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Essential Politics archive from March 1-20

The Legislature is on recess. We're keeping an eye on political news across the Golden State here.

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Thanks to Trump, these House Democrats from California can breathe easier

Rep. Pete Aguilar speaks at an interfaith prayer vigil at the Islamic Center of Redlands two weeks after the fatal shooting in San Bernardino that killed 14. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Rep. Pete Aguilar speaks at an interfaith prayer vigil at the Islamic Center of Redlands two weeks after the fatal shooting in San Bernardino that killed 14. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

If Donald Trump or Ted Cruz is at the top of the ticket for the Republican Party come November, Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) can take a bit of a breather. 

new analysis by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which handicaps U.S. House races, shows seats held by Aguilar, Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno) and Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Palm Desert) were upgraded from "likely" to "solid" Democratic seats, thanks to their heavy Latino population. 

Cook defines "likely" seats as those that are not currently competitive but that have the "potential to become engaged."

That should be welcome news for Aguilar. He edged out his Republican opponent in 2014 by just 51.7% to 48.3% despite outspending him and benefiting from a Democratic advantage of 6 percentage points among registered voters in the district. 

"As long as Trump or Cruz is the GOP nominee, this 52% Latino district is not going to be voting for a Republican," writes Cook Report House editor David Wasserman

Trump and Cruz could also affect the races for seats held by two Republicans in the Central Valley, Rep. Jeff Denham of Turlock and Rep. David Valadao of Hanford, as well as freshman Rep. Steve Knight in north Los Angeles County.

Those districts still lean Republican, according to Cook's rankings, but Trump and his polarizing comments on Mexican immigrants could cause problems for the incumbents. 

"The heavier the drag from the top of the ticket, the more expensive these types of seats will be to defend," Wasserman said.

Politics podcast: California's relevance in the Republican presidential primary

Few would have ever predicted that California, one of the most reliably Democratic states in presidential politics, would play a major role in the 2016 contest on the Republican side.

And yet, that's exactly what looks to be in store come June 7.

On this week's California Politics Podcast, we take a closer look at the fascinating inside dynamics of how Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich may be clamoring for delegates in some of the most politically liberal parts of the Golden State.

We also examine the implications of a late entry into the U.S. Senate race by Republican Ron Unz. And we discuss the power-sharing proposals of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount).

You can subscribe to our weekly podcast on iTunes.

This Inland Empire Republican wants a GOP presidential debate in San Bernardino

Paul Chabot None
Paul Chabot

Now that California voters will play a larger role in choosing both the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees, another local politician is calling for his party's candidates to debate in San Bernardino.

First Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) sent a letter to the Democratic National Committee last month asking that the city be considered as a host for a scheduled May debate in California between Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. 

Now Paul Chabot, a Republican military veteran who is challenging Aguilar, is asking the Republican National Committee to bring the remaining GOP presidential candidates to San Bernardino, where 14 people where killed last December in the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11.

In a letter to RNC chairman Reince Priebus, Chabot wrote that the city "could have used a strong Republican president to avoid the attack we suffered."

"We have a unique opportunity to make sure that the communities affected by the attacks on December 2nd understand that a Republican president will fight for their protection, not drop-in after an attack on his way to Hawaii," Chabot wrote.

Seventeen other politicians and local groups joined Chabot's call for a GOP debate, according to his campaign.

Asked to comment on whether the RNC is considering the request, a RNC spokesman referred to the online schedule of debates which does not include a future California debate and did not answer further questions. 

Chabot shouldn't get his hopes up: Fox News canceled a debate scheduled for Monday in Salt Lake City after Donald Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. both declined to participate.

“I think we’ve had enough debates,” Trump told Fox News. “How many times can the same people ask you the same question?”

Also not a plus: Chabot misspelled Priebus' first name in the letter calling the chairman, "Rince."

Chabot narrowly lost a 2014 contest against Aguilar to represent the then open 31st Congressional District seat and is angling for a rematch. He has made his career in the military and law enforcement the center of his campaign.

Two other Republicans, economist Sean Flynn and former Congressman Joe Baca, are also hoping to make it out of a top-two June primary.

Baca, a former Democrat, had previously said he was retiring from politics after losing two congressional bids in a row and suffering a landslide loss when he ran to be mayor of Fontana.  

