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California Democrats

Kimberly Ellis says 'all options are on the table' after California Democratic Party rules she lost race for chair

 (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Bay Area Democratic activist Kimberly Ellis, who narrowly lost her bid to become the new California Democratic Party leader, said “all options are on the table” now that the party on Sunday rejected her final appeal challenging the election results.

“Today was yet another missed opportunity for us to get the Democratic Party back on track. As we've said from the onset, we were committed to going through the internal process before deciding what's next. We're now soliciting feedback from key supporters and deciding where we go from here,” Ellis said in a statement released Sunday afternoon.

Ellis said from the outset that she expected her challenge to the election of Eric Bauman as party chairman to be dismissed, saying the process was biased in favor of her rival. She’s also indicated her next step may be to take her case to court.

“As of now, all options are on the table — with some feeling more inevitable than ever,” Ellis said in the statement.

California Democrats

California Democratic Party rejects final appeal from Kimberly Ellis

Kimberly Ellis, left, lost the election for leader of the California Democratic Party to Eric Bauman, right. (Kirk McKoy and Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Kimberly Ellis, left, lost the election for leader of the California Democratic Party to Eric Bauman, right. (Kirk McKoy and Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The California Democratic Party on Sunday rejected a last-ditch appeal contesting the election of the party’s new leader, setting up a strong possibility of a court challenge.

Bay Area Democratic activist Kimberly Ellis, who narrowly lost the race for new party chair to Eric Bauman in May, appealed a party committee’s affirmation of the election results in July. On Sunday, the party’s credentials committee dismissed the appeal.

"With the conclusion of the Credentials Committee hearing today, it is my hope that our entire California Democratic Party family can move forward on making progress on these urgent and pressing issues, free from the distraction of costly litigation and needless division," Bauman said in a statement Sunday afternoon.  

Bauman, the longtime chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, was declared the winner at the state party’s annual convention. Ellis’ campaign has repeatedly contested the results, reviewed every ballot cast and called into question the validity of hundreds of votes.

The bitter, internal party fracas has exposed schisms in the state Democratic Party that mirror the divide between Hillary Clinton's and Bernie Sanders’ supporters during the 2016 presidential primary.

Some of the state’s top Democratic Party leaders worry the internal feud may divide the party, which dominates California politics, and undercut the state’s strong role in opposing the policies of President Trump and the Republican Congress.

In July, the party's compliance review commission held an all-day hearing in Sacramento to determine the fate of 355 convention ballots that were deemed questionable. In the end, 47 votes were invalidated — 25 for Bauman and 22 for Ellis. That action did not change the outcome of the election, which Bauman won by 1.9%

Ellis called that review an “inherently biased process,” alleging that the six-member commission included several Bauman supporters. The members were appointed by former chairman John Burton.

Earlier this month, Ellis called on the party to enter binding arbitration to end the dispute and avoid litigation.

Mike Roth, a state party spokesman, dismissed that suggestion as a “Hail Mary pass.”

California in Congress

Rep. Ami Bera sees cause to censure President Trump

Rep. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove) says President Trump ought to be censured over his comments about the violence in Charlottesville, Va. (Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove) says President Trump ought to be censured over his comments about the violence in Charlottesville, Va. (Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove) said at a town hall meeting Saturday that President Trump’s actions and comments in response to racist violence in Virginia are embarrassing and that a case could be made for censuring the president.

“I think given his actions, his words post-Charlottesville, you can very well make the case, and we are starting to talk about that, of censuring the president,” Bera said to strong applause. “We can’t do that without Republicans finding the political courage to join with us.”

Bera said Trump has divided the U.S. with his comments and actions and hurt the country’s image in the world.

“I, at this particular point, am embarrassed by our president and some of his actions, some of his words,” Bera told some 300 people who attended the town hall at Cordova High Performing Arts Center in Rancho Cordova, east of Sacramento.

The congressman also was asked by audience members about the possibility of the president being impeached.

“I think things are moving in that direction,” Bera said. “I think the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is accelerating the investigation.”

