Politics ESSENTIAL POLITICS

This is Essential Politics, our daily look at California political and government news. Here's what we're watching right now:

  • After receiving pressure to step down because of his cap-and-trade vote, Assembly GOP leader Chad Mayes held a caucus meeting Thursday to discuss his role. Mayes remains in his leadership post, but another top Assembly Republican stepped down from hers in protest.
  • Backers of a campaign to force a recall election of state Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) filed a lawsuit Thursday to block a new state law they say unfairly changes the rules.
  • Environmental activist Tom Steyer renames his political action organization in an effort to shift the focus toward fighting the policies of President Trump.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter for more, or subscribe to our free daily newsletter and the California Politics Podcast. Also don't miss our Essential Politics page in Sunday's California section.

Congressional races

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher draws a Republican challenger in 48th Congressional District

 (Courtesy of Stelian Onufrei for Congress)
(Courtesy of Stelian Onufrei for Congress)

Following a spate of Democrats announcing runs in the 48th Congressional District, GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher now has a challenger from his own party.

Orange County businessman Stelian Onufrei, a Romanian immigrant who owns a construction business, announced Thursday that he's running against the Costa Mesa Republican.

In a statement, Onufrei, 52, called Rohrabacher an "entrenched career politician" who has "become a political lightning rod." Much of that controversy has stemmed from critiques on the left, particularly over Rohrabacher's long-held belief that the U.S. should normalize relations with Russia.

Onufrei, who like many candidates this cycle has never run for public office before, said tax reform, "restoring religious freedoms" and instituting congressional term limits would be among his top priorities if elected. (The last one would probably require a constitutional amendment.)

Onufrei joins the race just after the latest campaign finance filing deadline, but said he would contribute $500,000 of his own money to fund his run.

2018 election

For young California homeowners, a proposed 2018 initiative could make buying a new house a lot less expensive

 (Bryan Chan/Los Angeles Times)
(Bryan Chan/Los Angeles Times)

Under a ballot measure filed Thursday, California's landmark Proposition 13 property tax breaks would be extended to young homeowners who sell their residence and buy a new one.

The proposal, which aims for a spot on the November 2018 statewide ballot, would allow homeowners of any age to carry a portion of their existing property tax rate across county lines when they purchase a new house. Homeowners often are reluctant to switch houses, given that Proposition 13's cap on annual property taxes ends once they sell and move somewhere else.

"A lot of people kind of feel locked into their properties," said Alex Creel, a lobbyist for the California Assn. of Realtors, who filed the proposed initiative. "This will free up those folks."

The new tax rate, Creel said, would be based on a "blended" value of the old and new properties, and could be considerably lower than the market rate property tax otherwise assessed once a new home is bought.

Creel filed three different versions of the proposal, all of which would create tax incentives for selling one house and buying another.

Homeowners older than 55 in certain counties can already transfer existing property tax rates to a new home of equal or less value. Creel's initiatives, though, would expand the program. One version would retain the age restriction, but make the program available statewide. Two other versions would remove all age limits, likely enticing young homeowners to sell and buy homes.

Unlike current law, the proposal would allow homeowners to take advantage of the tax break as many times as they want.

Creel said the broader impact on statewide property tax revenue is unclear, and that the realtors group won't decide until the fall whether to mount a political campaign to place one of them on the 2018 ballot.

California LegislatureCalifornia Republicans

A top Assembly Republican quits her leadership role to protest climate vote

Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) resigned a leadership post Thursday to protest Republican leader Chad Mayes' vote for cap and trade. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) resigned a leadership post Thursday to protest Republican leader Chad Mayes' vote for cap and trade. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Fallout continued Thursday over Assembly Republican leader Chad Mayes' support for the cap-and-trade extension, with one of his top lieutenants resigning her leadership position in protest.

Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, from Lake Elsinore, was among the majority of Republicans who voted against the bill Monday because of concerns that it would increase gas and energy costs for Californians. In total, eight Republicans joined most of the Democrats backing the measure.

“Californians are struggling to make ends meet, and unfortunately, what I have witnessed by the Assembly Republican Leader is a dereliction of duty to preserve and promote the American Dream for every single Californian,” Melendez said in a statement.