There's no California comparison to Donald Trump

Two things should be debunked about Donald Trump: One is that he’s the new Arnold Schwarzenegger. Another is that he’s continuing what was started by another California governor, Pete Wilson.

I’ve read and listened to these comparisons in some news media recently and they’re simply stretches of baloney.

Trump is tops in ballot placement in California

Federal employees reminded it's OK to use Uber, Lyft

 (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The General Services Administration will remind government agencies that federal regulations allow employees to use ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft on government trips.

The General Services Administration "will continue to monitor trends in the travel industry, including the use" of ride-sharing services, Associate Administrator Lisa A. Austin wrote. “These trends can lead to opportunities for the government to take advantage of new technology and innovation that will increase efficiency and avoid costs.”

Each federal agency gets to decide whether its employees can use the services, according to a letter announcing the reminder.

In mid-February, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) and Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) asked the agency to instruct federal agencies to issue a guidance that using the services is permitted, encouraged and reimbursable.

Issa and Swalwell are co-chairmen of the House Sharing Economy Caucus. Uber and Lyft, the best-known ride-share services, are based in San Francisco.

California's 228,000 state employees can be reimbursed for the cost of using the services for business travel under legislation signed in October by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein wants better earthquake building standards

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called on the Commerce Department and Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide detailed guidelines for federal agencies to comply with the Obama administration’s recent executive order on earthquake preparedness.

In a letter to the agencies, Feinstein also urged them to develop a plan to upgrade seismic-safety standards to encourage that buildings be designed for post-disaster occupancy.

"Saving lives must be the first priority of building codes. However, if buildings are damaged so badly as to be unusable after an earthquake, it could cripple a city like San Francisco for years," she wrote.

A recent study found that two of Southern California's most active faults could rupture together in a magnitude-7.5 earthquake, right through some communities east of Los Angeles that haven't retrofitted buildings.

Interior secretary coming to Northern California for momument dedication

California delegation votes along party lines on immigration brief

California's 53-member House delegation voted along party lines Thursday on a resolution that allows Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) to file an amicus brief on behalf of the entire House chamber opposing President Obama's immigration orders.

The resolution was approved by a 234-186 vote, with five Republicans voting against.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Friday in a case challenging President Obama’s immigration executive actions. A decision will probably come right before the court ends its current session in late June.

Texas and 25 other states are seeking to nullify Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which defers deportation for certain immigrants who came to the United States as children, and his Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program, which defers deportation for their parents as well.

Reps. David Valadao (R-Hanford) and Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), who have supported immigration reforms in the past, said they voted in favor of filing the brief because the president's executive actions went too far.

"This amicus brief is not about the issue of immigration. Nor is it about this president. It is about ensuring that the United States remains a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans maintain control," Valadao said in a statement.

"President Obama’s attempt to go around Congress cannot stand. Not only does his action damage our ability to accomplish meaningful reform, but if left unchecked it allows future presidents to expand actions or reverse them altogether," Denham said in a statement.

Last week, House Democrats — including all 39 in California's delegation — filed their own amicus brief supporting the president.

Reps. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Whittier) did not vote. Staffers for each member said they would have voted no and plan to insert a statement in the Congressional Record saying so.

Bass was on a conference call, Lieu was flying to California to welcome the president of Taiwan and Sanchez had a family emergency.

California Democrats start delegate selection for Philadelphia convention

Ron Unz, champion of English-only education in California, jumps into the U.S. Senate race

 (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Ron Unz, who ran unsuccessfully in a Republican primary against Gov. Pete Wilson in 1994 and championed a 1998 initiative to end bilingual education, said on Wednesday that he’s running for California’s open U.S. Senate seat.

Unz, who lives in Palo Alto, called it an “absolutely, last-minute decision.”

Unz led a short-lived initiative campaign in 2014 to increase California’s minimum wage to $12, and said the Senate campaign will give him another chance to “raise a lot of issues.”

He said one of the main reasons he jumped into the race was, in part, the California Legislature’s effort to repeal his 1998 initiative, Proposition 227.

Lawmakers have placed a measure on the November ballot to repeal the remaining provisions of the bilingual initiative, as support grows for promoting the teaching of two languages in dual-immersion classes.

“It’s absurd,” said Unz. “It’s a very negative statement about politics in California.”

Unz, who became wealthy in the software industry, said he plans to seed his campaign with $50,000 to $100,000 of his own money. He will also seek political donations, but with a cap of $99.

