Connect with us

Politics & Government

Erwin Chemerinsky and the Case Against Trump

The constitutional scholar discusses Donald Trump’s tumultuous first year, and what may lie ahead. “It’s very frightening to me,” Chemerinsky tells Capital & Main.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Danny Feingold




Erwin Chemerinsky photo by Rpogge

Since Donald Trump took office once year ago, perhaps no American has called into question the legal and ethical behavior of the president with more persistence and authority than Erwin Chemerinsky. One of the country’s preeminent constitutional scholars, and the dean of the University of California, Berkeley’s law school, Chemerinsky has sounded the alarm from day one of Trump’s administration – most strenuously over the president’s alleged daily violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution. Those provisions bar the president from receiving any form of payment from a foreign government, and also from receiving any payments beyond the salary of the chief executive. Last month, a federal court dismissed a lawsuit that Chemerinsky and other leading legal authorities had helped prepare seeking to stop the president from accepting any further payments – that decision is currently being appealed.

Capital & Main sat down with Chemerinsky at his UC Berkeley office to discuss Trump’s tumultuous first year, and what may lie ahead.

Capital & Main  How would you assess Trump’s first year in office?

Chemerinsky  It’s so much worse than I could have ever feared. I don’t think that we’ve ever had a president who has less respect for the Constitution. It’s reflected in what he expresses with regard to freedom of the press, it’s reflected in the fact that on a daily basis he’s violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution by receiving benefits from foreign governments, benefits from the United States government beyond his salary. It’s reflected in his immigration policies, his travel ban, his efforts against sanctuary cities. It’s very frightening to me.

What does it say about the rule of law in this country that we have a sitting president who, in your view, has been in violation of the Constitution every single day that he’s been in office?

Chemerinsky  Before taking office the president-elect said that he was going to take steps to try to comply with the emoluments clause. None of that ever happened. What’s troubling to me is Congress seems largely unconcerned about it and so far the courts haven’t stepped in.

Is there evidence that any of the president’s decisions have in fact been influenced by payments that his business interests have received?

Chemerinsky  China gave to President Trump some very valuable licenses on trademarks. He’d been trying to get them from China for years before being elected as president. He received them and then he changed his policy with regard to China. Maybe it was a coincidence, but certainly one followed the other.

Some critics observed that the countries that were selected for the immigrant and refugee travel ban did not include any countries where President Trump’s business organization had properties and interests.

Chemerinsky  It’s at least ironic that when you look at the seven countries initially listed in the travel ban, none had Trump interests there. Of course there was also no linkage between terrorists of any of those countries and yet the countries where you could link past terrorist acts to people from those nations, like Saudi Arabia or Indonesia, were not on the list, and those are places where Trump had investments. The travel ban has gone through two more iterations and that continues to be so — Trump doesn’t have any interests in North Korea or Chad, and they find themselves on the list, but the countries where Trump does have interests don’t find themselves on the list.

One other example that is just astounding: The Trump administration has allowed offshore drilling now in all states that have coastal areas except for one — Florida. Of course that’s where Trump has coastal property. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but doesn’t this show exactly the kind of self-dealing that the Constitution’s emoluments clauses were meant to prevent?

Is there a case to be made against President Trump on obstruction of justice?

Chemerinsky  I think that there is significant evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice. He told the Russians that he fired James Comey for purposes of trying to end the investigation with regard to Russia.

If anybody tries to interfere with an ongoing federal investigation, that’s obstruction of justice. The crime that Richard Nixon would have been impeached for, if he didn’t resign, was telling the FBI not to investigate Watergate because it was a CIA matter. Well, that’s exactly what President Trump apparently tried to do — keep the FBI from investigating.

We also have more evidence that President Trump tried to interfere with the investigation of Russian interference in the election. All of this is the basis for strong concern with regards to obstruction of justice. My prediction is what we’ll see next is the implication of Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner. The question is, will it reach to the president? Will it reach to the vice president?

Do you believe that there is a credible case to be made for invoking the 25th Amendment based on concerns about Trump’s mental health?

Chemerinsky  I think that Donald Trump’s engaged in erratic behavior. I don’t think that he’s shown himself to be mentally ill or physically ill in a way that would justify the 25th Amendment to this point in time. There’s a thing called narcissistic personality disorder — maybe it’s that. But I don’t know if all politicians don’t fall into that to a greater or lesser extent.

Are there any other grounds for legal or constitutional concern about the president?

Chemerinsky  My greatest concern for the next three years of the Trump presidency is whether there’s going to be a moment where a court issues an order and Trump says, “We’re going to ignore it.” When the courts first enjoined the initial version of the travel ban, there were rumblings from Trump that maybe the administration would just ignore the court order. My worry is once the president takes that position, if he does, then there’s nothing to stop him from locking up you or me or anybody else. Once the president says I’m going to ignore a court order then there’s nothing left of the rule of law.

Does Trump’s pardon of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio lay the groundwork for him to pardon anyone who’s indicted and convicted as a result of the Mueller investigation?

Chemerinsky  The president is allowed to pardon anyone accused or convicted of a federal crime. I think the pardon of Joe Arpaio shows that President Trump has no shame, that he’s not hesitant to use it even in an instance where there was a violation of law. Joe Arpaio was ordered by a court to stop racial profiling. He ignores that court order and continues to engage in it. A judge finds him in criminal contempt, and before the judge even sentences, President Trump says, “I regard Joe Arpaio as a hero, I’m going to pardon him.” Will he do it with regard to the Mueller investigation? We don’t know.

How do you assess Neil Gorsuch’s performance on the Supreme Court?

Chemerinsky  Since coming on to the court on April 6, 2017, Gorsuch has voted together with Clarence Thomas a hundred percent of the time. To put this in context, the last year Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas were on the court together, they voted together 87 percent of the time. Gorsuch so far has been at the farthest right part of the court. Maybe he’ll be different as months and years go by, but for the first nine months of his time on the court, no one has been more conservative.

Do you have concerns that the standards for what is legal and ethical behavior by a president have been damaged by this president in just one year?

Chemerinsky  It’s impossible to know what the long term consequences of that are going to be. Is Trump going to lose to a mainstream Democrat or Republican in 2020 and we’ll regard this as a blip? Or is this the start of something much more apocalyptic?

The United States form of government isn’t going to be here forever. Every form of government is here until it’s not. I believe that the institutions of government can withstand the Trump presidency, but I know many are afraid that this is the start of something that is very different than we’ve ever seen before.