She stepped down as the assistant Republican leader. The move came a few hours after Mayes talked with the Assembly GOP and said everything was "all good."

“Assemblyman Mayes’ actions on cap-and-trade demonstrate we no longer share the same leadership principles,” she said. “I was elected by the people of my district to fight for a more affordable and decent California, a place where every Californian knows their child will have a better life than their own. Regrettably, I can no longer, in good conscience, serve as the Assistant Republican Leader.”

Mayes was not immediately available for comment.

California in Congress

California House members sued for displaying rainbow flags outside their Capitol offices

 (Office of Rep. Susan Davis)
(Office of Rep. Susan Davis)

Southern California Reps. Susan Davis, Alan Lowenthal and two other House members have been sued for displaying a rainbow flag in the hallway outside their Capitol Hill offices.

The plaintiff is Chris Sevier, an attorney who has an ongoing campaign against same-sex marriage and has also unsuccessfully sued states for the right to marry a laptop computer in order to try to make a point about rulings on same-sex marriage.

Besides Davis of San Diego and Lowenthal of Long Beach, Sevier sued Reps. Don Beyer of Virginia and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon. All are Democrats.

Sevier’s 38-page complaint asks the federal district court in Washington, D.C., to determine that “‘homosexuality’ and other forms of self-asserted sex-based identity narratives are a ‘religion,’” and that the colorful banners are a religious symbol for the “homosexual denomination.” He is seeking to force the members of Congress to remove the flags.

California in Congress

Ed Royce stopped Dana Rohrabacher from going to Russia last spring, senior GOP aide says

 (Don Leach / Daily Pilot)
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher has made several trips to Moscow during his 15 terms in Congress.

But the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats canceled a publicly announced trip to meet with the Russian parliament last spring with little notice.

Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) told the Times on Wednesday that he decided not to go because he was worried the national focus on Russia would make it difficult to have serious conversations with Russian officials.

"In the middle of a chaotic, public brouhaha, you're not going to be able to get the serious job done that you need to get done," he said.

But a senior House GOP aide who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to reporters said Thursday it was House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) who declined Rohrabacher’s request to travel to Moscow shortly after President Trump's inauguration. The aide said such a trip would have been inappropriate.

At the time, Congress was just beginning its investigations into Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 election. 

Rohrabacher's interest in a friendlier relationship with Russia has puzzled the GOP establishment for years. Rohrabacher's spokesman, Ken Grubbs, said Thursday both Southern California congressmen agreed it would be best for Rohrabacher to stay home. 

"Dana and Ed were of one mind at the time," he said.

In a related matter, longtime Rohrabacher committee aide and ally Paul Behrends no longer works on the Foreign Affairs Committee, a committee spokesman confirmed. The spokesman said he couldn't comment further on a personnel matter. Grubbs said Rohrabacher wasn't notified of the change in advance.

Behrends is a shared employee, meaning he worked for both the committee and Rohrabacher, and Grubbs said it "is not quite settled yet" what Behrends' employment status is if he's not working for the committee.

At least three news outlets have refreshed previous reports in the last few weeks about Rohrabacher's plan to hold a subcommittee hearing on removing Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky’s name from an anti-corruption law opposed by the Russian government. The Daily Beast reported that the meeting was arranged at the prompting of Russian officials, who hoped it would change minds about the law's sanctions.

Magnitsky was a whistle-blower who alleged officials in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government stole $230 million. He died in prison under suspicious circumstances.

The act named after him banned officials accused of involvement in his death from visiting the U.S. and using American banks. In response, Putin banned adoptions of Russian children by Americans. People with connections to the Russian government have been lobbying against the Magnitsky Act ever since, and according to recent media reports, Behrends was a main point of contact for them on Capitol Hill, and arranged meetings with Rohrabacher and Russian officials overseas.

Several of the people with Russian ties who lobbied Rohrabacher against the act also attended a Trump Tower meeting with Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and other campaign officials in June 2016, news of which has catapulted Rohrabacher's legendary affinity for a better relationship with Russia into the national spotlight.