Unz, who filed for office this week in Santa Clara County, said he is well aware that Democrats hold a daunting advantage over the GOP in voter registration in California, and that it has been almost a decade since a Republican won a statewide general election.

“It’s not like I give myself a great chance of winning,” he said.

Democrats Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange are the current front-runners in the race to succeed the retiring Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate. The top Republicans in the race are George “Duf” Sundheim and Tom Del Beccaro, both Bay Area attorneys who served as chairmen of the California Republican Party.

Under California's top-two primary system, the two candidates who receive the most votes in the June primary, regardless of party, will face off in the general election.

L.A. City Council president says Donald Trump is preying on voters' fears

Herb Wesson (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Herb Wesson (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

In case there was any question, the president of the Los Angeles City Council is not a fan of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

When Herb Wesson was reelected as council president last summer, he said one of his priorities would be to improve race relations in Los Angeles. Speaking to the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum on Wednesday, Wesson said he believes speaking out about race and racism is the only way to achieve progress.

“When I was a kid, you couldn’t go on a college campus and not be part of a conversation about race relations,” he said.

He then took aim at the GOP front-runner.

“I don’t have a problem with the Republicans, but what I do have a problem with is how can you lead the greatest country in the world -- and you’re dividing,” he said.

“You’re taking everything that people are afraid of and making it an issue," he said. 

What's more, he said, Trump is inciting those who are struggling and encouraging them to blame others: "You’re taking a percentage of people whose life is [miserable] and they blame their life on somebody else, and you prey or play to that.”

The strategy is working on voters, Wesson said.

“That’s a smart man, but I don’t know if he has a soul,” he said, laughing.

Wesson has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. The California primary is set for June 7. 

National Democrats hope Trump can help turn Steve Knight's House seat blue

Democratic party leaders were all but jubilant Wednesday over the potential down-ballot effect Donald Trump's ascent could have as he continues to make strides toward securing the Republican Party presidential nomination. 

One seat that Democrats are bullish on turning blue this fall is California's 25th Congressional District, a seat held by first-term Republican Rep. Steve Knight of Lancaster. 

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico said the seat is "on our battlefield now in a very aggressive way." 

Matt Rexroad, Knight's political consultant, said he had no comment on Luján's statement and that Knight has not endorsed a candidate.

In January, Knight told the Santa Clarita Valley Signal that he didn’t think Trump “could win the general [election] in a million years.”

Over the last year, national Democrats have expressed interest in ousting Knight, who previously represented the north Los Angeles County area in the state Senate and in the Assembly. In his statement, Luján mentioned one of Knight's Democratic opponents, first-time candidate and attorney Bryan Caforio. He has racked up several endorsements from California's Democratic congressional delegation and the Los Angeles County Young Democrats. 

He has also attacked Knight for his slow response during the early days of the Porter Ranch gas leak. 

Missing from Lujan's remarks was the other Democrat in the race, LAPD Lt. Lou Vince, who won the state party's nomination last month but has struggled to raise money and obtain support beyond local grassroots activists. 

The district that stretches from Simi Valley to Lancaster and is almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, with 21% of voters listing no party preference. 

L.A. County prosecutors group opposes Lt. Gov. Newsom's gun control initiative

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, pictured at a forum in April, will announce a new ballot initiative to strengthen the state's gun laws, (Nick Ut / Associated Press)
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, pictured at a forum in April, will announce a new ballot initiative to strengthen the state's gun laws, (Nick Ut / Associated Press)

An association representing Los Angeles County prosecutors is set Thursday to become the second criminal justice group in a week to oppose a ballot measure by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom that would further restrict guns and ammunition in California.

In a letter to be released Thursday, the Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County joins the California State Sheriffs Assn., which earlier announced opposition to Newsom’s “Safety for All Act of 2016.''

ADDA President Michele Hanisee said California already has the strictest gun laws in the nation and its requirements that guns be registered “have done nothing,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Los Angeles Times.

She said that as a prosecutor she has never seen a gang member register the gun he used in a violent crime. Newsom’s measure, which must qualify for the ballot through the signature collection process, would require background checks for those who buy ammunition and ban possession of large-capacity magazines.