Copyright Capital & Main

Politics & Government

Top Republican on Tax Subcommittee Received Yacht Loan From Foreign Bank Lobbying on 2017 Tax Bill

Federal records show that one of Rep. Vern Buchanan’s LLCs financed foreign bank loans to purchase a yacht and a private luxury jet.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email




Vern Buchanan, center. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Co-published by Maplight and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

As Republicans were finalizing tax cut legislation in late 2017, a foreign-owned bank seeking to shape the bill gave a seven-figure yacht loan to a top GOP lawmaker on the committee writing the measure, according to documents reviewed by Capital & Main and MapLight.

Representative Vern Buchanan (R-FL), who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee and leads its tax policy subcommittee, has been under fire in recent weeks for purchasing a yacht on the same day he voted for the GOP tax package. Buchanan registered a 73-foot Ocean Alexander vessel named Entrepreneur with the U.S. Coast Guard a month later, according to federal records.

Although Buchanan is one of the wealthiest members of Congress — worth at least $80 million — federal records show one of his limited liability companies financed the purchase with a BMO Harris Bank loan worth as much as $5 million. Since 2016, Buchanan’s companies have received three loans worth as much as $35 million from BMO Harris, which is the American subsidiary of the Bank of Montreal. In total, since he was appointed to the Ways and Means Committee in 2010, Buchanan and his companies have received between $17 million and $85 million worth of loans from four lenders.

At the time Buchanan’s company received the 2017 yacht loan, BMO Harris was lobbying congressional lawmakers on tax policy overseen by the Ways and Means Committee, according to federal records. Buchanan received a separate BMO Harris loan for a plane in 2016. Records show that loan, worth between $5 million and $25 million, was made around the same time that the bank began lobbying lawmakers on “tax reform proposals.”

In all, BMO spent $760,000 lobbying lawmakers in 2017, and records show the bank paid for tax reform lobbying from Tony Podesta, whose firm is being investigated for potential violations of foreign lobbying laws.

In recent years, lending to lawmakers has been a source of controversy, with some critics alleging that politically connected banks can use favorable loan terms as a stealth conduit of political influence. Buchanan did not list the terms of the BMO Harris loans in his 2017 financial disclosure report, which was filed in May, and his office did not respond to questions about the deal.

“For privacy reasons we do not disclose information about specific loans,” said BMO Harris spokesperson Patrick O’Herlihy. “We do not provide services or products to public officials that are not also available to the general public.”

Craig Holman, an ethics advocate at Public Citizen, said that the bank’s loans to Buchanan’s company pose a “particularly egregious” conflict of interest.

“It isn’t just business for Buchanan,” he said. “The loans grant Buchanan the luxuries of a personal jet and a yacht. It is very reasonable to assume those luxuries could well influence Buchanan’s official actions.”

Both BMO Harris and Buchanan could reap a financial windfall from the tax legislation.

The bank’s first annual report after the passage of the GOP measure said corporate tax cuts in the bill are “expected to increase our annual net income from what it would have otherwise been.” In late May, shortly after its report was published, the company announced record U.S. profits. BMO Harris had publicly celebrated the bill in January and said it would increase its minimum wage to $15 per hour as a result of the tax cut. Both the Trump administration and House Republicans touted BMO Harris as an example of the tax cut’s success.

The bank also announced a plan to repurchase as many as 20 million shares of its own stock — providing ammunition to critics who predicted that companies would use the tax cut windfall to enrich executives and shareholders, rather than to create new jobs.

For his part, Buchanan has promoted the tax cut as a boon to working families.

“The sweeping tax reform bill signed into law last month is already producing results,” he said in a statement posted on his website soon after the tax bill passed. “As the son of a factory worker who grew up in the blue-collar suburbs of Detroit, I know firsthand how important a bonus or pay raise can be for a family struggling to make ends meet.”

The tax bill could also boost Buchanan’s earnings from various corporate entities that he controls, which include real estate holdings and an auto dealership. The legislation slashed rates on “pass-through” income that flows to individuals through businesses that include limited liability corporations, S-corporations and partnerships.

In the case of Buchanan’s new yacht, the Republican’s financial disclosure forms show that the BMO Harris loan for the vessel — as well as the earlier loan for the purchase of an Embraer luxury jet airplane that can seat 10 people — were made to Buchanan’s company, Aircraft Holding and Leasing, LLC.

Buchanan’s financial disclosure forms report that he has collected as much as $5 million in pass-through income from Aircraft Holding and Leasing since being elected to Congress in 2006. Buchanan’s 2017 disclosure forms report that he had between $1.5 million and $3.3 million of assets in a BMO Harris investment account.

The House Ethics Committee says that it is a violation of congressional gift rules if a lawmaker “is given a loan at a below-market interest rate,” though members of Congress aren’t required to publicly disclose the terms of loans they receive.

In 2012, congressional investigators found that mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp. had a special unit that made discounted loans and gave preferential treatment to lawmakers, congressional staff and other high-ranking government officials. A 2016 Institute for New Economic Thinking study by researchers at the London Business School found that lawmakers who join financial oversight committees receive larger, more favorable loans than other lawmakers.

Continue Reading

Criminal Justice

Video: Los Angeles Rejects Spy Program

According to its critics, what the Los Angeles Police Department advertised as a community engagement tool turned out to be a surveillance program of local Muslims.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email




Continue Reading

Politics & Government

Proposed Los Angeles Law Would Give Tenants Access to Attorneys

The City Council is considering a ‘right to counsel’ program that could help curb evictions and homelessness.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email




Photo by B-A Graphix

An estimated 30,000 eviction cases are filed in court each year against Los Angeles city residents. Many more tenants do not show up in court since they know “they have limited legal rights and they have limited access to legal representation,” according to a recent report by Tenants Together, a renter advocacy organization.

Urged on by renter advocates, a Los Angeles City Council housing committee voted August 8 to support the creation of a ‘right to counsel’ law similar to ones that have been adopted by San Francisco and New York.

The committee approved a motion, authored by L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz, which directs staff to craft a program that would give more tenants facing eviction access to attorneys.

“Basic fairness dictates that if one side of an eviction proceeding has legal representation, the other side should have representation, too, and that equality before the law shouldn’t depend on income level,” said Jerry Jones, director of public policy at the Inner City Law Center. Jones joined about a dozen speakers at the committee meeting.

Compared to the high cost of addressing the homeless crisis, eviction defense is a relatively inexpensive means to prevent people from becoming homeless, according to Jones.

County and city officials are struggling to find temporary and permanent housing for the tens of thousands of residents who become homeless every year. And while there has been a slight decrease in the county’s homeless population since last year, the number of homeless – 53,000 – is still staggering, according to the last count. In addition, more people were homeless for the first time this year than last, suggesting unaffordable rents may be pushing people onto the street.

At the hearing, Janet Gagnon, a representative of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, complained that a right-to-counsel program would “simply give money to defense attorneys.” She said that public money would be better spent on vouchers “so that the people can avoid the eviction process entirely.”

