Who will replace Bakersfield Republican Kevin McCarthy in Congress? Here are possible candidates

SACRAMENTO — U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s decision to retire is not a surprise after he became the first speaker of the House to be ousted by a vote of the chamber, and provides a rare opportunity for an ambitious California Republican to seek higher office.

In a state where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by about 2 to 1, only 12 of the 54 politicians representing the state in Washington are in the GOP — so those openings don’t surface often.

McCarthy, 58, has had the good fortune of representing one of the most conservative congressional districts in a state dominated by Democrats. Former President Trump won the district by a near 2-to-1 margin over President Biden in 2020.

So whoever voters pick might stick around for a while.

After serving as Republican leader in the California Assembly, McCarthy in 2006 became one of the few GOP newcomers to be elected to Congress in a year Democrats swept Republicans out of power. There might be some déjà vu in the future.

Two prominent Republicans who could jump into the race to replace McCarthy also represent the Bakersfield area in the state Legislature, including Sen. Shannon Grove, a former minority leader in the California Senate. And it’s possible the Democrats might win back control of the House in the 2024 election. The vacancy also may tempt some former members of Congress who represented districts in the Central Valley. Devin Nunes, a Trump supporter who now serves as chief executive of his media company, still has $11 million socked away in a congressional campaign account, according to the latest report filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Bakersfield is the city with the most voters in McCarthy’s 20th Congressional District, which includes portions of Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties in the San Joaquin Valley. Along with the southern tip of the Sierra Nevada and a sliver of the Mojave Desert, the district swallows up a major portion of California oil country and some of the most productive — and lucrative — farmland in the nation.

So who will represent this vast district?

First elected to the Assembly in 2016, Fong serves as the vice chair of the budget and transportation committees.

The Republican began his career in politics as a staff member for longtime Bakersfield Rep. Bill Thomas, who served as a chair to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, where Fong worked on international trade policy. Fong then served as district director for McCarthy, advising the congressman on issues affecting the Central Valley and helping serve constituents.

Fong has been a vocal critic of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s push for restricting oil production in California and the administration’s overall energy policies, and has warned that the state’s electricity grid is not capable of supporting the administration’s mandated transition to electric vehicles. Fong also has criticized the spending of state money by Newsom and the California Legislature’s Democratic leadership.

Grove, who once described herself as a “gun-carrying, tongue-talking, spirit-filled believer,” served as leader of the California Senate Republicans for two years.

The Bakersfield Republican is a U.S. Army veteran and served six years in the Assembly before her election to the state Senate in 2018. An enthusiastic supporter of Trump before and after he lost the 2020 presidential election, Grove called him “the greatest of all time” and reiterated false claims that President Biden won the election because of voter fraud.

Grove is a staunch defender of the California oil industry, a critical economic force in her Bakersfield-area Senate district. She has opposed mandatory vaccinations for schoolchildren, including the COVID-19 vaccine, and this year successfully pushed through legislation to increase penalties for child sex traffickers.

Republican Nathan Magsig is a member of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors who unsuccessfully ran for Congress last year for the seat occupied by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove).

He has acted as a conservative firebrand in the Fresno area, voting earlier this year to sue the state of California over a law that requires cities to eliminate the Native American slur “squaw” from geographic features and place names. He has also echoed Trumpisms about unfounded election fraud claims.

The former youth pastor who also served as mayor of conservative Clovis was a staunch McCarthy supporter, telling The Times earlier this month: “My focus now is to show my support for him.”

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Vandals cover California Republican lawmaker’s office in photos of kids ‘Murdered by Israel’

Rep. David Valadao’s office was vandalized Monday morning in Hanford by someone the California Republican congressman described as “anti-Israel protestors,” according to a post on social media.

Photos on Valadao’s feed on X, formerly known as Twitter, showed fliers placed on the glass doors and a few on the brick wall that included photos of children and the words, “Murdered by Israel.”

“This morning, my Hanford office was vandalized by anti-Israel protestors. I strongly support the right to peaceful protest, but violence and vandalism are never acceptable,” Valadao tweeted. “In a democracy, harassment and intimidation is not how you make your voice heard.”

The images shared by the congressman also appeared to show a dark liquid splashed on the doors and wall.

“If these protestors truly cared about Palestinian children they would also support the eradication of Hamas terrorists, who are actively using Palestinian hospitals and schools as cover for their military operations and putting thousands of Palestinian civilians at risk,” Valadao also tweeted on Monday.

Hanford police Lt. Justin Vallin said the vandalism appeared to happen between 11 p.m. Sunday and midnight though police were still reviewing surveillance footage. It involved three to five people, he said.

