CMA Capitol Insight With Anthony York: June 7, 2016
CMA Capitol Insight is a biweekly column by veteran journalist Anthony York, reporting on the inner workings of the state Legislature.
All Eyes on California
The nation’s eyes will be on California this week, as voters here go to the polls in the final major presidential contest of the long primary season. We’ve seen a massive swell in new voter registration this year. State voter rolls grew by more than 646,000 voters in April and May alone, with more than three-fourths of those voters signing up as Democrats.
It will be important to see whether these new voters are primarily motivated by a desire to vote for Bernie Sanders or against Donald Trump.
The two are not mutually exclusive, of course, but the answer could have broad implications for this election year — and the future of California politics. A galvanized anti-Trump vote, which presumably would be largely Latino, could not only boost candidates like Loretta Sanchez this year, but also could potentially create a stronger foundation for candidates like Antonio Villaraigosa, who is contemplating a run for governor in 2018.
The voting surge could also play a role in the outcome of a number of legislative primary races that could set the tone for the future of the Democratic Party in Sacramento. This week, we’ll look at some of the most contested primary races and provide a bit of a guide for what to look for tonight.
In the East Bay, Mae Torlakson, the wife of state Superintendent Tom Torlakson, is running for her husband’s old Assembly seat, having racked up many of the establishment endorsements in the process. But Concord Councilman Tim Grayson has received significant financial backing from education reform group EdVoice. The teachers’ union is backing Torlakson, making this race a rematch of sorts for the special interest battle in Tom Torlakson’s re-election bid in 2014. This is a key race to watch in the ongoing political battle between charter school and reform advocates on the one hand and teachers’ unions on the other.
The other big story this election cycle is the battle of business groups led by the oil industry versus candidates with strong environmental backing. In many cases, there has been an ethnic component to these races, with white candidates receiving environmental backing and black or Latino candidates receiving the backing of business groups.
That is the dynamic in a Bay Area state Senate race, where San Jose Sen. Jim Beall is facing a challenge from fellow Democrat Assemblywoman Nora Campos. Beall is backed by environmentalists, including billionaire Tom Steyer, who has donated more than $400,000 to a pro-Beall effort. Campos has received backing from Chevron and other business groups.
But the ethnic lines are not always so distinct. In San Bernardino, Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown is locked in a battle for re-election with attorney Eloise Reyes. In this safe Democratic district, both candidates are Democrats, but Brown was one of the leading voices against a provision to cut oil consumption in the state, handing Gov. Jerry Brown a rare legislative defeat last year.
Some of the unions that were backing Brown are now standing with Reyes, while oil and other interests are with Brown. Spending in this race has already passed the $2 million mark, underscoring the stakes in many of these Democratic primaries.
In the San Fernando Valley and Westside of Los Angeles County, businesses that often align with Republicans are supporting attorney Janice Kamenir Reznik against Henry Stern in the fight to replace Fran Pavley, one of the leading environmental voices in Sacramento over the last two decades. Reznick is a partner in a well-connected Los Angeles law firm that has raised millions for Democrats over the years, while Stern, an environmental attorney and the son of actor Daniel Stern, has been a Capitol staffer for Pavley.
These three races are all at the top of the ongoing environmental vs. business battles in the Capitol, which have become more pronounced in recent years. And with California now a solidly Blue state politically, more and more of these fights are happening within the confines of the Democratic Party.
Of course, with the state’s relatively new top-two primary system, many of these battles will be waged again in the fall.
Next time, we’ll have a full rundown of the primary election results, a discussion of the implications for the fall, and a scorecard of winners and losers. Until then, don’t forget to vote.