But a 2017 analysis of pilot programs that offered free legal service to tenants concluded that providing counsel does have benefits. Eviction cases involving represented tenants are more likely to end in settlement, and most of those settlements reduced back-owed rent or helped protect tenants’ credit by keeping eviction notices off the public record.

The study, which was conducted by the Judicial Council of California, also found that 67 percent of cases involving represented tenants settled, as compared to 34 percent of cases in which people represented themselves. While all clients in the study received eviction notices, only 6 percent were ultimately evicted from their homes.

Jim Bickhart, a representative of Councilman Paul Koretz, said that the intent of the proposed measure was to expand the capacity of the current network of legal services, which currently serves “several thousand clients a year.”

“There is no way this proposal could provide free legal service to every tenant faced with eviction, but we should start somewhere,” he added. The motion is scheduled to be voted on by the full City Council on August 17.

Continue Reading

Politics & Government

Cuomo’s Cable Company War Could Enrich His Campaign Donors

Last week New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Public Service Commission revoked the authorization of the state’s largest cable TV provider to operate. The action could enrich other cable industry giants that, together, rank among Cuomo’s largest campaign donors.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
David Sirota




Andrew Cuomo photo by Diana Robinson.

When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration recently moved to shut down New York City’s largest cable television provider, Cuomo cast the maneuver as an initiative to defend consumers from a company he claimed had failed to build out service to rural customers. He did not mention that the action could end up enriching other cable industry giants that are together among Cuomo’s largest campaign donors — and that have delivered large contributions to Cuomo’s campaign in the year leading up to the decision.

Cuomo, a Democrat, is facing a primary battle against progressive actress Cynthia Nixon, who has accused him of shaping policy to benefit his largest campaign contributors.

In the current battle over New York’s telecommunication regulation, Cuomo’s Public Service Commission (PSC) last week revoked Charter Spectrum’s authorization to operate in the state. The commission’s order said the company — which is the largest cable provider in New York — had failed to build out high-speed Internet service to rural areas, as required in its 2016 merger agreement with Time Warner. Cuomo declared that the company “has been executing fraud on the people of this state.”

Cuomo aired his criticism after a reporter from a Charter-owned news outlet had asked him about corruption scandals engulfing his administration. Later, Nixon asserted that the governor was employing a Donald Trump-esque tactic to try to intimidate journalists. Whether that was in fact Cuomo’s motive, there is little doubt that his administration’s move could also open up a rare — and highly lucrative — expansion opportunity for well-positioned telecom industry competitors such as Comcast or Altice, which have delivered big money to Cuomo.

Campaign finance records reviewed by Capital & Main show that Comcast and Cablevision — the latter of which is owned by Altice and operates in New York — have together given Cuomo more than $830,000 during his career as New York attorney general and then governor – a sum that dwarfs the $191,000 that Charter subsidiary Time Warner gave to Cuomo in the same time period. Nearly $200,000 of the cash from Comcast and Cablevision was delivered to Cuomo in the last year – while Time Warner made no contributions to the governor in that period.

Meanwhile, a Cuomo aide was recently hired by a lobbying firm that represents Altice, and Cuomo’s PSC in 2015 approved the company’s merger with Cablevision over the objections of the Communications Workers of America, which argued to the Federal Communications Commission that the deal would “starve Cablevision of resources needed for service, network investment and jobs.”

Altice and Comcast did not comment in response to questions from Capital & Main. A statement from Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for Governor Cuomo, read in part:

“If your theory were correct and anyone was influenced by contributions, Charter would not have been granted the franchise in the first place‎. Rather than serve the people of New York, for the past two years Charter has sought to advance its own interests at their expense. In addition to its failure to expand broadband service to rural, poor, and underserved communities that is at the heart of the PSC’s action, Charter misled New Yorkers through advertisements on its stations that they took down only yesterday.  At every turn they have put their own interest first, rather than keep the promises to New Yorkers they made in exchange for their exclusivity and the PSC rightly exercised its authority as a regulator.”

Potential Charter replacements like Altice “would arguably be very happy to expand their footprint in New York,” said Harold Feld, vice president of the consumer group Public Knowledge.

Altice reportedly has about three million customers in New York — and has in recent years been aiming to expand its Internet service in New York City. Comcast does not operate in New York, but does operate in neighboring New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“For them, this would be an opportunity that is adjacent to their existing operations,” Feld told Capital & Main. “There are just so few opportunities to add a significant expansion of cable systems, and this one in particular includes New York City, which is a very significant and profitable market.”

The PSC’s order revolves around conditions Charter agreed to as part of its merger with Time-Warner. According to PSC documents, that deal required Charter to expand broadband service to “an additional 145,000 homes and businesses in less densely populated areas across the state” — an obligation that Cuomo administration officials say the company did not follow through on.

For its part, Charter denies the allegations.

“We believe we’re in compliance with the plain reading and the buildout requirements that the state imposed on us in merger conditions, and we have a very strong legal case and ability to defend ourselves,” Charter CEO Thomas Rutledge said this week during an earnings call. “And it could play out over a lengthy period of time if required.”

Copyright Capital & Main

Continue Reading

Politics & Government

Restless Valley: Can Devin Nunes Hold His Seat in November?

For years the California backbencher was a quiet blip on Congress’ radar. Then he burst into the news by trying to disrupt the House’s Russia probe. Today he finds himself increasingly on the receiving end of constituent anger.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Donnell Alexander




Devin Nunes photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images.

The eight-term congressman could not be less visible to locals if he wore a magic cloak.  Some visiting constituents have had to interact with Nunes’ people through an outdoor intercom.

The conversations swirling around at Pride Visalia blended in with feathery dance beats from a drag contest, here in Tulare County’s largest town. Southern Central Valley LGBT people and their allies had taken cars, trains and buses out of map dots from miles around to gather in fellowship at Visalia’s Old Lumberyard. All about this outdoor downtown party in America’s agricultural center, the undeniable future — even more brown than it is queer — was celebrating.

In the middle of this revelry Ruth McKee, a retired Visalia deputy district attorney, began to rail against Devin Nunes, California’s 22nd Congressional District’s representative and a major impediment to the House Intelligence Committee’s Russian-collusion investigation. He won reelection in 2016 to his drawn-safe seat with 67 percent of the vote. (Donald Trump won the district with 52 percent.)

“Nunes spews ‘Water! Water! Water!’ and won’t do anything to help get that water.”

“Nunes has been in office for 16 years. He hasn’t brought one drop of water to our family farmers,” complained McKee, who runs Tulare’s Democratic Central Committee. “Agriculture is our base, agriculture is our life, and he spews, ‘Water! Water! Water!’ and won’t do anything to help get that water.”

