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California Politics: State GOP starts convention with no prominent Senate candidate

Kevin McCarthy speaking at a lectern with a logo for the California GOP
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader in the United States House of Representatives speaks at the California Republican Party convention in Anaheim on April 23, 2022.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
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Programming note: Next week we will begin sending the California Politics newsletter on Thursdays instead of Fridays. Please look for us in your inbox March 16.

Will a prominent Republican jump into next year’s race to replace California Sen. Dianne Feinstein?

For the record:

11:42 a.m. March 10, 2023A previous version of this newsletter said Republicans who ran in the last two Senate races in California did not make it past the nonpartisan primary. Republican Mark Meuser lost to Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla in November 2022.

It’s a question that’s top of mind as more than 1,000 members of the California Republican Party and their guests gather in Sacramento this weekend for a convention that kicks off today.

The fact that no prominent Republican has so far announced plans to seek California’s open Senate seat is another sign of the decline of a onetime GOP powerhouse that produced two presidents and four governors in the span of just over a half century, reports my colleague Seema Mehta.

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The GOP is now so marginalized in California that a Republican has not won a statewide election since 2006. California hasn’t elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since Pete Wilson in 1988.

Republicans who ran in two of the last three Senate races in California did not make it past the nonpartisan primary, allowing two Democrats to advance to the general election in 2016, when then-Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris won over Rep. Loretta Sanchez, and in 2018 when Feinstein won reelection over Kevin de León, who serves on the Los Angeles City Council.

Next year could play out the same way and result in another race between Democrats. Or it could wind up very differently: If the Democratic vote splinters among multiple party candidates, a Republican could advance to the general election if GOP voters consolidate behind one candidate.

But at this point there’s no sign the party or its supporters are working to make that happen. Instead, the California Republican Party’s strategic focus is on smaller races for the House of Representatives and the state Legislature in regions where GOP voters are concentrated.

And in that domain, the party is celebrating some bright spots: It helped successfully defend GOP Reps. Mike Garcia of Santa Clarita, David Valadao of Hanford and Michelle Steel of Seal Beach in competitive congressional races and aided farmer John Duarte’s win in a new Democratic-tilting district in the Central Valley.

By helping the GOP win narrow control of the House, the California Republican Party is now celebrating its biggest win in years: the rise of Bakersfield Rep. Kevin McCarthy to speaker of the House.

“California Republicans are taking a victory lap for sure,” state GOP chair Jessica Millan Patterson told Mehta.

Read the full article here.

Who should pick the state schools superintendent?

Here’s a surprising side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic: It could force Californians to rethink how the state selects its superintendent of schools. Times reporter Mackenzie Mays explains:

When California children were stuck at home in distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and schools reopened unevenly across the state, raising equity concerns, frustrated parents demanded action from Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.

But unlike in other states, where superintendents were leading the charge, it was Gov. Gavin Newsom who steered the pandemic response in California, negotiating with teachers unions and setting guidelines for schools. Meanwhile, Thurmond was criticized for a lack of action.

Now, two years after the governor and legislative leaders devised a multibillion-dollar plan to safely reopen schools, lingering COVID-19 frustrations could add momentum to a decades-long debate about the role of California’s superintendent of public instruction.

Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) has introduced legislation that would require California’s superintendent to be appointed by the governor instead of elected by voters, in what he called a “good government” policy that could add power and influence to an office that oversees nearly 6 million public school students.

McCarty said that Thurmond has “admirably” led the state’s schools and has been “an effective voice,” but that’s not enough, calling the role “nothing more than an education cheerleader.”

Read the full article here.

State of the road show

For decades, California governors have been giving an annual speech to the Legislature known as the “state of the state.” Like its federal counterpart that the president delivers to Congress, the speech is an opportunity for governors to tout their accomplishments and lay out a vision for the upcoming year.

Newsom hewed to tradition his first year in office but then began breaking the mold. In 2020, he focused the entire speech on just one topic, homelessness, a departure from the usual format touching on numerous big issues. In 2021, he used the speech to kick off his campaign against the recall election and delivered it on the field at an empty Dodger Stadium due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year he shunned the usual location inside the ornate Assembly chamber in favor of a modern auditorium in a state government building.