Bera has won two competitive reelections to Congress and has faced tough crowds before, but the audience Saturday was polite and supportive with its applause.

Bernie Brown and other audience members said they want Bera, a physician, to support a Medicare-for-all system of healthcare. “It would be more efficient,” Brown said.

Bera said his preference is to stabilize the Affordable Care Act system, sign up the remaining uninsured population and then consider the best financial model, which he said could involve allowing more people to sign up for Medicare.

Politics podcast

California Politics Podcast: Lawmakers return to Sacramento with a full plate

National events and internal party politics are likely to dominate the activities of lawmakers when they return to Sacramento on Monday.

On this week's California Politics Podcast, we discuss how the state's political leaders are reacting to the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va. We also catch up on the rancor inside the ranks of Assembly Republicans.

And we take stock of efforts to recall a Democratic state senator, a movement that cleared two major hurdles within the past week.

I'm joined by Times staff writer Melanie Mason and Marisa Lagos of KQED News.

State government

The man who wanted to split California into six states now wants to make it into three

Tim Draper, seen here in 2014 submitting signatures on his plan to split California into six separate states. The measure failed to qualify for the ballot. (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)
Tim Draper, seen here in 2014 submitting signatures on his plan to split California into six separate states. The measure failed to qualify for the ballot. (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

A Silicon Valley venture capitalist whose saw his dream to carve California into six separate states fizzle has returned with a slimmed down idea: this time, three states.

Tim Draper filed his proposed 2018 ballot initiative on Friday asking voters to split California into three new states: Northern California, California and Southern California.

"The citizens of the whole state would be better served by three smaller state governments while preserving the historical boundaries of the various counties, cities, and towns," Draper wrote in the initiative's statement of findings. He did not immediately respond to emails sent seeking comment.

Draper's plan would draw the northernmost dividing line from Santa Cruz County eastward to Mariposa County. The middle state, which would retain the name California, would be closer aligned to the coast and would place Los Angeles and Orange counties into separate states. The state of Southern California would run from Orange County to Mono County in the north and down to the border with Mexico.

The wealthy political tinkerer's 2014 plan would have created six separate states. Draper spent $4.9 million of his own money to collect signatures on the proposal, only to find too few of them were valid to qualify for the ballot before that year's deadline. In 2015, he promised to bankroll less ambitious ideas of others at reforming California's system of government. State campaign finance records show no contributions from Draper to any efforts that year.

There have been hundreds of efforts to dissolve California's long-standing borders since the state's inception in 1849. None, including Draper's new effort, spell out the complicated choices on water rights, economic benefits or border disputes.

Draper's new effort comes on the heels of a renewed campaign to allow California to secede from the United States. Its backers must also gather the needed signatures for voters to consider the proposal next November.

California LegislatureCalifornia Republicans

California Republicans tell Assembly GOP leader Chad Mayes to step down

 (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The California Republican Party’s board voted Friday evening to urge Chad Mayes to step down from his position as leader of the party’s Assembly caucus, continuing the bitter fallout over last month’s vote to extend the state cap-and-trade program.

Mayes was one of eight Republicans, seven of them in the Assembly, who helped extend California’s premier program on climate change. He defended his decision as a necessary step to increase support for Republicans in a state where voters overwhelmingly back taking action against global warming, but he angered conservative members of the party who viewed the legislation as bad policy and bad politics.

Harmeet Dhillon, one of two of the state’s representatives to the Republican National Committee, said Mayes had failed to protect “the integrity of the party’s position on taxation and overregulation in California.”

Thirteen members of the party board, including Chairman Jim Brulte, voted in favor of the motion calling on the Yucca Valley Republican to resign as caucus leader. Seven voted against, and there was one abstention.

Mayes said he has no intention of stepping down, and he believes he has enough support to remain in his position.

“I am not going to capitulate," he said. "I’m going to continue to keep pushing forward.” 