Assembly GOP leader Chad Mayes survives challenge over cap-and-trade vote, but party activists will push for his removal

Assembly Republican leader Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley is facing criticism for voting to extend California's cap-and-trade program. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Assembly Republican leader Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley is facing criticism for voting to extend California's cap-and-trade program. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Under pressure from some party activists to step down, Assembly Republican leader Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley met with his caucus for more than an hour Thursday and emerged saying he remains its leader.

“It’s all good. ... I'm the leader,” Mayes told reporters after the closed session meeting.

The unscheduled gathering of the 25-member Assembly Republican Caucus is not expected to relieve pressure on the leader who has been criticized for standing with Gov. Jerry Brown as he and six other Assembly Republicans voted to extend California’s cap-and-trade program.

Harmeet Dhillon, a member of the Republican National Committee, had called Wednesday night for Mayes to be replaced. She said she had support from enough members of the California Republican Party board to conduct an emergency meeting by phone, but that Mayes called the caucus before it could happen. Dhillon said she would bring the matter before the board during the next month, rather than hold an emergency recommendation that Mayes be replaced.

Dhillon said there were “a number of legislators” who had told her they wanted to vote Mayes out of the leadership role, but that by calling a quick meeting, Mayes acted before any challengers could muster the votes.

“I think it’s a weak move,” she said of Mayes forcing an early choice. “What eventually happens is leaders who vote against the interests of their caucus and who take a minority vote like that and present that that’s the party’s position, they lose their leadership position. I’m going to keep campaigning for him to lose it.”

The Assembly heads out on a monthlong vacation Friday and Dhillon said the matter will be revived when lawmakers return.

Most Republicans opposed extending the program, which requires oil companies and others to purchase permits to emit greenhouse gases. Republican lawmakers cited independent studies that the program could eventually increase the cost of gas by 73 cents per gallon.

“The people I’ve talked to in California are furious at the cap-and-trade vote,” said Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) on Wednesday. “They feel betrayed by their elected officials that were sent to represent them.”

After the caucus meeting Thursday, Allen would only say “at the moment, [the caucus] is having conversations."

Assemblyman Brian Dahle (R-Bieber) said there was no vote on the leadership in the caucus meeting.

“We just talked about a change of leadership and none of that took place,” he said. "I got the feeling there were a lot of people who wanted a better line of communication between all of us. And we're probably going to do that more often, I think."

California in Congress

Sen. Kamala Harris wants to study whether cash bail is the right way to decide if someone stays in jail pretrial

2018 electionCalifornia Legislature

California's newly revised rules on recall elections are being challenged in court

State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Backers of an effort to remove an Orange County Democrat from office believe their effort would have forced a special election this November, if not for a change in state election law enacted last month.

On Thursday, they took their complaint to a state appeals court.

The lawsuit seeks to invalidate the law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that could delay a recall election against state Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) until next year.

Tom Steyer rebrands his political group for anti-Trump mission

 (Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)
(Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

Tom Steyer, a major donor to Democratic causes and a potential candidate for California governor, has long signaled his political ambitions stretched far beyond climate change, his signature issue.

Now he's making it official, rebranding his organization as NextGen America instead of NextGen Climate. The new name reflects a broader desire to oppose President Trump and support progressive policies.

"This is a fight for the soul of American democracy, and we have expanded our mission to meet the challenge at hand," Steyer said in a statement.

Steyer backed efforts to extend California's cap-and-trade program, which lawmakers approved on Monday. He's also pushing new initiatives on economic inequality and healthcare.

Last month, Steyer launched NextGen Rising, another campaign to motivate young voters in key states such as Florida, Ohio and Michigan before next year's midterm elections.

California Democrats

Compromise and hardball politics earned Gov. Brown a big legislative win on climate change

Gov. Jerry Brown, flanked by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, urges members of the Environmental Quality Committee to approve a pair of bills to extend cap and trade. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Gov. Jerry Brown, flanked by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, urges members of the Environmental Quality Committee to approve a pair of bills to extend cap and trade. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

One particular message to the agriculture industry was simple: You want Gov. Jerry Brown to be a friend or an enemy the rest of his term?

Friends will support his climate change legislation, it was made clear.

To business leaders: This legislation provides tax and regulatory breaks that you’ve long sought. Grab them now or forget it.