And this year, Newsom is really mixing things up by taking the show on the road.

Instead of a single speech, Newsom plans to take a four-day tour through California next week in which he will introduce his priorities in more informal settings. Events are expected to take place Thursday through Sunday at locations in Northern and Southern California.

A potential wrinkle: Newsom tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday. His staff said he was experiencing mild symptoms and would work remotely for at least five days. As of Friday morning, he didn’t plan to cancel his state of the state road show.

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Keeping up with California politics

Biden to spotlight gun control in Monterey Park and meet British, Australian leaders in San Diego
President Biden will travel to California on Monday for a visit that will include meetings with the leaders of Australia and the United Kingdom in San Diego and a stop in Monterey Park, the site of one of two mass shootings that rocked California in January.

Schiff’s bid to bolster his progressive credentials for Senate run hits some resistance
Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff withdrew from consideration to join the House’s progressive caucus after his application became divisive among the group’s members. Schiff has faced questions about his progressive bona fides as he launches his campaign to replace Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Are Californians fleeing ‘woke’ policies and moving to Florida, as DeSantis claims?
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis delivered a well-rehearsed blast at California this week, calling it too left, too woke, too expensive. And as proof, he declared, Californians and residents of other liberal states were leaving in droves for Florida. Is it true? Times reporter Don Lee checks the facts on DeSantis’ California claims.

California sues Huntington Beach over ban on housing projects
The lawsuit is the latest episode in a housing clash between the state and the Orange County beach community, which has been a thorn in Newsom’s side since he took office. Newsom called Huntington Beach an example of “what’s wrong with housing in the state of California.”

Newsom says California will cut ties with Walgreens over abortion pill access
In an attempt to counter GOP efforts to limit reproductive rights, Gov. Gavin Newsom said California will cut ties with Walgreens over the company’s decision to stop selling abortion medication in 20 Republican states.

Skelton: There’s no home field advantage in California for Vice President Kamala Harris
Vice President Kamala Harris looks good on a resume, argues Times columnist George Skelton, but may have climbed the political ladder too fast to acquire much political acumen.

After Twitter layoffs, California bill would strengthen protections for workers
Citing recent events in the tech industry, Assemblyman Matt Haney of San Francisco has introduced a bill that would force employers to give workers more notice of mass layoffs and would extend these protections to contract workers, who are excluded under state and federal law.

‘A foundation of racism’: California’s antiquated water rights system faces new scrutiny
In the face of global warming and worsening cycles of drought, a growing number of water experts, lawmakers, environmental groups and tribes are pushing to overhaul California’s contentious water rights system. Legislation by Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan aims to curb illegal water diversions, while other recently introduced bills would expand the State Water Board’s enforcement or investigative authority.

The Times podcast: California’s ballot-box fast-food fight
The Times podcast host Gustavo Arellano interviews Times reporter Suhauna Hussain about the big fight over wages for fast food workers that will be on California’s ballot next year.

Your guide to the L.A. City Council District 6 election to replace Nury Martinez
Here’s essential information about the seven candidates running in the April 4 special election to fill the San Fernando Valley seat left vacant by Nury Martinez, who resigned last year over leaked audio of her incendiary remarks.

Facing corruption trial, Mark Ridley-Thomas gets money, support from big-name L.A. donors
Donors have helped Mark Ridley-Thomas amass nearly $1.5 million in two defense funds and allowed him to retain an elite legal team to help him fight criminal charges. They include a slew of developers, ministers, bureaucrats and lobbyists, as well as former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and producer and investor Peter Chernin and his wife, philanthropist Megan Chernin.

Lawyers make opening statements in Mark Ridley-Thomas corruption trial
Suspended Los Angeles City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas faces charges of conspiring to deliver contracts to USC in exchange for a scholarship and job for his son. The trial is expected to last until early to mid-April, and it’s unclear whether Ridley-Thomas will testify.

Corruption trial of former L.A. deputy mayor is on hold after defense lawyer falls ill
Testimony is scheduled to resume this month in the corruption trial of former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan, a onetime aide to Mayor Eric Garcetti and former head of the Department of Building and Safety. Chan is accused of participating in a bribery and racketeering scheme led by former Councilmember Jose Huizar.

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