While Mayes can be removed from his post only by a vote of his caucus, Friday night’s decision by the state board continues an extraordinary rift between party leadership and one of its top lawmakers over the politics of climate change.

Party officials in two dozen counties have already taken similar steps, representing a groundswell of opposition to Mayes. 

The Assembly Republican caucus could meet as early as Monday, when lawmakers return from their summer recess. Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) announced her candidacy on Thursday, and Assemblyman Jim Obernolte (R-Big Bear Lake) has privately expressed interest.

Most of the 25 caucus members contacted by The Times did not respond to questions about the leadership struggle, making it difficult to determine the level of support for Mayes or his challengers.  

Before Friday night's vote, Mayes made a presentation to the state party board saying his decision helped prevent worse regulations on California businesses and could even undermine the bullet train, a priority of Gov. Jerry Brown that's opposed by Republicans  The final deal on cap and trade, which requires companies to pay to pollute, included a proposal for next year's ballot that would allow Republicans to gain more control over how the program's revenue is spent. 

Mayes has also insisted that reaching out to non-Republican voters is important in California if the party is going to return to power in the Legislature.

“Change is not an option,” his presentation said. “It is an imperative.”

California DemocratsState government

Enough signatures have been collected to force a recall election against state Sen. Josh Newman

Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Elections officials on Friday reported more than enough voter signatures to force a recall election of an Orange County legislator before the end of the year.

Signatures verified by officials in Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties would require a special election for voters to consider removing state Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) less than a year into his four-year term in office.

The three counties reported a total of 66,597 signatures had been verified — more than the 63,593 needed to place the issue in front of Newman's constituents.

A spokesman for Secretary of State Alex Padilla had no update on the tally Friday. Signatures are verified in county elections offices and then reported to Padilla's office.

Jim Brulte, the chairman of the California Republican Party, said the process shouldn't take long.

"All Alex Padilla needs is 30 seconds and a calculator," Brulte said.

Newman, who won a close contest last November in a district formerly represented by a Republican, has been under fire from conservative activists since voting in April for a $52-billion transportation plan that raises gas taxes and imposes a new annual vehicle fee.

On Monday, a state appeals court placed a hold on a new law that would have delayed the final certification of the recall election. That law would have also allowed time for voters to remove their names from the recall petition. Democrats have accused recall supporters of promising voters that they were signing petitions to repeal the new gas tax, not to remove Newman from office.

"Thousands of voters have asked to have their names removed from the petition after learning they'd been lied to," Newman said in a statement released by his campaign. "The Registrar’s signature count reflects nothing more than a massive flaw in the recall system that has allowed paid, out-of-district special interests to trick voters into signing an intentionally misleading petition."

State law gives Padilla 10 days to certify the signature count. Gov. Jerry Brown must then call a special election for Newman's seat within 80 days of the certification, which means an election would be held by mid-November.

Congressional races

San Diego County physician to challenge Democratic Rep. Scott Peters

 (Courtesy of James Veltmeyer for Congress)
(Courtesy of James Veltmeyer for Congress)

La Jolla physician James Veltmeyer plans to officially announce his challenge to Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego) over the weekend.

Veltmeyer, a Republican, was born in Ecuador and immigrated to the United States when he was 11. He is the head of family medicine at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa.

He has called Obamacare a failure and recently wrote an op-ed in local publication Pomerado News promoting a membership-based model for healthcare.

Veltmeyer ran last year in the neighboring 53rd Congressional District, narrowly advancing from the primary and losing to incumbent Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego) by a margin of 67% to 33% in November.

Other candidates running in the 52nd Congressional District include Republicans Omar Qudrat and Daniel Casara, who announced Thursday that he was switching districts to run against Peters, one of four Democrats the National Republican Congressional Committee is hoping to unseat in 2018.

California Republicans

Vice President Mike Pence is heading to California to raise money with Kevin McCarthy

 (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

Vice President Mike Pence and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) are hosting a series of high-dollar fundraisers in California in September in an attempt to bolster the state’s vulnerable GOP members of Congress, according to invitations obtained by The Times.