McKee was directly contradicting a local pro-Nunes narrative driven by AM talk radio and 300 miles of billboards appearing along Highway 99. It’s one heavily promoted by Valley Republicans.

Democratic challenger Andrew Janz says he’ll debate Nunes, but the incumbent has opted to stick with his bulk mailers.

“Congressman Nunes is doing a great job, and in the face of a lot of pressure in Washington,” Michael Der Manouel Jr., a prominent Fresno businessman and chairman of the local Lincoln Club, told Capital & Main.

The eight-term congressman has cultivated a reputation as both a water warrior and a DC representative who could not be less visible to the local public if he wore a magic cloak. From ag-rich Tulare County, where three out of four public school students are eligible for reduced-priced lunches, north to Fresno County Democrats in the wealthy, conservative suburb of Clovis, constituents fed up with Nunes have become focused on finding ways to unseat him. They seem to have made some headway.

In April, the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ influential Sabato’s Crystal Ball newsletter readjusted CA-22’s longstanding status from “safe” to “likely Republican,” in large part because 34-year-old challenger Andrew Janz, a Fresno County prosecutor, is Nunes’ first competitively-funded opponent. California’s June primary saw Nunes take 58 percent of the vote, while his Democratic rival earned a 32 percent second-place finish – and a spot on the November ballot. Businessman and Democrat Bobby Bliatout — controller of the district’s significant Hmong vote — took five percent.

The only local media Nunes remotely engages with is the conservative talk radio station KMJ, through call-in appearances.

District voters talk about Trump, of course. But water’s the greater concern in this farm country where folks with Latinate surnames are the majority and many of them are poor. And, while many residents assume, from his name, that Nunes is Latino, he belongs to the region’s powerful, mostly conservative Portuguese-American community – some of whose members, like Nunes’ family, originally came from the Azores Islands. How much water the rural South Valley gets, and to what extent it’s drinkable, are issues topping a list of voter grievances against state and national Republicans, including Nunes. In CA-22, poverty and substandard air quality are issues that trail close behind.

Energized Democrats in Clovis aren’t going to be the difference in November. Nor will Republican “Never Trumpers.” (It’s thought that, more likely, Nunes could be hurt by Republicans who just won’t bother to vote this fall.) No, the most up-for grabs-votes are here in Tulare County, where prospective voters work hard at low-paying, ag-associated jobs and have myriad reasons to not get to the polls.

“Sometimes I think the average constituent doesn’t truly understand what it means to have Devin Nunes as a representative,” said Abigail Solis, an Earlimart school board president. “They have become accustomed to living in an area that’s underserved, they have a congressman who never shows up. That’s just been the way it is. They don’t know anything different.”

Nunes has raised $7.3 million in the current election cycle, with only about 12 percent of that coming from within his district.

Nunes calls himself a family farmer, even though he sold his share of the family dairy farm in 2006 and bought into a Napa winery. The only local media Nunes remotely engages with is the conservative talk radio station KMJ, through call-in appearances. He hasn’t held a town hall meeting since 2009, when a public Affordable Care Act conversation went sideways. Some constituents who visit his Visalia office have had to interact with Nunes’ people through an outdoor intercom. (His office did not respond to requests for an interview with Nunes for this article.)

He does, however, send a breathtaking deluge of mailers. Nunes has raised $7.3 million in the current election cycle, with only about 12 percent of that coming from within his district.

Fred Vanderhoof, the Fresno County Republican Party chair, dismisses criticisms of Nunes’ absence from his district.

“The people Devin Nunes associates himself with, especially those that run his district offices and his office in Washington, have close ties with major corporations and wealthy families.”

“The outcry against him nationally has raised support within his district,” said Vanderhoof. “With what’s going on in DC, people understand that he can’t be here as much. He’s still very strong in the district.”

Nunes was first voted into office back in 1996, fresh out of College of the Sequoias. According to a New York Times profile, Nunes campaigned for a seat on the college’s board of trustees on a questionable allegation involving the school’s sale of 160 acres of campus farmland. The win marked him as a young conservative on the rise. He was 23. In 2001 President George W. Bush appointed Nunes California state director for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development section. Two years later he was elected to Congress.

Democrats have no choice but to explore deep get-out-the-vote strategies—including networks with Hmong constituents.

Although he sold his farm, Nunes has kept his aggie reputation and connections. His work with Valley congressmen David Valadao (R-Hanford) and Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) to pass 2014’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act kept the goodwill coming from farmers. Nunes could tap his chief of staff Anthony Ratekin from the employ of Stewart Resnick, the Beverly Hills-based “world’s richest farmer” and Central Valley land baron — and experience no question of conflicts.

“It seems like the people Devin Nunes associates himself with, especially those that run his district offices and his office in Washington, have close ties with major corporations and wealthy families, like the Resnicks,” Visalia native Janz told me a week after Pride Visalia, having just climbed down from his campaign’s flatbed truck. “As a member of Congress, the staff that you choose should be representative of the district.”

To beat the inherently high odds of winning a seat designed to produce Republican representation in DC, the Democrats will need to over-perform in Tulare County, and that means engaging its most glaring issues. Janz said that he’ll debate Nunes, but the incumbent has opted to stick with his bulk mailers. Democrats have no choice but to explore deep get-out-the-vote strategies—including networks with Bobby Bliatout’s Hmong constituents—especially in the 459,000-resident county’s hinterlands. There, clean water is so scarce that in towns like Monson, rich farmers with drills that can reach 2,000 feet into the ground drain aquifers and leave adjacent communities with little of the clean stuff.

Andrew Janz: “We’ve seen agencies like ICE come out and target immigrant communities in a clear attempt to drive [down] their turnout numbers in November.”

“People don’t understand that there are school districts without water, in their own backyard,” said Becky Quintana, 62, the founder of Committee for a Better Seville. According to Quintana, who until recently lived in water-scarce Seville, it’s common to run into public school teachers at Walmart buying water for their students.

Not only Janz, but the 250 organizers and canvassers that his party has on the streets will have to remind constituents that having 76 percent of a county’s school kids on reduced-priced lunches is not typical — and to amplify the concerns about pesticides that farm workers are exposed to while they toil in the fields.

“We like to brag about being the breadbasket of the world,” admitted Salvador Cazarez, secretary of Tulare County Stonewall Democrats. “And I think that blinds us to some of the issues.”

I can tell you, as a prosecutor, that the Latino community and the undocumented community are disproportionately targeted by criminals,” said Nunes’ Democratic opponent Janz, an outspoken water advocate who speaks his mother’s native Thai. And they do this because they know that these folks are very shy about going to the police and law enforcement to report what’s happening.”

“Latinos make up about 65 percent of the Valley, and sadly a lot of us are tricked into voting for somebody, or we’re told to vote for somebody.”

