure.

Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project (Nogales, Arizona) Border Action (Legal) Team (bilingual in Spanish)

Immigrant Defenders Law Center (ImmDef) (Southern CA)

Justice Action Center (Los Angeles). Karen Tumlin, Founder & Director (Los Angeles), An expert on the scope of the executive’s authority over immigration, Tumlin has successfully litigated numerous cases of national significance on DACA, the Muslim Ban, and Arizona’s SB 1070.

International Mayan League (Washington, DC). Nana Teresa Lopez (Maya Mam), Founder and Member of the Board of Directors (bilingual in Spanish), is a Maya Spiritual Elder (Ajq’ij) of the Maya Mam Nation.

The Advocates for Human Rights (Minneapolis, MN). the nonprofit is a recognized expert on international human rights standards. For over 40 years, we have provided pro bono legal services to asylum seekers, trafficking survivors, torture survivors, unaccompanied children, and people facing prolonged detention in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

MomsRising/MamásConPoder (Washington DC). works across policy, advocacy and organizing, to support immigrant parents and children. Tristán has more than 10 years experience working on federal immigration policy.

Refugees International (Washington DC)

Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) (San Francisco, CA)

Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (LSSNCA) (Maryland, Virginia, DC). LSSNCA is the largest resettlement and welcome agency on the East Coast, and has served the immigration and refugee communities since 1917. LSSNCA was also recently chosen as one of five providers to launch the Case Management Pilot Program focused on holistic needs for those in alternatives to detention.

Presente.org (National). The largest national Latine digital organizing group since 2020 and brings years of experience leading and managing digital organizing campaigns in support of immigrant and asylum rights. This includes the #FreedomForAll campaign urging the Biden administration and Congress to invest in legal representation for migrants and protecting our asylum system.

Refugee Congress (National). works with refugee families, coordinates help to New Americans during times of natural disasters, and works to connect communities, amplify refugee voices and build bridges.

Global Refuge – “Welcoming newcomers since 1939. For more than 80 years, Global Refuge has provided the resources, guidance, and community to help forge a way forward for New Americans. We’re committed to helping people reimagine the possibilities while providing a soft place to land.”

“With more than 1,000 partners and 50,000 volunteers, we are the largest faith-based national nonprofit exclusively dedicated to helping restore a sense of home to immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees.”

Women’s Refugee Commission (New York, NY). immigration, asylum, and international refugee and humanitarian law through legal practice, drafting legislation and advocating in Washington and internationally, teaching and training, and monitoring refugee programs around the world.

Human Rights First (Washington, DC; New York, NY; Los Angeles). refugee protection, representing people seeking asylum who are in removal proceedings in detention and those who were subject to the Remain in Mexico and Title 42 policies.

Lawyers for Good Government (National Remote Organization; Operations in Brownsville, Texas). legal assistance to asylum seekers and refugees in the Rio Grande Valley since 2019.

As Larry Kudlow reported at Real Clear Politics, “Joe Biden doesn’t need a bill to fix the border. He just needs to enforce the law. That’s been my view and that remains my view.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Walters: Gut check: Newsom’s state budget proposal is already showing its shortcomings

Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed a 2024-25 state budget less than a month ago, but its structural deficiencies – overly optimistic revenue projections and a reliance on short-term fixes that don’t address a long-term problem – are already surfacing.

Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG

Most ominously, the budget’s revenue assumptions for the 2023-24 fiscal year, which still has nearly five months to run, are falling billions of dollars short.

Jason Sisney, the state Assembly’s budget maven, has looked at personal income tax withholding and estimated tax payments to date and concluded that revenues from just that source “may end January around $6 billion short” of Newsom’s projections.

If that trend continues, the state will close the 2023-24 fiscal year with much less money than Newsom’s budget assumes, and therefore a much-larger deficit than the $38 billion he has acknowledged.

The Legislature’s budget analyst, Gabe Petek, has already estimated that the deficit is $68 billion because he believes revenues will fall well short of Newsom’s assumptions, and so far the data has supported Petek’s gloomier picture.

The “solutions” Newsom proposed to close the deficit contain relatively few true spending reductions and are heavy on tapping reserves, borrowing money from other state funds outside the budget, accounting gimmicks and deferring some spending.

However, those tactics run the risk of increasing future deficits, as a new analysis of higher education spending by Petek’s office points out. The state is providing about $21 billion for community colleges, the University of California and the California State University system, and Newsom’s budget proposal would increase that amount slightly, mostly for community colleges.

The budget also would enact some spending deferrals. The net effect, Petek’s office concluded, would be self-defeating in the long run.

“Asking UC and CSU to operate their programs at a level the state currently cannot afford puts not only the state and the segments at risk but also other state programs that might be cut next year to make room for the added higher education spending,” the analysis warned.

Newsom’s relatively expansive assumptions about revenues and its reliance on short-term maneuvers, if adopted by the Legislature, could backfire badly by increasing deficits in the years following 2024-25. Petek has warned the Legislature that the state could see annual deficits in the $30 billion neighborhood for the remainder of Newsom’s governorship, which will end in 2027.

“Overall, the governor’s budget runs the risk of understating the degree of fiscal pressure facing the state in the future,” Petek said last month after Newsom introduced his budget. “The Legislature likely will face more difficult choices next year. To mitigate these challenges, we recommend the Legislature develop this year’s budget with a focus on future years.”

The fine print in Newsom’s own budget says the state’s finances could be $81 billion out of balance by 2027-28 as revenues stagnate, spending automatically increases on K-12 schools and community colleges due to a section of the state constitution, and the state’s reserves are exhausted.

The question posed by these trends is whether the Legislature is willing to bite the fiscal bullet now, as Petek recommends, to mitigate future shortfalls, or endorse Newsom’s strategy of avoiding difficult cuts in the hope that revenues will pick up sufficiently in the future.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register