The liquid on the wall appeared at first to possibly be blood, he said, but police found some discarded bottles that revealed the liquid to be a dark red syrup.

The office on Douty Street is a highly foot trafficked area about a block south of downtown and two blocks north of Highway 198, he said.

Valadao has previously tweeted pro-Israel statements, including a Nov. 3 message that denounced Antisemitism and called for sanctions against Hamas

Israel and Palestine have recently committed to a four-day ceasefire after the war erupted on Oct. 7, when Hamas militants in Gaza burst across the border into southern Israel, killing at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting some 240 others, including, women, children and older people.

Israel immediately declared war, carrying out weeks of airstrikes and a ground offensive that have left over 13,300 Palestinians dead, according to health authorities in the Hamas-controlled territory. Roughly two-thirds of those killed in Gaza have been women and minors.

Both sides have expressed claims to the land.

Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza in the 1967 Mideast war. Settlers claim the West Bank as their biblical birthright. Most of the international community considers the settlements — home to 700,000 Israelis — illegal.

Valadao said his office remained open by appointment, phone, email or mail.

Click here to read the full article in the Sacramento Bee via Yahoo News

Former Congressman Arrested Over Venezuela Ties

Miami Republican is accused of laundering money, representing a foreign government without registering.

WASHINGTON — A former Miami congressman who signed a $50-million consulting contract with Venezuela’s socialist government was arrested Monday on suspicion of money laundering and representing a foreign government without registering.

David Rivera, a Republican who has been marred by scandals dating back to his days in Congress from 2011 to 2013, was arrested at Atlanta’s airport, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami.

The eight-count indictment alleges that Rivera, at the start of the Trump administration, was part of a conspiracy to lobby on behalf of Venezuela to lower tensions with the U.S., resolve a legal dispute with a U.S. oil company and end U.S. sanctions against the South American nation — all without registering as a foreign agent.

The indictment cites meetings in Washington, New York and Dallas that Rivera either attended or tried to set up for allies of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro with U.S. lawmakers and a top Trump aide.

To hide the sensitive nature of his work, prosecutors say, Rivera referred to Maduro in chat messages as the “bus driver,” a congressman as “Sombrero” and millions of dollars as “melons.”

While none of the U.S. officials is named, evidence in a parallel lawsuit brought against Rivera show that, while working for Venezuela, the former congressman was in contact with Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a longtime friend who helped drive the Trump administration’s hard-line policy on Maduro.

As part of the charm offensive, Rivera also looked to set up a possible flight and a meeting on the jet between a pro-Maduro businessman and a female campaign advisor-turned-White House “counselor” on June 27, 2017 — the same day Trump aide Kellyanne Conway was in Miami for a fundraising dinner with Miami Republicans.

Rivera also roped in GOP Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas to try to set up a meeting for Venezuela’s foreign minister with executives from Exxon, which was headquartered in Sessions’ district at the time.

In July 2017, for example, the indictment alleges that Rivera wrote text messages to an unnamed U.S. senator ahead of a key meeting at the White House where he hoped the senator would discuss a possible deal to end Venezuela’s stubborn political conflict.

“Remember, US should facilitate, not just support, a negotiated solution,” he wrote. “No vengeance, reconciliation.”

Rubio’s and Sessions’ offices didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Pressure has been building on Rivera for more than two years after it emerged that he received the massive contract from a U.S. affiliate of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company as Maduro was trying to curry favor with the Trump administration.

Rivera’s Interamerican Consulting was sued in 2020 by PDV USA — a Delaware-based affiliate of Venezuelan-owned Citgo — for not living up to the contract he signed in 2017 for three months of “strategic consulting.”

Although Rivera’s contract was originally signed with a U.S. entity, any work he performed on behalf of Maduro’s government or Venezuelan business interests required him to register as a foreign lobbyist.

It was something prosecutors say Rivera acknowledged himself in October 2017 when he sent a text message relaying a lawyer’s advice to stay away from parent company PDVSA in Caracas, with failure to do so risking “a scandal of monumental proportions.” Three weeks later, prosecutors say, Rivera received a $5-million payment from PDVSA’s account at Gazprom Bank in Russia.

Rivera, 57, has maintained his innocence and has countersued PDV USA, alleging breach of contract and unjust enrichment for its failure to pay $30 million he says he is still owed. A lawyer for Rivera said he had not seen the indictment, and Rivera did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Marshals Service said Rivera bailed out of jail Monday afternoon after making an initial appearance in Atlanta federal court.