Pence and McCarthy will headline a reception and dinner in Beverly Hills on Sept. 14. The following day, the pair will raise money at a breakfast in Bakersfield, a luncheon in Newport Beach and a reception and dinner in Sacramento.

Donation levels vary. For the kickoff event at the Beverly Hilton, $100,000 gets a donor the title of co-chair, a cocktail reception, a photo, a private roundtable and dinner for two. The least expensive ticket is $2,700, for entry to the cocktail party.

The fundraisers benefit California Victory 2018, a joint fundraising committee that benefits Pence’s and McCarthy’s political action committees, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the congressional campaign accounts of McCarthy, Darrel Issa of Vista, Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa, Mimi Walters of Irvine, Ed Royce of Fullerton, Steve Knight of Palmdale, David Valadao of Hanford, Jeff Denham of Turlock.

Aside from McCarthy, the other seven members of Congress are being targeted in the midterm elections by Democrats because they represent districts won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Flipping those seats is key to Democrats' effort to retake control of the House of Representatives in 2018.

Pence's visit to California also comes shortly after he vehemently pushed back at rumors that he is laying the groundwork for a 2020 presidential run if President Trump does not seek a second term.

California Legislature

California Gov. Jerry Brown commutes the sentences of nine convicted felons

 (Gregory Bull / Associated Press)
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday commuted the prison sentences of nine felons who he said showed dedication to transforming their lives. Among them were five people serving sentences for murder.

As governor, Brown has shown a commitment to executive clemency that sets him apart from recent predecessors. He also has pushed to expand the discretion of the state parole board in the cases of more prisoners.

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FOR THE RECORD: A previous version of this post referred to pardons being granted. Brown granted sentence commutations, a reduction in sentence that leaves the conviction intact.

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Among the people granted clemency Friday was Florence Laurel Anderson, who served 16 years for murder and burglary after she and her pimp killed a man in April 2001. In her clemency application, she described her battle to overcome addiction and her history as a victim of abuse.

Hamid Bashir stopped associating with gangs and earned a high school equivalency diploma and a paralegal certificate while spending 17 years in prison. He was 18 in November 1998 when he and several friends planned a store robbery that took the life of a store manager.

Travielle Craig was also 18 when he and his friends assaulted and killed a man on the night of the verdict in the Rodney King beating trial in 1992. He spent 25 years in prison earning multiple degrees from a Bible college, undergoing self-help programs and mentoring young offenders.

"I have matured now, and I feel that I can be an asset to whatever community I am in," he said in his application.

California Legislature

Melissa Melendez says she will seek to replace Chad Mayes as Assembly Republican leader

Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez said Thursday she will seek to replace Chad Mayes as Assembly Republican leader when the Legislature returns from summer recess Monday.

Melendez said Mayes' vote for extending the state's cap-and-trade program, which requires companies to buy permits to pollute, allowed the Democrats to win approval of a bad program that will lead to higher fuel and energy prices for Californians.

"I am ready and willing to be the type of leader you have been asking for, one who has principles," Melendez said to applause at a meeting of the Riverside County Republican Party. "When the Assembly returns Monday, I will be throwing my name in the hat to run for Republican leader."

Mayes, who is from Yucca Valley, has said his vote showed bipartisan cooperation to solve a problem. 

Melendez, a resident of Lake Elsinore, said Republicans hurt their party in joining Democrats to vote for measures that raise costs for business and consumers.

"Republicans do not have to vote like Democrats to save the Republican Party," Melendez said.

Assemblyman Jay Obernolte (R-Big Bear Lake) has also expressed interest in replacing Mayes should he decide to step down.

California Republicans

Rep. Darrell Issa calls for House hearing on white supremacists in aftermath of Charlottesville violence

 (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) called Thursday for a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the impact of white supremacist groups on civil rights.

The move comes as party leaders are fretting over the political fallout from President Trump’s response to the violence spawned by white supremacists and neo-Nazis last weekend in Charlottesville, Va.

