California Politics: State GOP starts convention with no prominent Senate candidate
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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.
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.
The view from Sacramento
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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.”
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
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