Around the time Rivera was hired, Maduro’s government was seeking to court the new Trump administration, donating $500,000 to the new president’s inaugural committee through Citgo. The outreach effort ultimately failed, as the U.S. in 2019 recognized opposition lawmaker Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader and imposed stiff oil sanctions on the OPEC member nation in a bid to unseat Maduro.

Records that emerged as part of the ongoing lawsuit show that Rivera’s consulting work was closely coordinated with Raul Gorrin, a Venezuelan insider and media tycoon who has been sanctioned and indicted in the U.S. on money-laundering charges.

Correspondence introduced as part of the lawsuit shows Rivera and Gorrin discussing buying “concert tickets” — a possible code word for bribes — for unnamed officials and attempting to coordinate a meeting between Venezuela’s foreign minister and executives from Exxon.

As part of that effort, they also roped in Sessions, who secretly traveled to Venezuela in 2018 to meet with Maduro.

Before being elected to Congress, Rivera was a high-ranking Florida state legislator, serving from 2003 to 2010 in the House. During that time, he shared a Tallahassee home with Rubio, who eventually became Florida House speaker.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Republican Kiley Captures California US House Seat

 Republican Kevin Kiley, a state legislator who became a conservative favorite for his pointed and relentless criticism of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, captured a U.S. House seat Tuesday in northeastern California.

With 83% of ballots counted, Kiley received nearly 53% of the votes to defeat Democrat Kermit Jones, a doctor and Navy veteran.

The win will pad the margin of Republican control in the House. The GOP seized the majority from Democrats last week when California Rep. Mike Garcia was re-elected and gave the party its 218th seat. With Kiley’s victory, the tally stands at 220 Republicans and 212 Democrats.

“Voters want a new direction,” Kiley said in a post-election interview last week as he awaited results in the 3rd Congressional District that runs from the Sacramento suburbs down the interior spine of the state. “The House is going to be the vehicle for effectuating the change voters are looking for.”

Even with the win, Republicans will remain a small minority within the state’s congressional delegation. Of the 52 seats — the largest delegation in Congress — GOP candidates had captured just 11 districts with one race still too early to call.

The leading issues in Kiley’s race mirrored House and Senate campaigns around the country.

Kiley, a state Assembly member, argued that California was in turmoil under Democratic rule in Washington and Sacramento, with residents gouged by inflation and made anxious by rising crime. He sought to depict Jones as an eager foot soldier-in-waiting if Democrats kept their majority and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stayed in the job.

Kiley emerged as a conservative champion for his steady criticism of Newsom, particularly during the 2021 recall election that the governor easily survived. Kiley finished sixth in the field of candidates on the ballot to replace Newsom had voters wanted him removed.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

Rep. Katie Porter’s Sweet UC Irvine Housing Deal Raises Eyebrows

Houses in Orange County go for $1 million, but Porter snagged one for half that with the help of some college friends

Although Orange County Congresswoman Katie Porter represents an area where houses typically sell for $1 million, Porter’s four-bedroom, three-bath in a sweet subdivision of the University of California Irvine campus is a steal at $523,000, the Associated Press reports.

The Democrat and law professor didn’t just luck into a good deal on a house. She purchased it in 2011 at below-market price through an arrangement in which the university helps out academics who couldn’t otherwise “afford to live in the affluent area.” There is only one eligibility requirement—that Porter continue to work for UC Irvine and meet with students.

But some are raising their eyes since this high-class subsidized housing continues even though she’s spent years away from the classroom. Porter taught for eight years, and then left for Congress after she was elected in 2018. That’s when she first took unpaid leave from her teaching job—which paid $258,000 a year—to serve in the House of Representatives.

Emails obtained by AP show Porter had at least one person working on her behalf, a law school administrator who had donated to her political campaign and “helped secure extensions of her tenure while she remained in Congress.”

Administrators agreed to two separate one-year periods of leave that enabled Porter to keep her house, AP’s documents show. School officials, however, started questioning the arrangement as her 2020 reelection.

“Is there any fixed limit on the number of years of leave without pay… One of our administrators mentioned that they seemed to recall a two-year limit,” law school Vice Dean Chris Whytock, who donated $500 to Porter’s 2018 campaign, wrote in a April 2020 email, adding, “Some government service may, of course, last for a number of years.”

Whytock wrote a memo outlining the case for extending Porter’s leave, according to AP, while suggesting that there are no limits on how long such an arrangement could continue. The plan required the approval of the school’s vice provost, which was granted in 2020, according the the emails.

Whytock did not return AP’s request for comment.

Porter did not address whether or not her housing arrangement was kosher in an interview with AP, but she said she “followed the applicable [University of California] policies, as well as all applicable state and federal law.”