“As the nation grieves and heals from the scenes of this past weekend, we have a duty to more fully understand what led to these terrible events and the persistence of these hateful, extremist ideologies,” Issa said in a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

Trump condemned the neo-Nazis and white supremacists whose protests against Charlottesville’s removal of a Confederate monument turned violent.

But earlier this week the president reversed course in his remarks on the violence, saying some “very fine people” marched alongside the extremists, and casting some blame on counter-protesters. On Thursday, Trump lamented the growing calls to take down Confederate monuments.

Issa, who narrowly won reelection last year, is one of California’s most vulnerable Republican incumbents in next year’s House elections. He has been trying to broaden his appeal among moderates in his coastal district, which straddles northern San Diego and southern Orange counties.

On Thursday, he bemoaned the “despicable display of bigotry and evil” by a “repulsive hate group,” saying a hearing should be held next month.

“While Congress cannot legislate respect, decency, or acceptance of others,” he said, “we have an obligation to use our platform to lead our country forward on these matters.”

California in Congress

Lin-Manuel Miranda appears with L.A. congressman: 'It's for you to tell the stories we haven't heard yet'

 (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

It's not easy to get an auditorium full of hundreds of teenagers screaming with excitement on their first week back to school.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of "Hamilton" did just that Thursday, as he spoke to nearly 1,000 students in Rep. Tony Cardenas' San Fernando Valley district.

In a roughly 30-minute question-and-answer session at Panorama High School, Miranda flowed seamlessly between English and Spanish, speaking about his earliest memories with his abuelita and telling the young crowd, "Mi tiempo es tuya" -- "My time is yours." 

He also described history as "a canvas."

"It's for you to tell the stories we haven't heard yet. And to lift those voices, those often marginalized voices, up, and I can't wait to see what you create," Miranda told the crowd of mostly high schoolers, many of them Latino.

He took turns answering lighthearted questions about his first job (working for $4.25 an hour at a Manhattan McDonald's) and the one food he'd choose to eat for the rest of his life (a type of Puerto Rican lasagna).

But he also offered some tidbits of advice for the youngsters, telling them to "surround yourself and fill yourself up with the thing you're chasing." 

Stephanie Martinez, 16, a junior at Panorama High, along with other students listens to Lin-Manuel Miranda answer questions. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Stephanie Martinez, 16, a junior at Panorama High, along with other students listens to Lin-Manuel Miranda answer questions. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Responding to a question about being successful as a Latino, Miranda said, "You'll face struggle. You will face people telling you you've got to look a certain way, you will face people telling you that you have to tell a specific story." He added, "You could write a bad version of someone else's story but only you can tell your story."

Cardenas set up the event, billed as a "town hall" focused on civic engagement, after meeting Miranda's father, political consultant Luis Miranda, and chatting with him over coffee about the need to expose Latino youth to role models who look like them. The elder Miranda brought his son onboard and was in the audience, along with Miranda's mother, Dr. Luz Towns-Miranda, at the event on Thursday. 

Cardenas' 29th Congressional District is nearly 70% Latino and almost 45% of residents were born outside the United States.

"It's about talking to 1,000 children, who many of them are scared," Cardenas told reporters afterward. "It's important for us to understand that examples like Lin-Manuel Miranda ... we don't have to be angry voices."

Miranda also addressed questions about the current political climate and the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va.

"As scary and tragic as the events of last week were, the outpouring of pushback has been heartening," Miranda said. "If you're a kid and you're scared in this country, there's a lot of adults who are working really hard and have your back."

California Republicans

Schwarzenegger to Trump: 'Send an unequivocal message that you won't stand for hate'

In a three-minute video released on ATTN's Facebook page, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger criticizes President Trump's response to the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va.

"The only way to beat the loud, angry voices of hate is to meet them with louder, more reasonable voices. That includes you President Trump," he said. "You have a moral responsibility to send an unequivocal message that you won't stand for hate and racism.”