What’s remarkable is that some of the “criminal” tactics Janz described included those of voter intimidation of minority citizens — “Something,” he said, “we’ve been worried about from day one.”

“We see the same tactic being used to intimidate them to not come out and vote, because of what we see with what’s going on with the census,” he added, referring to the U.S. Census Bureau’s insertion of a controversial  question about citizenship in its 2020 survey forms. “They’re trying to add a new checkbox, basically saying, ‘Hey, are you a U.S. citizen?’ I think that’s completely unconstitutional.”

“Beyond that,” Janz continued, “we’ve seen agencies like ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] come out and target immigrant communities in a clear attempt to drive [down] their turnout numbers in November. I think it’s purposefully done by the Trump administration, and it’s designed to scare people.” (ICE did not respond to requests for comment.)

The domination of ag culture in the Central Valley has evolved so that many of the 22nd District’s inhabitants seem unable to comprehend the fact that their government is not run by a CEO.

Census manipulation and ICE scares are newish threats, but critics claim that Valley Republicans have historically practiced nuanced forms of voter intimidation and dissuasion. While locals interviewed for this story said some farmers directly tell their overwhelmingly Mexican-American workforce who to vote for, others opt to tie policy to personal outcomes. A Tulare County grower, for example, might tell his employees that he won’t be able to help buy textbooks for their children unless a proposed tax hike fails. Valley workers also report having been threatened over their voting choices in the workplace and in classrooms.

“Latinos make up about 65 percent of the Valley, and sadly a lot of us are tricked into voting for somebody, or we’re told to vote for somebody,” said Cazarez. “It’s super common [with] farm workers that the boss is going to come over and say, Look, you’re going to vote for this person or I will fire you.”

Add to this the inherent distrust of local politicians that many Mexican immigrants bring to the Valley. For a population disproportionately concerned that voting might expose holes in their families’ documentation, the barriers to mass electoral engagement can appear to be on the verge of insurmountable.

Those are major problems, and they lead back to the question over which McKee became so exercised: Why don’t the locals get it? Examples of Valley residents “not getting it” seem to abound.

The week before Pride Visalia, Tulare Mayor Carlton Jones had come under heavy political fire, after saying on Facebook that the agriculture industry can be destructive to the environment. Farmers began calling for his ouster.

“He’s kinda like the CEO of the town,” said Xavier Avila, a Tulare dairy man, told a reporter. It was soon in doubt whether Mayor Jones could survive the backlash. He didn’t — a few weeks later he was booted out of office by Tulare’s city council.

The domination of ag culture in the Central Valley has evolved so that many of the 22nd District’s inhabitants seem unable to comprehend the fact that their government is not run by a “CEO” and that agribusiness has no legal role in dictating the quality of the air they breathe and the water they drink. The job of Andrew Janz between now and November isn’t just to tease out these issues for a numbed and neglected pool of voters, but for his campaign to convince these Americans to put more than a vote on the line. The job of Devin Nunez during that same period will be to ensure that those same voters continue to vote for him.

Copyright Capital & Main

Continue Reading

Politics & Government

How a Young Progressive Democrat Is Shaking Up Michigan Governor’s Race

Abdul El-Sayed, a 33-year-old physician, is running for Michigan’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination on a promise to create a single-payer health-care system in the state.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
David Sirota




Abdul El-Sayed image: Michael Buck/Wood-TV8 via AP, Pool.

In 2016, Michigan was supposed to be part of the Democrats’ Blue Wall — the nickname given states that have traditionally voted Democratic in presidential elections. But it didn’t turn out that way — Donald Trump won the state, which helped him win the whole election.

Now, less than two years later, the state faces a hotly contested governor’s race — one that is part of an intensifying debate over the future of the Democratic Party. At the center of that debate is Abdul El-Sayed — a 33-year-old physician who is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination on a promise to create a single-payer health-care system in Michigan.

After 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning upset primary win over Rep. Joe Crowley in New York, one top Democratic leader, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, appeared on CNN and warned that “you can’t win the White House without the Midwest and I don’t think you can go too far to the left and still win the Midwest.”

In a new podcast interview with Capital & Main, El-Sayed rejects that assertion — arguing that the only way for Democrats to win in places like Michigan is to take on what he calls “corporatism.”

El-Sayed faces former state senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer and entrepreneur Shri Thanedar in the August 7 primary. Whitmer, who has been leading in polls, has been boosted by Blue Cross Blue Shield executives and has declined to support single-payer health care. El-Sayed — who was previously appointed to run the Detroit Health Department after the city’s bankruptcy — recently received the endorsement of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who won the 2016 Michigan Democratic primary.

What follows is a lightly edited excerpt of the podcast interview. Podcast subscribers can click here to listen to the full interview.

David Sirota: Michigan had been considered a Democratic-leaning state, but it has a Republican legislature, a Republican governor and Donald Trump won the state in 2016. Is Michigan now a GOP stronghold?

Abdul El-Sayed: I reject the premise that Michigan is a Republican state. If you look at what’s happened in our state legislature, that’s just the slow ticking away of the process of gerrymandering that Republicans have been pushing for a long time. You look at our Republican governor, and he’s center-right, relative to at least where the Republican spectrum is right now. And then this state went for Donald Trump by 10,000 votes because we had a Democratic nominee that was unwilling to come here, and didn’t have a message for the folks in this state.

More importantly, I point to the fact that Senator Bernie Sanders won his primary in 2016, and this is by all means a progressive state. Our job, though, is to put forward a politics and a message on the left that actually speaks to the lived experience of people in our state. Unfortunately, Michigan Democrats haven’t been able to do that for a very long time.

Almost everybody knows somebody who either lost a job and health-care, or was that person themselves in 2008. Everybody knows somebody who has been locked out of the economy since then. We all know that our public schools have suffered…And our teachers are trying to do more and more with less and less because of the Betsy DeVos agenda.

We are a progressive state that has failed to put up progressive candidates, and therefore lost our mantle to folks on the right who are talking about the same populist issues that Democrats are talking about, but ascribing it to, unfortunately, a virulent and disgusting strain of racism, saying, “The reason you don’t have a job is because the brown people took your jobs and the black people took all the benefits.” And that was in effect Donald Trump’s message.

Barack Obama twice won Michigan, and then Hillary Clinton lost it. What changed?

I don’t think much actually changed. I think people were frustrated by the message in 2016 from Democrats, which is to say that everything’s okay and the economy’s back.

And if you look at Barack Obama’s message in 2012, he was talking about the responsibility we continue to have to get the economy working for people again. To some degree, he presided over a “recovery” that didn’t really reach down for poor and working people in the way that it should have. And so it left Hillary in 2016 talking about an economy that was “back,” except for all we saw, corporate profits were up, labor participation had stagnated and real wages had fallen.