“I am always happy to be transparent with voters,” Porter said. “I take a lot of pride in my record on transparency and good governance and have been asked about this before by voters and have always been happy to give them full and complete information.”

Porter’s housing situation does not violate U.S. House ethics rules. Porter will seek a third term in November.

Click here to read the full article in Los Angeles Magazine

Midterm forecast: Gas prices get GOP control of U.S. House

If control of the House of Representatives flips to the Republicans this fall, economist Jim Doti thinks he found the issue driving political change: the gas pump.

Chapman University’s veteran economic forecaster was trying to see which historic economic, demographic or voting patterns factors might provide numerical hints for November’s midterm elections in which control of the House is at stake.

Doti’s formula suggests Republicans will gain control of the House by flipping 53 of the legislative body’s 435 seats to the GOP side of the political aisle in November. The flip isn’t terribly stunning considering the party controlling the White House has lost an average 27 seats in midterms since World War II. And over the July 4th weekend, forecasters at fivethirtyeight.com gave the GOP an 87% chance of winning the House in the first fall projection for 2022.

Political track records are not fool-proof prognostications of future election results. But Doti was startled to discover the pivotal vote-changer that’s bad news for President Joe Biden and his Democrats: record-high gasoline prices.

“First of all, let me say that this was a big surprise to me,” Doti says.

Price points

Pain at the pump was not on Doti’s mind when he started the research with fellow Chapman professor Fadel Lawandy. He was betting big vote swings followed inflation, which in 2022 is running at 40-year highs.

But when the professors looked at voting patterns vs. traditional measures of the cost of living, such as the Consumer Price index, Doti said “I found nothing, even when you look at some of our high inflationary periods.”

So gasoline prices were input into his formula, and to the professors’ astonishment, fuel inflation was a significant political driver. The out-of-power party gained more House midterm seats when gasoline was pricier.

Equally noteworthy were the only two times the party in the White House grew its political base in the House at the midterms — Bill Clinton’s second term (1998) and George W. Bush’s first term (2002).

Gas prices were falling in both of those outlier periods.

So why is gasoline — a relatively modest expense for many Americans — such a political flash point? It’s the simplicity of the economic measurement.

“People every week fill the tank. They see these big prices,” Doti says. “It’s not like reading the CPI. Or reading the Wall Street Journal. It’s affecting their pocketbook, and they get it. They’re agitated.”

Bad start

Doti’s research shows the Democrats start the midterm political season in a weak position.

The model revealed Democrats’ modest House advantage — it’s currently only a 10-seat edge — translates to 10 seats lost come November.

Biden’s unpopularity doesn’t help. The president scored a low approval rate of 41% in May, according to Gallup. That compares with an average of 51% at the same moment for presidents since WWII. The Chapman formula says that adds up to nine more lost Democratic seats.

Yes, there’s decent economic growth — Biden’s 2.8% gross domestic product expansion is better than the 2.5% post-WWII average. But that earns Democrats only one seat by this math.

And a Republican winning Virginia’s governorship — an election that’s proven to be a leading indicator of political fortunes — translates to a six-seat House pickup for the Republicans, says the formula.

Then ponder gas prices — up 61% in a year vs. average hikes of 2.5% annually. That pump pain is worth 29 seats for the Republicans — literally giving them the House if this Chapman forecast is correct.

You don’t need an economics doctorate to understand that if folks vote with their wallets, gas prices are an obvious winner for Republicans. And a psychology degree isn’t required to comprehend the emotional response gas prices can create — and voters often act with their hearts.

To me, though, what will be intriguing to watch is what voters think this fall about topics hard to quantify. The Supreme Court’s actions on reproductive rights or gun control. Or the hearings into the January 6 insurgency.

I’ll note that 1974’s midterms — when the Republicans controlled the White House and lost 48 House seats — were the party’s second-worst outcome since World War II. By the way, the 50 seats lost in Dwight Eisenhower’s second term in 1958 was the GOP’s biggest drop.

What was up in 1974?

Gas prices jumped 33% to 53 cents per gallon. Inflation ran at 11%. But Richard Nixon also resigned from the presidency. Oh, and it was the first midterm election after the Supreme Court made abortion a right in every state in Roe vs. Wade.

Sketchy tale

Doti tells the tale of a recent visit to a Chapman University graphic design class.

Students were assigned to draw a political cartoon. Doti was there to provide some economic background highlighting the nation’s inflation challenges.

And what was the theme of the graphic professor’s favorite cartoon from the assignment? A humorous sketch of a gas station where the price was artfully displayed at $18.89 a gallon.