Schwarzenegger, who has had a longstanding feud with Trump, advises the president in his video that he should outright "reject the support of white supremacists" before turning his attention to neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and neo-Confederates.

"Your heroes are losers. You are supporting a lost cause," he said. "Let's terminate hate."

In the aftermath of the Charlottesville violence, Schwarzenegger donated $100,000 to a Los Angeles-based anti-hate group, and encouraged others to act in similar charitable ways. 

2018 electionCalifornia Republicans

San Diego Democratic Rep. Scott Peters picks up another Republican challenger

Retired Army Sgt. Daniel Casara, who initially stepped up to challenge embattled Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), on Thursday joined other Republicans seeking to oust Democratic Rep. Scott Peters from his 52nd Congressional District seat.

"Washington needs more patriots and less politicians," Casara said in a statement. "Voters demand a representative who understand the needs of a strong national defense and will support the men and women who provide it."

The Purple Heart medal recipient and 43-year-old motivational speaker originally launched a bid against Hunter, a six-term Republican under investigation by the FBI over alleged misuse of campaign funds. Hunter has at least one other Republican challenger.

Peters is one of the California Democrats that Republicans hope to defeat in 2018. Casara joins Republican candidates Omar Qudrat, an attorney; and James Veltmeyer, a physician, in the race for the seat.

Marc Troast, Casara's campaign manager, said Casara respects Hunter, a fellow military serviceman. 

"But there are some issues in his home district [Casara] wants to help solve,” Troast said. That was the main reason for the switch, he said.

Ballot measures

Group files another 'Calexit' initiative in push for California's independence

 (Illustration by Anthony Russo / For The Times)
(Illustration by Anthony Russo / For The Times)

A new ballot initiative was submitted to state officials Thursday advocating for a federal constitutional convention that could lead to California's independence.

The measure, similar to one already in circulation that is pushing for California's secession from the union, would require the state Legislature to ask Congress to establish a new constitutional convention.

"We believe that justice for all requires constant vigilance and a thorough examination of laws and governmental actions that disproportionately impact diverse segments of society," the initiative states. "These beliefs depend on resolutely defending these Californian values, which support every individual's hopes and dreams for the future."

The initiative has been submitted to Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra for an official title and summary, a necessary step before supporters can collect signatures to put the measure on the 2018 ballot. Once that happens, backers would have to gather nearly 600,000 signatures in 180 days. 

This is the third official effort this year to try to make California an independent state, a push known informally as "Calexit." Supporters of another measure, which would direct California's governor to negotiate more autonomy from the federal government, already have been cleared to collect signatures. A more aggressive measure to ask for independence immediately has been abandoned. 

The group behind this most recent measure calls itself California Constitutional Convention Initiative Team. One of its backers is Marcus Ruiz Evans, who has been involved in California secessionist causes since 2012 and calls himself the founder of the Calexit movement.

California DemocratsCalifornia Legislature

Campaign finance agency lifts contribution limit to Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman as he fights off recall threat

Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) is fighting a campaign to recall him. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) is fighting a campaign to recall him. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

The state campaign watchdog agency voted Thursday to lift limits on contributions from elected officials to candidates facing recalls, boosting Sen. Josh Newman’s effort to fend off a campaign to remove him from office for voting for a gas-tax increase.

The 3-1 vote by the state Fair Political Practices Commission rejects an initial opinion by its attorneys that supported past advice letters declaring that legislators can give no more than $4,400 to colleagues fighting recalls.

The Democratic Senate Caucus, of which Newman, a Fullerton lawmaker, is a member, requested the change.

Approved after tense exchanges between commissioners, the new opinion takes effect immediately, and some predict a flood of new contributions to Newman from other legislators, even though elections officials are still counting signatures to see if a recall qualifies for the ballot.

Commissioner Allison Hayward said the limit on the contributions is not supported by regulations and is unfair because there is no limit on contributions to campaigns to recall officials.

“What we’ve got right now is a situation where there is a restriction on one side of an essentially bilateral battle ... that doesn’t apply to the other side,” Hayward said. “It’s pretty clear to me that, at least at the U.S. Supreme Court, such imbalances just can’t be tolerated.”