To agriculture and business: You don’t like this cap-and-trade program? Wait until you see what replaces it if it’s not extended.

Brown’s hardball messages, his willingness to compromise and personal dealings with lawmakers were persuasive enough for him to win arguably his biggest legislative victory as governor.

It was a model of how to finesse controversial bills through a Legislature. And it stood in stark contrast to the bumbling we’ve been watching in the White House and Congress, most notably the failed, humiliating efforts on healthcare.

Republican David Hadley drops out of California governor's race two weeks after entering

 (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Former GOP state lawmaker David Hadley announced Wednesday he is dropping out of the gubernatorial race two weeks after he jumped in.

In an evening email to supporters, Hadley said he concluded that he could not win the race despite receiving encouragement since announcing his candidacy.

“No matter how much preparation you put in, there are certain things you cannot learn until you step into the arena,” he wrote. “What I have learned since I announced my candidacy has led me to conclude that I cannot responsibly ask donors, endorsers, volunteers, supporters or my family to invest in this campaign right now… We would not have the time and resources to make the case we need to make to all California voters.”

Past gubernatorial candidates in California have entered the race and dropped out after deciding they could not win, including Democrat Gavin Newsom and Republican Tom Campbell in the 2010 contest, though it is difficult to recall anyone making such a move so quickly out of the gate.

Both Newsom and Campbell ran for other offices that year, and some political strategists wondered if Hadley will do the same in the 2018 elections.

Hadley said Wednesday night that he had no intention to seek another office.

The 52-year-old is a social moderate and fiscal conservative who some thought had the potential to galvanize the GOP establishment in next year’s gubernatorial race. The former assemblyman from Manhattan Beach, who was the third prominent Republican to enter the race, said he had won the endorsement of a majority of the state’s GOP legislators and would have raised more than $1 million in July.

Hadley wrote that a factor in his decision was the possibility that because of the state’s top-two voting system, more GOP gubernatorial candidates would make it more likely two Democrats would face off in the general election — a repeat of what happened in the state's 2016 U.S. Senate contest.

“I am not prepared to increase the likelihood of that outcome by pressing on in a crowded field,” he wrote, adding that all donations would be refunded and all of his endorsers were free to back other candidates.

The two remaining Republican candidates in the field are businessman John Cox and Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach).

Cox, who has poured $3 million into his own bid, on Monday announced he would contribute an additional dollar to himself for every dollar donated to Hadley’s campaign, up to $1 million, in July.

A spokesman for Cox cheered Hadley's decision as best for the state Republican Party on social media.

Hadley did not mention Cox’s announcement in his email to supporters, which caught his own donors and party insiders off guard Wednesday evening.

He did address Cox and Allen, urging them to avoid focusing on tumult in Washington and instead talk about California’s needs. He also urged them to drop out if they could not mount a campaign that has a realistic chance of success — an uphill battle in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 19 points in voter registration.

"Run a race with the plausible goal of winning, or get out of the race," Hadley wrote. "This 2018 governor’s race is too important to have a meaningful debate derailed by selfish politicians who cannot win, but can rob Californians of a real debate in the general election."

------------

Updates

8:48 p.m. This article was updated with an additional comment from David Hadley. 

8:03 p.m. This article was updated to add context and reaction. 

This article was originally published at 6:48 p.m.

California in Congress

Dana Rohrabacher dismisses new report on request he got from Russia as a 'nothing burger'

 (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Yes, the Russian government asked Rep. Dana Rohrabacher to push back against sanctions on Russians, and he doesn't see what the big deal is.

Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) dismissed fresh reports on Wednesday detailing how the Russian government asked him to change his colleagues' opinions about Russian sanctions as a "nothing burger trying to distract the American people from real issues."

Many of the details in a Daily Beast article published Wednesday had been previously reported in a lengthy Politico article in November. The Politico story gave Rohrabacher, who has long been known for encouraging improved Russian relations, the nickname "Putin's favorite congressman."

But the story is getting new life amid an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the effort's potential ties to the Trump campaign. And it's a pretty complicated story.

Rohrabacher has had multiple interactions with several of the people with Russian ties who attended a Trump Tower meeting with Trump's eldest son Donald Trump Jr. and other campaign officials in June 2016.