“Like other misguided efforts before it, this initiative would make it prohibitively difficult for responsible gun owners to obtain ammunition to use in their firearms for sport, target and home defense,” Hanisee wrote. “It would do nothing to stop criminals from getting ammunition or larger-capacity magazines. The actual result is that it further incentivizes the criminals to commit residential burglaries and armed robberies of gun stores.”

The sheriffs said in a previous letter that the initiative would not stop criminals from getting guns and ammunition on the black market. That letter was signed by Amador County Sheriff Martin Ryan, president of the association.

Gun-owner groups have accused Newsom of using the initiative to advance his campaign for governor in 2018.

Dan Newman, a spokesman for the initiative campaign, said Wednesday that the measure would improve public safety and clarify a law that makes stealing a gun a felony.

“It's common sense — taking large-scale military-style magazines off the streets and preventing dangerous criminals from having guns and ammo will help law enforcement professionals protect the public,” Newman said.

California members seeking Arlington burial for female WWII pilots


Only Congress can change the Army policy that keeps female World War II pilots out of Arlington National Cemetery, acting Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy said Wednesday.

Exemptions could be made on a case-by-case basis, Murphy told the House Armed Services Committee, but the 1977 law that granted veteran status to women was unclear about burial at Arlington National Cemetery, he said. Burial of female veterans is allowed at other veterans cemeteries.

“I know it is not the answer you want to hear, but that's the answer,” Murphy said.

Murphy's answer didn't satisfy several members of Congress and the family of one of the pilots, who voiced their frustration in a news conference after the hearing.

"If they are not going to do it, we're going to make them do it," said Rep. Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican and former Air Force fighter pilot.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Congress can't change history, but said it is "able to change how these great women are honored. This is just something that has to happen."

Murphy said he supports legislation to make the change.

"Congress needs to change what Congress did in 1977," he said. "I can't change it unilaterally. ... The commander-in-chief can't."

About 1,000 female pilots served stateside during World War II in the WASP program to free up male pilots for combat.

They flew more than 60 million miles domestically, and handled test flights, repaired military aircraft and ferried male officers around the country. They even towed targets during live-ammunition training. Thirty-eight died while serving.

In 2002, Arlington National Cemetery's administrator said that those who served in the WASP program were eligible for full military honors upon being buried there, and that the women had been eligible for burial there since 1977. But last year, the secretary of the Army overturned that decision, saying it was wrong.

The family of pilot Elaine Harmon refused to accept that edict after Harmon's will instructed that she wanted to be buried in Arlington. The Army's decision came shortly before Harmon's death at 95, and her ashes remain on a shelf in her daughter's closet in Maryland.


Elaine Harmon flew for the Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II. Her death inspired legislation that would allow her fellow pilots to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. (Harmon family)
Elaine Harmon flew for the Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II. Her death inspired legislation that would allow her fellow pilots to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. (Harmon family)

Erin Miller of Maryland said her grandmother wouldn't believe there is still a fight over whether the pilots were veterans 70 years after World War II.

"I'm still dealing with this problem, and she's not even here anymore," she said.

The Harmon family started a Change.org petition that now has more than 170,000 signatures and drew the attention of McSally and other members of Congress.

Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego) said Wednesday she's never seen so many House colleagues rush to sign on to co-sponsor legislation as when she explained who the Women Airforce Service Pilots were and pointed out the Army's refusal to allow their ashes to be placed in Arlington National Cemetery.

"All of these women were very patriotic and wanted to serve their nation in any way possible," she said. "This one should be easy."

So far, 180 members — including 17 Californians — have joined Davis in sponsoring the Women Airforce Service Pilot Arlington Inurnment Restoration Act, which was approved by the House Veterans Affairs Committee in February.

In honor of her father, Edward Roybal

California lawmaker seeks to slow revolving door between legislating and lobbying

California Sen. Andy Vidak (R-Hanford), center, attends a gathering in Hanford in November 2010. (Craig Kohlruss / Associated Press)
California Sen. Andy Vidak (R-Hanford), center, attends a gathering in Hanford in November 2010. (Craig Kohlruss / Associated Press)

Concerned about lawmakers resigning to join firms seeking to influence the Legislature, state Sen. Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) on Wednesday proposed a change in law to slow the revolving door at the Capitol.

Vidak's new legislation would extend the ban on legislators leaving and becoming registered lobbyists from one year to at least two years after leaving office, and possibly four years.