Chairwoman Jodi Remke cast the only vote against the change, noting the position that the contributions should be limited has been held by the panel since 2002 based on staff interpretations of the law. She said she was concerned about the timing as the Democratic senator faces a recall.

“I will be issuing a dissenting opinion,” Remke told the panel. “I believe this is the wrong time and wrong venue for us to reverse a longstanding commission interpretation of a statute.”

Remke disputed that the rule creates unfairness in the election, noting elected officials can already contribute unlimited amounts to fight a recall, as long as it does not go to a committee controlled by the candidate under threat.

The quick action on the Democrats' request has drawn criticism from the California Republican Party, which has also complained that Commissioner Brian Hatch did not publicly disclose a meeting and text message exchange he had with Richard Rios, an attorney for the Democrats.

Commissioner Maria Audero disputed that the change was mishandled, or that it should be delayed because there is a pending recall.

“We answer to the people who come before us and ask us to do something. We don’t control when they come before us,” Audero said. “Our duty is to respond. Our duty is not to fabricate some nefarious intent to a reason why something is before us.”

Audero said the criticism that the decision is political because the supporters were all appointed by Democrats is “comical” because Audero and Hayward are Republicans.

Rohrabacher on meeting with WikiLeaks’ Assange: We talked about ‘what might be necessary to get him out’

Julian Assange in 2016 (Carl Court / Getty Images)
Julian Assange in 2016 (Carl Court / Getty Images)

Far-right blogger and provocateur Chuck C. Johnson said on Thursday that he helped arrange a highly unusual meeting between Orange County GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange this week.

Rohrabacher said in a statement that he plans to bring information to President Trump from the three-hour meeting, which took place Wednesday in London at the Ecuadorian Embassy, where Assange has been living in asylum since 2012.

He would not detail that information to The Times, but in an interview Thursday morning with the Daily Caller, Rohrabacher was more explicit, saying he and Assange talked about “what might be necessary to get him out” and suggested they discussed a presidential pardon in exchange for information on the theft of emails from the Democratic National Committee, which were published by WikiLeaks before the 2016 presidential election.

“He has information that will be of dramatic importance to the United States and the people of our country as well as to our government,” Rohrabacher told the Daily Caller. “Thus if he comes up with that, you know he’s going to expect something in return. He can’t even leave the embassy to get out to Washington to talk to anybody if he doesn’t have a pardon.”

Johnson, who is known for being banned from Twitter after he asked users for help “taking out” a civil rights activist, said that he and Assange attorney Jennifer Robinson also were in the meeting.

Johnson wrote in an email to The Times that the meeting was the result of a “desire for ongoing communications” from both Rohrabacher and Assange. Rohrabacher spokesman Ken Grubbs said the congressman alerted the White House about his planned trip to visit Assange. The White House has not confirmed whether it was aware of the meeting ahead of time.

Rohrabacher’s office said that during the meeting, Assange repeated his claims that the Russian government was not involved in the theft of Democratic emails.

The release of the emails put Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton on the defensive and are among the incidents that led to investigations by the Justice Department and multiple House and Senate committees into potential ties between President Trump’s campaign and election meddling. Multiple U.S. intelligence agencies think Russia was involved in the theft of the emails.

In a statement, DNC spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said, “We’ll take the word of the U.S. intelligence community over Julian Assange and Putin’s favorite Congressman.”  

Assange, who has been criticized by many U.S. officials for WikiLeaks’ alleged ties to Russia, remains in asylum at least in part because British authorities have threatened him with arrest for jumping bail after Sweden made sexual assault allegations against him. Those allegations since have been dropped, but Assange, who is Australian, also could face legal problems in the U.S. The Washington Post reported in April that federal prosecutors were weighing whether to bring charges against members of WikiLeaks, in part over information leaked by Chelsea Manning, the U.S. soldier convicted of handing over diplomatic cables to the organization.