About the same time as the Trump Tower meeting, two of the attendees were working with Rohrabacher to remove Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky’s name from an anti-corruption law opposed by the Russian government. Magnitsky was a whistle-blower who alleged officials in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government stole $230 million. He died in prison under suspicious circumstances, and the act named after him banned officials accused of involvement in his death from visiting the U.S. and using American banks. In response, Putin banned adoptions of Russian children by Americans. People with connections to the Russian government have been lobbying against the Magnitsky Act ever since.

During a trip to Russia in April 2016 and amid discussions in Congress about expanding the act, Rohrabacher received a document outlining the Russian government's case against it.

“Changing attitudes to the Magnitsky story in the Congress… could have a very favorable response from the Russian side,” the document said, according to the Daily Beast.

Months later, Rohrabacher tried to hold a subcommittee hearing to discuss the act and challenge the assertions that led to the sanctions, but he was waylaid by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), who instead arranged for the full committee to discuss it. At the hearing, Rohrabacher expressed skepticism about the expanded Magnitsky Act and advocated for removing Magnitsky's name from it.

Rohrabacher, who has previously said he accepted Russian documents on the case during the spring 2016 trip, acknowledged it again on Wednesday in an interview. 

"The criminal justice department in Moscow had done a study of the Magnitsky case and had investigated it, and I was asked if I would look at it, and I said sure," said Rohrabacher, who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats. "I'm the chairman of the subcommittee that's supposed to focus on Russia. It's absolutely appropriate, and I think anybody that doesn't spend that time focusing on their responsibility is derelict in their duty."

Rohrabacher said he's gotten similar documents from other countries' governments when they want something from Congress.

"Whenever there is some controversy, you get information from those people all the time, whatever government you are talking to has all the information you need right here to prove their case," Rohrabacher said.

Rohrabacher had scheduled a similar trip to Moscow to meet with the Russian parliament this spring, but he said Wednesday that he didn't end up going because he was worried the current focus on Russia would make it difficult to have serious conversations with Russian officials.

"In the middle of a chaotic, public brouhaha, you're not going to be able to get the serious job done that you need to get done," he said.

Ballot measuresCalifornia Legislature

California is working to avoid a shortage of legalized marijuana, state pot czar says

California hopes to avoid the same shortage of legalized marijuana that now faces Nevada when sales begin here in January. (File photo | Los Angeles Times)
California hopes to avoid the same shortage of legalized marijuana that now faces Nevada when sales begin here in January. (File photo | Los Angeles Times)

With Nevada suffering a shortage of legalized marijuana, California’s state pot czar said Wednesday that efforts are being made in her state to make sure sufficient licenses go to farmers, testers and distributors to supply retailers.

Providing temporary, four-month licenses to support some businesses including growers is planned “so we don’t have a break in the supply chain,” Lori Ajax, chief of the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, said in testimony at a legislative hearing.

Legal sales began July 1 in Nevada, but it immediately became clear there was not enough supply to meet demand, in part because unique rules provide alcohol wholesalers exclusive distributor rights. California does not have the same limits on who can distribute cannabis.

In California, licensing to grow, test, distribute and sell marijuana for recreational use is required by law to begin Jan. 2, but Ajax told lawmakers her agency will make sure that sufficient licenses are provided to growers and testers before the start of the year.

State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-San Rafael), chairman of the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, said there may be 20,000 marijuana growers who will want licenses. He urged consumers to be patient.

"This is not going to be a perfect process," he said. "We are going to make mistakes."

Another challenge is that marijuana cultivation and excise taxes will be collected by a new state Department of Tax and Fee Administration, which was created July 1 and is still in the process of organizing.

With federal banks refusing to process pot sale proceeds because the drug remains illegal under federal law, Richard Parrott, a manager for the new tax agency, said it is prepared to begin accepting cash payments for taxes from as many as 250 cannabis distributors.

“We believe we are on track to meet our implementation dates,” Parrott told the panel.

California doesn't have an official state fruit, but it does have four official state nuts

Walnuts are just one of California's four official state nuts. (David Karp)
Walnuts are just one of California's four official state nuts. (David Karp)

The quest to learn more about the why the almond, pecan, walnut and pistachio were each officially declared California’s state nut led down an interesting path. 