Vidak noted that 58 legislators have resigned in the middle of their terms since 1990, forcing expensive special elections to fill the seats. Some special elections have cost counties more than $2 million.

Most left to assume higher office, but several have quit to take governmental affairs jobs with groups that lobby the Legislature.

SB 976 would prohibit legislators from lobbying their former colleagues and the governor until the end of the two-year legislative session that begins after the lawmaker leaves office. 

"The longer lobbying ban will discourage legislators from leaving office in the middle of their term to take a lucrative 'government affairs' job, which often quickly leads to a lucrative lobbying career," Vidak said in a statement.

In December, Assemblyman Henry T. Perea (D-Fresno) resigned to become director of state advocacy for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, better known as PhRMA.

Former Sen. Bill Emmerson (R-Hemet) resigned in the middle of his term in 2013 for a job with the California Hospital Assn., overseeing its team of lobbyists. Earlier that year, former Sen. Michael Rubio (D-Shafter) resigned to take a job directing government affairs at Chevron.

Rubio, Emmerson and Perea are not registered lobbyists.

"Special elections to replace legislators that abandon their seats for the corporate world wind up costing county taxpayers millions of dollars -- money that would be better spent on critical local programs such as public safety, transportation or health," Vidak said.

State Senate leader weighs in

Rep. Pete Aguilar urges Democrats to host a debate in San Bernardino

Riders from the Christian Motorcycle Assn. in San Bernardino pray at a makeshift memorial for the victims after the shooting at the Inland Regional Center. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Riders from the Christian Motorcycle Assn. in San Bernardino pray at a makeshift memorial for the victims after the shooting at the Inland Regional Center. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

U.S. Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) hopes Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders forgo the glitz of Hollywood or San Francisco in favor of the Inland Empire when the candidates visit California for a May debate.  

Aguilar has asked the Democratic National Committee to host the matchup in San Bernardino, arguing that the economically battered city that was also hit last year by the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. since Sept. 11 is "a community that embodies the struggles and concerns faced by people in all parts of the country."

“San Bernardino is a city that serves as a reminder of the resiliency of the American people and our determination to remain united, even in our darkest of hours,” Aguilar wrote in a Feb. 24 letter to DNC chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz obtained by the Los Angeles Times

Eric Walker, a spokesman for the committee, said a decision has not been made about where to hold the California debate. 

"We certainly welcome and appreciate Rep. Aguilar’s input," he said in an email. 

In his letter, Aguilar wrote that voters around the country can identify with San Bernardino's struggles

The city was hit especially hard during the recession, and its foreclosure rate was 3.5 times the national average. It filed for bankruptcy in 2012. 

Rep. Pete Aguilar speaks at an interfaith group prayer vigil held at the Islamic Center of Redlands. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Rep. Pete Aguilar speaks at an interfaith group prayer vigil held at the Islamic Center of Redlands. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

In December, 14 people were killed in the attack on the Inland Regional Center. Aguilar was a constant presence at vigils and funerals in the weeks after the massacre. He led a moment of silence on the House floor.

“While the city of San Bernardino has been forced to confront some of America’s most debilitating problems in the last decade, we have never let it break us,” Aguilar wrote in the letter. “San Bernardino certainly has a storied history, but more than that, it has an unparalleled drive and determination to fight on.”

Aguilar, who was elected to Congress in 2014, represents the 31st Congressional District, which includes San Bernardino and other Inland Empire cities. Aguilar faces a gaggle of Republican challengers in June's primary, including Paul Chabot, a military veteran who narrowly lost the 2014 race.

Assemblyman wants state money for local police body cameras

L.A. Police Sgt. Dan Gomez, right, wears an on-body video camera as he takes questions about the technology at a news conference. (Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)
L.A. Police Sgt. Dan Gomez, right, wears an on-body video camera as he takes questions about the technology at a news conference. (Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Salinas) wants the state to lend financial support to local governments that purchase body cameras for their police departments.

“Body cameras will help us address problems of misconduct, absolve officers who’ve been wrongly accused and help the public understand things from a public safety perspective,” Alejo said in a release.

Alejo's idea is for local agencies to apply for state grants to buy the equipment. It would be paid for through the state's general fund, but Alejo isn't sure how much he'll be asking for yet, his spokesman said.

Some of the state's largest police departments — including those in Los Angeles and San Diego — already have body cameras. Alejo tried to get a similar bill passed last year, but it died in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

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