So for most people, like my Uncle Rick who voted for Donald Trump, [the] economy’s not back for them. They’re looking at an economy where they feel locked out, where they’re watching as the corporate elite are making out with more money than they ever made before the recession, and they’re left without jobs or even the means of building their own small businesses.

Your campaign has been cited as one of many high-profile progressive candidacies that are part of a larger national trend. Why are we seeing so many challenges to the Democratic Party establishment?

Progressives are sick and tired of watching our communities be sick and tired. We are standing up and saying that our politics have to stop trying to go halfway. We’ve got to go all the way there. And the only way that Democrats win is when we are honest and conscious about our message. When we stand up and we say that a government for people and by people means that we are not taking corporate money from the same old folks who tend to get away with pushing forward a set of policies that ultimately hurt people.

It means that we stand unabashedly for universal health care and the best means of getting there, which is clearly single-payer or Medicare-for-All style health care. It means we stand up for 100 percent renewable energy. No more halfway solutions. No more kowtowing to the corporations who have corrupted Democrats’ messaging…

You have put forward a detailed plan to create a single-payer health-care system in Michigan. The California legislature has been debating moving in the same direction — but critics have argued that individual states just do not have the resources to do something like that on their own. Why do you disagree?

I think that is an absurd argument because number one, let’s learn from our history. The Canadian health-care system, which is a single-payer system, didn’t start at the federal level. It actually started because the province of Saskatchewan decided that they wanted to do something about the fact that too many people in their province didn’t have health-care. And so it started at the local level and then became federal policy in Canada.

Number two, I’m not about to sit back and wait while 600,000 people in my state go without access to health care. We put together what is the most thorough state-level single-payer health-care plan that’s been proposed. It would provide every Michigander access to health care. That’s number one. But beyond that, it actually saves the average Michigan family [that’s] earning about $48,000 a year $5,000. And it also saves businesses money. This is something we can do. The resources are there. Question is, whether or not the priorities are there.

Typically, the health-insurance industry has succeeded in blocking universal health-care proposals with fearmongering — basically, it’s a mishmash of claims that people will no longer be able to choose their own doctors, they will face long wait times and they will face crushing tax increases. Why do you think those arguments will fail this time around?

I think enough people in our state have enough experience without health-care or [with] being dominated by these corporations, that they are done with it. And yeah, the insurance industry is going to spend a ton of money against our plan. They’re already spending a ton of money against me, for my corporate Democratic opponent. But the fact of the matter is that it is about messaging. It’s about having the right conversation with people. And unfortunately with Democrats, sometimes we’re not very good at telling the story of the experience of the policy we want to push.

Here’s the thing: The way most people’s experience with insurance works right now is that your employer pays a tremendous amount of money so you have insurance — but you have to also pay a tremendous amount of money in your payroll that comes off the top of your salary. So now you’ve already paid for your [health care] and then when you want to actually use it you have to pay upfront in a co-pay, and it doesn’t kick in until you’ve actually made your deductible. So premiums, co-pays, deductibles.

Even beyond that, you’ve got to jump on the phone and have an argument with your insurer every time you want to use it because your doctor was out of network. That’s the experience that most people have with insurance, if they have it. And then there’s everybody who just doesn’t have insurance or, if they’re on Medicaid, can’t find a doctor who takes their insurance.

If you are elected, you would be the first Muslim governor in American history. Have you faced pushback from political power-brokers who argue that your Egyptian heritage and Muslim faith will harm your chances to win the election?

Obviously I knew when I jumped into this race that I was going to face bigotry and racism. And obviously the white supremacist extremists on the right have made a lot of hay of the fact that I’m Muslim and have sown a bunch of conspiracy theories. But what’s been worse is the blatant bigotry that says, “Well look, there are those white supremacists extremists and if our nominee is a Muslim and an Egyptian-American, that’s going to be used against him, and I just don’t think Michigan’s ready.”

What a lot of those folks, however well-meaning, don’t realize is that, if you are even second-order using my ethnicity or faith against me, you are playing to that same set of issues. I hope that we on the left, the party of inclusion, the party that has stood up against marginalization, that we can get past that because it’s quite sad to see, to be quite honest. We don’t win elections as Democrats because we’re able to get racists to vote for us. We win elections because we’re able to get our own people out because they’re excited about a vision for the future that includes all of us.

Copyright Capital & Main

Continue Reading

Politics & Government

Tom Steyer and the Case for Impeachment

Tom Steyer, one of the Democratic Party’s biggest financial supporters, talks to David Sirota about his campaign to impeach Donald Trump.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email




Tom Steyer at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference in 2013. Photograph by Stuart Isett.

Tom Steyer has been one of the Democratic Party’s biggest financial supporters. He made his fortune in the investment world, and has spent tens of millions of dollars to support Democratic candidates, as well as to support efforts to reverse climate change. Lately, he has made headlines with a new project – a campaign to impeach Donald Trump. The campaign is called Need to Impeach, and can be found at

Capital & Main’s David Sirota recently spoke to Steyer about his impeachment campaign, America’s divided politics and the role of money in politics.

Continue Reading


Infographic: Charter School Money is Pouring into the California Election

Gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa and state superintendent candidate Marshall Tuck are raking in donations from charter school supporters.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email





Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Continue Reading

Blue State/Red District

Seven Restless GOP Districts Revisited

This week, in a run-up to the June 5 primary, we are re-highlighting our profiles of seven Republic congressional districts whose flipping would signal a fundamental groundswell against the Trump administration.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email




Julie Damon, a high school senior, sits outside a Democratic candidates' forum for California's 25th Congressional District, in Newhall. (Photo: Steve Appleford.)

On February 1 Capital & Main launched its Blue State/Red District series profiling seven Republican-held congressional red districts — specifically, the challenges shaping their destinies and the policy rifts between the districts’ representatives and their constituents. We began the series because, in 2016, seven of California’s 14 Republican-held congressional districts returned all GOP incumbents to the House of Representatives, yet majorities in seven of those districts chose Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump for president. The districts were located in places long associated with rock-ribbed conservatism: The High Desert, Orange County, interior San Diego County and the Central Valley.

This week, in a run-up to the June 5 primary, we are rerunning these stories in the hope of returning attention to these key districts, whose flipping would signal a fundamental groundswell against the Trump administration and its policies.

CA 49 (Northern and Central San Diego County) — Kelly Candaele. Co-published by International Business Times.

CA 48 (Coastal Orange County) — Judith Lewis Mernit. Co-published by The American Prospect.

CA 10 (Central Valley) — Larry Buhl. Co-published by International Business Times.

CA 25 (High Desert) — Steve Appleford. Co-published by International Business Times.

CA 21 (San Joaquin Valley) — Larry Buhl.