Rohrabacher, who has long been criticized for his fondness for Russia, believes he is the only congressman who has visited Assange.

Shortly after the trip was revealed, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called for Rohrabacher to step down from his post on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he chairs a subcommittee on Eurasian affairs.

Grubbs called the Democratic committee’s call “absurdly but predictably partisan.” 

Grubbs also said Rohrabacher paid for the trip to London — which he took while many of his House colleagues are working and holding town hall meetings in their districts — with personal funds.

California Legislature

California Assembly Speaker: Housing spending this year is more important than water and parks

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) (Gary Coronado / Associated Press)
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) (Gary Coronado / Associated Press)

With Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers debating billions in new spending for a variety of projects on the 2018 ballot, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) said low-income housing will be the highest priority.

Brown is supporting bonds on the 2018 ballot that would finance new homes for low-income residents and those that would improve water and parks infrastructure. But the dollar amounts for each measure haven't been settled. 

"We’re going to negotiate for as high as we possibly can on housing," Rendon said Thursday in a conference call with the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board. "We think it’s a more critical need."

The housing proposal now pending in the Legislature calls for a $3-billion bond, but State Treasurer John Chiang joined Rendon on the conference call to argue for one as high as $9 billion. While a larger bond would lead to the construction of more homes, the state would still fall far short of the new home building needed to combat its housing affordability crisis.

Last month, Brown, Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León agreed to a housing bond and other legislation designed to ease housing problems. Rendon sounded less confident about the passage of another part of the housing package: a proposal to charge $75 on mortgage refinances and other real estate transactions. The fee would raise about $250 million a year and go toward building low-income housing.

That legislation, Senate Bill 2 by Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), requires two-thirds supermajority votes in both houses of the Legislature. Both moderate and liberal Democrats in the Assembly have raised red flags about increasing fees on homeowners.

Rendon said it was difficult to predict how the vote would pan out.

"A two-thirds vote is obviously always a very big lift," he said. "In general, the members know that housing is a basic human need."

California Legislature

California state senator introduces measure to crack down on sexual harassment in Silicon Valley

State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara). (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara). (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Following a flood of reports by female entrepreneurs detailing lewd remarks and unwanted sexual advances by male investors, a California lawmaker wants state law to explicitly prohibit such harassment. 

State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) announced Thursday she was introducing a measure to amend California's Unruh Civil Right Act to expressly forbid sexual harassment between investors and entrepreneurs. 

Jackson said she believes such behavior already is barred under existing law under a blanket prohibition in the Unruh Act, which outlaws discrimination based on sex, gender, ethnicity and other categories. But, she noted, the act also specifically names certain business relationships as being protected from such harassment. By naming the relationship between investors and start-up founders, she hopes that will provide additional clarity for women who have been harassed.

"Because there hasn't been that clarity, I think women have been reluctant to step forward," Jackson said in a call with reporters. "By including this specifically, it reaffirms and will hopefully provide the kind of incentive for women who have been victimized by this behavior to step forward because it will be specifically identified in the law."

The proposal was prompted by a spate of reports from female tech entrepreneurs, who went public with stories of being asked on dates and experiencing unwanted physical contact when dealing with male venture capitalists, whose investments are crucial to getting fledgling start-ups off the ground.

"Their stories have peeled back a shroud of secrecy and exposed behaviors that are simply not acceptable in any industry," Jackson said.

The disclosures have prompted a round of self-reflection in the tech industry, with some venture capitalists issuing public mea culpas, and others promising a crackdown on predatory behavior.

Noreen Farrell, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates, said Silicon Valley "understands it has to change," but self-policing measures such as decency pledges "really won't cut it."

"The women that we talk to are tired of being treated by venture capitalists as sexual opportunities instead of investment opportunities," Farrell said.

Jackson plans to insert her measure into an existing bill, SB 224, in a process known as a "gut-and-amend." But with the Legislature slated to end its work for the year in less than a month, she said her bill will not be taken up until next January, when the new legislative year begins.

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