Turns out the campaign for an official nut started in a fourth-grade classroom at Margaret Sheehy Elementary School in Merced. Even though Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom did once proclaim the almond as the state nut, his proclamation never became law.

(That means the avocado is not actually the state fruit and the artichoke isn't the state vegetable, even though Newsom's action got a lot of fanfare.)

Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) took up the cause and in May, the class of 25 fourth-graders paraded to Sacramento’s Capitol and made their case.

Lobbyists for California’s walnut, pistachio and pecan growers were also there, arguing that their respective nuts were just as valuable as the almond.

The bill was amended to include the rest. No word yet if the avocado or artichoke will have their day. 

Congressional races

Former Obama advisor jumps in to challenge Rep. Mimi Walters in Orange County

 (Courtesy of Brian Forde for Congress)
(Courtesy of Brian Forde for Congress)

Orange County Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine) just got another challenger in her closely watched reelection campaign.

Brian Forde, who previously served as senior advisor on technology to former President Obama, announced Wednesday that he'll join several other Democrats hoping to unseat the two-term Republican.

In a statement announcing his run, the Tustin native said he would "fight against the Trump-Walters agenda."

Forde, 37, is a senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., and moved to Lake Forest — within Walters' 45th Congressional District — in April. He plans to commute between California and Massachusetts to teach.

A former Republican, Forde switched his voter registration to Democratic about a year ago, according to campaign spokeswoman Audrey Carson, but voted for Obama for president twice.

Democrats have identified Walters' district, which presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won by more than 5% in November, as a top battleground in California. Others running against Walters in 2018 include Ron Varasteh, Katie Porter, Dave Min, Kia Hamadanchy and Eric Rywalski, all Democrats.

Congressional races

The Democrat running against Rep. Darrell Issa has more money than any challenger in California's hottest races

Democrat Mike Levin is challenging Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista). (Courtesy of Mike Levin for Congress)
Democrat Mike Levin is challenging Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista). (Courtesy of Mike Levin for Congress)

Out of more than a dozen closely watched congressional seats that Democrats and Republicans are trying to flip in California, the one that belongs to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) has drawn some of the most robust fundraising.

Issa, a nine-term congressman who won by fewer than 1,700 votes last year, shows all the signs of being in a competitive race, raking in nearly half a million dollars in the second quarter of the year. 

But one of his newest challengers, environmental attorney Mike Levin, is quickly trying to catch up. Levin, who announced his run March 8, has amassed more money than any other challenger running against an incumbent in California. That includes Doug Applegate, a fellow Democrat and retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel who came within striking distance of Issa last November and is running again in 2018.

Between April 1 and June 30, Levin took in $333,537 and has $416,345 in the bank. Issa raised $455,207 during that period and has $671,529 in the bank. 

Levin already has spent a significant chunk: about $181,413 on fundraising consultants, campaign staff, digital advertising and door-knocking services.

The reports show Levin could be a formidable challenger in what was already expected to be a tough race for Issa

Applegate raised $281,143 in the most recent quarter and had $262,730 cash on hand as of June 30.

Other congressional challengers that brought in big sums this time included Democrats Katie Porter and Dave Min, who are both challenging Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine) and raised $311,571 and $304,208, respectively.

A potential candidate, Orange County Republican Scott Baugh, has raised no money in 2017 but is sitting on a war chest of $546,915. He previously said he was raising money for a potential campaign if or when Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) decides not to seek reelection.

------------

FOR THE RECORD

12:35 p.m.: An earlier version of this article misidentified Applegate as a retired Air Force colonel. He is a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel.

------------

Congressional races

Looking toward a 2018 rematch, Rep. Steve Knight's opponent is catching up in fundraising

Democrat Bryan Caforio, left, is again challenging Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale), center. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Democrat Bryan Caforio, left, is again challenging Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale), center. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

At one point last year, GOP Rep. Steve Knight of Palmdale was labeled by an analyst as "the most vulnerable incumbent in California."

But despite his sometimes shaky fundraising and the attack ads unleashed by Democrats seeking to unseat him, Knight went on to defeat Democratic challenger Bryan Caforio by more than 6 percentage points in November.