CA 45 (Orange County) — Judith Lewis Mernit. Co-published by International Business Times.

CA 4 (The Gold Country) — Kelly  Candaele.

Copyright Capital & Main

Continue Reading

Blue State/Red District

Blue State/Red District: Trump May Blow Reelection Headwind at David Valadao

Co-published by International Business Times
A Central Valley Congressman may be worrying that the fallout from Donald Trump’s policies could land on himself.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email




Pictured: Hanford, David Valadao’s hometown and political base.

Whether voters hold Valadao accountable for his repeated efforts to repeal Obamacare, and his failure to protect Dreamers, remains to be seen.

Co-published by International Business Times


California’s 21st Congressional District, which includes all of Kings County and portions of Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties, expands northward through the dusty flatness of the southern San Joaquin Valley, anchored by two main arteries, Interstate 5 and Highway 99. To the south, precisely planned orchards, occasionally interrupted by clusters of gas stations and restaurants at the exits, give way to pump jacks and fracking wells around Bakersfield.

The district is represented in Congress by Republican David Valadao, a dairy farmer, small-business owner and son of Portuguese immigrants. His vigorous support of agribusiness interests makes him a good fit for any politically conservative farming district, but CA-21 does not really tilt conservative. Although Valadao beat Democratic challenger Emilio Huerta in a roughly 57-43 percent split in 2016, Hillary Clinton won the district. Barack Obama carried it in 2008 and 2012.

Also Read These Stories

Valadao’s vocal support for immigrants should put him in good stead in a district that is 71 percent Latino, but it also places him at odds with his party, while other critics attack what they say is Valadao’s lack of concern for environmental and worker protections, as well as for his votes on health care. Valadao represents a particularly vulnerable constituency. CA-21 has a poverty rate of just over 30 percent, making it among the poorest congressional districts in the state. Only 57 percent of residents have earned a high school diploma or higher, and fewer than 10 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. The median household income is just under $40,000, significantly less than the statewide median household income of $64,000.

Oil fields and Kern River, viewed from Bakersfield’s Panorama Bluffs. (Dean Kuipers)

But these families do not form Valadao’s donor base. According to Open Secrets, oil and gas interests donated nearly $205,000 to Valadao between 2011 and 2018, making them his sixth-largest industry contributor (behind crop production, dairy and real estate). Leadership PACs, comprising contributions from unnamed sources, came in at number three.

Last year Valadao, along with fellow  Central Valley GOP representatives Jeff Denham, Devin Nunes and Kevin McCarthy, voted for the American Health Care Act (ACHA) or “Trumpcare,” the proposed Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Valadao had also voted to repeal the ACA during the Obama administration. Though the effort to repeal and replace the ACA with the highly unpopular GOP bill failed in the Senate, a significant number of residents in counties that make up CA-21 would have suffered with the passage of the ACHA, which would have severely cut funding for Medicaid. According to the California Department of Health Care Services, 55 percent of the population of Tulare County was eligible for Medi-Cal, the state version of Medicare. Nearly 50 percent of Fresno County, 46 percent of Kern County, and 38 percent of Kings County were eligible for Medi-Cal.

After February’s ICE raids, “People are afraid to take their kids to school and to visit local businesses.”

The counties that comprise CA-21 also have a very high number of people who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), according to county-by-county data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2011, the latest year available. That could present a political challenge for Valadao because, while the 2018 renewal of the House Farm Bill gives additional subsidies to cotton farmers (an important constituent in the district), it also imposes new restrictions on SNAP eligibility. Valadao voted for the Farm Bill, which passed in the House Agricultural Committee in mid-April. (Valadao did not respond to interview requests made through his Washington office.)

Whether voters hold Valadao accountable for his repeated efforts to repeal the ACA remains to be seen. Republican leaders now openly fret about the headwinds going into the 2018 midterms, though they’re reluctant to pin the blame on Trump, or even voter opposition to GOP policies. According to the political forecasting site FiveThirtyEight, Valadao has voted with Trump policies nearly 99 percent of the time, tied for second place as the “most Trump-aligned,” along with more than 40 other GOP House caucus members. If Valadao faces trouble going into the midterm, it could be in spite of the few important issues where he’s broken with the party line.

ICE Raids and Tariff Threats

Immigration and agriculture are intertwined in CA-21, which is dotted with historical markers of the farmworker movement. South along the 99 lies Delano, the site of the 1965 labor strike against grape growers by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and the United Farm Workers. Farmworkers are the fuel of the economic engine here, and a large percentage are undocumented immigrants — the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service pegs the nationwide percentage of undocumented farmworkers at 50 percent. Some estimates give California a much higher figure. Finding enough farmworkers during peak harvest times has been difficult, even before the Trump administration ratcheted up rhetoric about illegal immigration and border walls, as well as an improving economy in Mexico.

Increasingly, farmers have been turning to the temporary agriculture worker visa program, H-2A, which allows employers to bring in foreign agricultural workers if the growers can provide free housing, demonstrate an agricultural labor shortage and pay wages high enough that they wouldn’t undercut the local labor market.

Valadao has been an outspoken supporter of H2-A, despite criticism that it is too expensive and too bureaucratic.

The environment is one area where there’s little if any daylight between Valadao and Trump.

But Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids here have made it unlikely that the worker shortage will improve. In February, ICE made a sweep across the Central Valley and arrested 232 people, including 180 who ICE said were convicted criminals or had been issued a final order of removal or had been previously removed from the U.S. In an email, the United Farm Workers confirmed to Capital & Main that 26 of those arrested in the sweep were farmworkers and that it has received reports of even more detentions, and that ICE is still present in Kern County. One ICE raid in March in Delano led to a high speed chase and crash resulting in the death of two farmworkers.

Leydy Rangel, a UFW spokesperson, said the union has received reports of even more farmworker detentions than the 26 reported. “People are afraid to take their kids to school and to visit local businesses,” she said.

Valadao’s office provided a statement in response to the ICE raids: “Recent incidents involving immigrants and immigration authorities have left many in our community concerned and scared – which is exactly why we must pass comprehensive legislation that repairs our broken immigration system from the ground up. Just last month, I cosponsored H. Res. 774, a legislative maneuver that will allow the House to individually debate and vote on four different pieces of immigration legislation.”

A trade war could make a bigger impact on Valadao’s district than the farmworker shortage. In March President Trump announced tariffs on steel and aluminum, mostly aimed at China. Beijing quickly imposed retaliatory tariffs of up to 25 percent on $3 billion worth of U.S. imports, including pistachios and almonds, California’s first- and second-largest agricultural exports to China. Valadao signed a letter to President Trump urging him to “reconsider the idea of broad tariffs to avoid unintended negative consequences to the U.S. economy and its workers.” He also released a statement denouncing broad tariffs – but not tariffs generally – saying, “Agriculture continues to be the foundation of the Central Valley economy and we must protect strong trade relations with foreign nations.”