“That brings home the fact people see it, it’s transparent,” Doti says of the fuel pump’s political power. “The analysis clearly shows gas prices affect how people vote in midterm elections — but not the overall trend in consumer prices.”

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

‘Operation Just Reward’: A Tale for the Ages

Something’s afoot in Washington that dovetails almost eerily well with the invigorating cultural moment we have found ourselves in once again courtesy of Tom Cruise and the makers of the “Top Gun” film franchise.

As we drive irresponsibly on the way home from movie theaters, calculating whether or not we are too old to actually join the Navy and fixate anew on the folklore that has always surrounded our nation’s most elite military aviators, a great, bipartisan thing is shaping up in Congress (believe it or not!). Something which will hopefully culminate in an even greater thing happening very soon in a White House ceremony.

In the midst of a determined campaign by retired military officials of all stripes dubbed “Operation Just Reward” that’s had its ups and downs mostly due to bureaucratic nonsense, Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, has grabbed the reins, built an impressive bipartisan coalition of fellow lawmakers, and introduced H.R. 5909 to fast-track the effort to authorize the president to give one of the greatest combat pilots the world has known, retired 97-year-old Capt. E. Royce Williams, just that in the form of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The tale of Capt. Williams’ real-life heroics and the reason why it has taken so long to secure for him the United States government’s highest and most prestigious military decoration could fit right in with the “Top Gun” franchise, should Mr. Cruise and company feel the urge to have another go. His story is long, intense and perhaps more fantastical than even the best Hollywood screenwriters could conjure.

As an aside, the very first commanding officer of the Navy’s advanced fighter tactics program that came to be called TOPGUN, retired Rear Adm. Roger Box, simply referred to him in an email exchange as “the most remarkable fighter pilot alive.” From what I can tell that sentiment seems very much to be shared in most relevant quarters. 

Here’s the gist: 70 years ago this Nov. 18, one of the greatest and certainly the hardest-won dogfighting triumphs in military aviation history took place in international waters off the Korean coast. On that day, 27-year-old Williams found himself suddenly alone in the sky in his F9F-5 Panther, staring down seven superior Russian MiG-15s who had come to eat his lunch and move on to sink his nearby carrier, the USS Oriskany.

By any clear-headed calculation, lunch-eating is exactly what should have happened at that moment. Except it didn’t. What did ensue was a fierce 35-minute dogfight (note that most last mere seconds, and in exceptional cases have lasted up to five minutes) which ended with Williams safely back on the deck of the now-safe Oriskany after a dicey landing, 263 bullet holes and a 37-millimeter shell gash in his crippled Panther. 

It didn’t end quite as well for at least for six of the seven MiGs that set out to dispatch the outgunned American, as only one of them returned to base. 

Though one of the most extraordinary feats in the history of military aviation had just happened, there was no celebration and no dramatic recounting from Capt. Williams to his shipmates. Quite the contrary. A frank conversation and handshake with his admiral was intended to be the last time the mission would be spoken of.

Turns out the circumstances and detail surrounding the dogfight, which ended so badly for the Soviets, contained a level of sensitivity that necessitated immediate top-secret classification. No one outside of a very small cadre of individuals knew a whiff of it for over 50 years until the Soviet Union fell and it was reported out of their archives. One of those in the loop, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was president-elect of the United States at the time. Eisenhower summoned Capt. Williams for a visit and a drink during a dramatic pre-inaugural fact-finding visit to Seoul because he wanted to meet the young aviator. Yet even in that rarified setting, the mission was not discussed.

When the U.S. government finally declassified it all in December of 2017, no one was more surprised than Capt. Williams’ wife and his brother — a fellow elite military aviator with whom he shared a long-running friendly pilots’ rivalry.

Capt. Williams had gone half a century without breaking his promise to his admiral. Half a century keeping secret something that could bring him immediate fame, fortune and a place among the greatest aviators in history. As 146 of his fellow Korean War heroes were honored and celebrated with well-deserved Medals of Honor, he was content with his Silver Star, knowing full well that an upgrade was out of the question for national security reasons.

But as Mr. Issa says, “America owes Williams a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid, and we won’t stop fighting until he is at least given the proper recognition he has not sought but richly deserves.”

Thanks to Mr. Issa’s laudable efforts to force the issue (remember, Capt. Williams is 97 and we don’t have all the time in the world here) and thanks to the longtime determination of his “Operation Just Reward” comrades plus the endorsements of over 100 retired general officers and admirals, The American Legion, Distinguished Flying Cross Society, Special Operations Association of America and others, the most deserved and overdue military honors upgrade of all time may well be imminent. 

Click here to read read the full article in the Washington Times