Caforio is back for more, announcing a repeat run in May, but Knight doesn't seem to be flinching. 

In the latest fundraising reports filed Saturday, Caforio reporting raising $223,018 in the second quarter of the year, nearly as much as Knight's $256,328. 

Knight still has a cash advantage, with $403,301 in the bank. Caforio reported having $175,635 in the bank as of June 30.

But Caforio has demonstrated an ability to catch up: In October of last year, as the race became increasingly heated, the Democrat reported raising a whopping $619,687 over three months, while Knight raised just over half of that amount.

It remains to be seen whether outside groups, which spent more than $5 million on the race last year, will step in.

Two other Knight challengers, Katie Hill and Jess Phoenix, raised $168,408 and $77,001, respectively.

Here are the political ripple effects from this week's big climate vote in California

Gov. Jerry Brown is flanked by Republicans Chad Mayes, left, Tom Berryhill and Devon Mathis (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Gov. Jerry Brown is flanked by Republicans Chad Mayes, left, Tom Berryhill and Devon Mathis (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

How peculiar are the politics of climate change in California? Just look at this week’s vote on cap-and-trade, which saw a Republican former grape farmer from Modesto and a Democratic former math teacher from Bell Gardens aligned against a mild-mannered Santa Cruz liberal and a provocative anti-tax crusader from Huntington Beach.

It’s not often that a contentious vote yields a roll call as unusual as the one Monday, when lawmakers approved a measure to extend the life of the state’s cap-and-trade program, which requires companies to purchase permits to emit greenhouse gases.

But when aforementioned lawmakers Sen. Tom Berryhill and Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia find themselves in the “yes” column, while Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) and Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley) notch “no” votes, it indicates just how much cap-and-trade has upended the political status quo.

Monday’s vote put an end to months of backroom negotiations, but the aftermath rippled throughout the state Tuesday.

Here’s how the political repercussions are playing out.

California in Congress

Rep. Barbara Lee won't get her war vote after all

 (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

House Republicans have stripped from a Defense Department spending bill Rep. Barbara Lee's amendment to reconsider the authority the president has to wage war.

Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee unexpectedly opened the door last month to ending the authorization approved by Congress in 2001 when Lee's amendment was added to a Defense Department measure after 16 years of attempts. Congress would have had 240 days to debate a new authorization. At the end of that time, the 2001 authorization would have been repealed.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) was uncomfortable with the amendment, with his spokeswoman AshLee Strong telling the Hill newspaper last week after Lee and Ryan met to discuss it that, "There is a way to discuss this debate, but this [amendment], which endangers our national security, is not it."

The version of the Defense Department bill approved by the House Rules Committee overnight removes Lee's amendment and replaces it with an amendment from Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) that gives the White House 30 days to tell Congress its strategy for defeating Al Qaeda and Islamic State, and how the administration believes the current Authorization for the Use of Military Force applies.

The Rules Committee decides what debate on a bill will look like on the House floor, including what amendments can be considered.

Lee was was livid when learning the news, and blamed Ryan.

“Over the years, I’ve seen Republican leadership deploy every manner of undemocratic, underhanded tactics in Congress. But stripping my bipartisan amendment to repeal the 2001 AUMF – in the dead of night, without a vote – may be a new low from Speaker Ryan," Lee said in a statement.

Lee, an Oakland Democrat, was the only member of Congress to object in September 2001 to the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, a resolution in response to the terrorist attacks that paved the way for the war in Afghanistan.

The resolution has since been used by President George W. Bush, President Obama and now President Trump to justify more than 35 military actions in nearly 20 countries around the world without going back to Congress for new permission to send troops into harm's way.

California Legislature

Housing will be California lawmakers' big debate in August, but a deal won't be easy to pass

 (San Diego Union-Tribune)
(San Diego Union-Tribune)

After pushing lawmakers to increase the gas tax and reauthorize the cap-and-trade climate change program, Gov. Jerry Brown has put the state's housing crisis next on his agenda.

But a deal to increase funding for low-income developments and ease home building regulations is far from assured. A key lawmaker is already saying the bills being considered for a housing package aren't promising enough to gain his support. 

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
68°