As far as Valadao’s 2018 electoral chances go, he may need to worry that the sins of his party – or its leader, Trump – on trade policy and the attendant fallout could be visited upon himself. On immigration, the popular perception is that his ties to Trump could hurt him even more.

On DACA, Taking Heat for His Party

The White House had set March 5, 2018 as the expiration date for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), pushing 700,000 recipients of this Obama-era program into uncertainty, although that termination is now being challenged in courts. Valadao has supported a permanent solution for DACA, declaring in December that it was not a partisan issue and that Congress “must come together to provide a legislative solution so these individuals may continue to live in the only home they know: the United States.”

Valadao has continually affirmed his commitment to repairing the “broken immigration system,” and his website mentions his support of the failed 2013 immigration reform package, H.R. 15, as well as his vote against a defense bill amendment that would block undocumented youth from serving in the military, and his cosponsoring of both H.R. 496, Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy Act (BRIDGE) Act, and H.R. 1468, the Recognizing America’s Children (RAC) Act, which promised a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Critics say Valadao’s GROW bill would let California farmers grab more water at the expense of wildlife protections and public input on water projects.

Nevertheless, Tania Bernal, an undocumented immigrant and political science major at Bakersfield College, blamed Valadao for lack of legislation that would protect her.

“He said he would do everything in his power to protect Dreamers and he failed,” she told me. “It’s very disappointing because they are stringing us along. About 19,000 Dreamers have lost their DACA and they’re vulnerable to deportation right now.”

While admitting that technically it was the party, led by President Trump, that failed on DACA, Bernal said she and other local Dreamers also hold Valadao accountable for not delivering a “clean” Dream Act — legislation giving people covered under DACA a way to obtain permanent legal status in America, unconnected to border security upgrades or any other provisions.

A January, 2018 CBS News poll showed nearly nine out of 10 Americans want DACA recipients to remain in the U.S. Valadao’s stance should make him bulletproof on DACA. But he has faced resistance from the far right of the GOP in his attempts to do anything for undocumented immigrants. It’s not clear how many of his constituents will blame him for the inaction of his own party, especially as it relates to Dreamers. But people I talked with for this story who had an opinion on the matter were not willing to separate Valadao from the GOP.

While in Bakersfield, which is awkwardly split between CA-21 and CA-23, I visited a rally held by Faith in Kern, a grassroots group fighting for racial equity, outside the office of Valadao’s fellow GOP Congressman, Kevin McCarthy. The rally was part of a 40-day political action coinciding with Lent (the demonstrators promised to later protest at Valadao’s office on the other side of town). They said that they would hold both men responsible for the inaction of their party, which controls Congress. The three-dozen demonstrators were more polite and respectful than angry, and featured several DACA Dreamers who shared their stories. Eloisa Torres tearfully recalled that the recent deaths of her grandparents – whose funerals she couldn’t attend in Mexico because of her precarious status – emboldened her to speak out. “If you’re not fighting for what you want, you’re not going to get it,” she said.

Earlier, Stephanie Smith, a faith leader at Tehachapi Community United Church of Christ, had condemned Congress, Valadao and McCarthy for showing “a general disregard for people,” while scolding the representatives for voting for H.R.-620, which, she said, guts the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“There are no bills for a path to citizenship under consideration, no solution for them, but we’ve ramped up the deportation machine that terrorizes our families, or friends, or coworkers, the people who go to our church. Human connectedness should mean more than artificial borders.”

Diesel and Dust

Almost everywhere in CA-21 one is aware that mountains exist somewhere in the distance, to the east or the west. But most days they’re airbrushed gray-brown by the valley’s infamous smog. The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2018” report lists two regions within CA-21 – Bakersfield and Visalia as, respectively, second- and third-worst for year-round particle pollution, also known as soot. They were also, respectively, second- and third-worst in ozone pollution because of diesel particulates from semis whizzing through their thoroughfares, and from the dust stirred up by farm operations.

The environment is one area where there’s little if any daylight between Valadao and Trump.

Valadao has not supported efforts to combat climate change, and does not believe that the weather in the Central Valley, in which the last five years were the hottest in history, is a direct result of climate change. Climate activists have slammed Valadao’s support of S.J. Res. 24, a “resolution of disapproval” under the Congressional Review Act that would nullify the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

But Valadao’s office pushed back on any assertion that he had blamed California’s drought on regulation, rather than climate change. The office pointed to a more nuanced comment on his website, which stated, “While legislation cannot make it rain, it can provide relief by addressing complex and contradictory laws, court decisions, and regulations at the state and federal level that have made recent droughts increasingly detrimental.”

In 2017, Valadao introduced H.R. 23, the “Gaining Responsibility on Water Act” (GROW), that he has proudly touted as a plan to modernize water policies. Critics have said GROW would let California farmers grab more water at the expense of wildlife protections and public input on water projects. Also in 2017, Valadao co-sponsored, with Kevin McCarthy, H.R. 806 (the Ozone Standards Implementation Act), which has been criticized for undermining the EPA’s ability to set healthy ozone and particulate-matter standards, and delaying the implementation of clean-air solutions.

In March 2017, in the lead-up to the bill, the House heard testimony from the deputy executive officer of the California Air Resources Board, who said, “H.R. 806 would mean more people would breathe dirty air longer.” Jeff Denham and Devin Nunes, who represent the rest of the smoggy Central Valley, voted for Valadao’s bill.

Gary Rodriguez, a fourth grade teacher in Shafter, told me that people in the district are growing fed up with the air quality.

“Some days we can’t let kids out for recess because of the air quality,” he said. “The local air district does a lot of spinning about the cause of pollution. They’ll say it’s geography or that it’s blown in from the Bay Area, Los Angeles or even China.”

“You name it we’re breathing it, from fracking to pesticides to vehicles,” said Lupe Martinez, assistant to the director for the Center on Race Poverty & the Environment (CRPE), when I spoke with him in Delano. Martinez also connected the dots between the environment, immigration and poverty, saying that farmworkers, the backbone of agriculture, haven’t benefited from the success of the industry.

“There are communities that don’t have natural gas to heat their homes, so they’re using wood and butane. It’s not that they don’t want to have natural gas, it’s just that natural gas has bypassed the communities.”

And that wood smoke, he said, increases air toxicity, worsened by temperature inversions that trap soot from agricultural burn-offs, especially in the winter. Martinez said he and other activists are pushing the state Public Utilities Commission to increase access to natural gas. “I don’t even know if [Valadao’s] aware of it,” he said.

Copyright Capital & Main

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Continue Reading

Top Stories