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The Dolphin Group: Prop. 32's Dark Messenger




Today’s body politic has no shortage of rhetorical bile, but no campaign attack ad comes close to matching 1988’s race-baiting Willie Horton commercial for sheer visceral partisanship.

Horton was a black murder convict who raped a woman and stabbed her male companion while on a weekend furlough from a Massachusetts prison. The ad — which showed a photo of Horton, with the words “raping” and “stabbing” flashing behind him – blamed former Massachusetts Governor and then-presidential candidate Michael Dukakis for Horton’s release. It is generally thought of as a low-water mark in American politics—stoking racial stereotypes in a Machiavellian push for victory at any cost. But it worked. Dukakis never recovered from the attack and George H.W. Bush went on to win the presidency.

Rather than facing censure, the political consulting outfit behind the Horton ad, the Dolphin Group, has thrived ever since. Based in Los Angeles with an office in Sacramento, Dolphin was founded in 1974 by political consultant Bill Roberts, who helped Ronald Reagan win his campaign for California Governor in 1966. No fan of modesty, Roberts for years took credit on Dolphin’s website for “transforming popular movie star Ronald Reagan into one of the most well known political figures in U.S. history.”

“I think I ought to have the right to lie to you if I think it will help me win,” Roberts told the Los Angeles Times in 1982. He died six years later, just months before the Willie Horton ad was released.

Now, more than two decades later, the Dolphin Group, sans Roberts, but with his political philosophy fully intact, is working on behalf of the Yes on Proposition 32 campaign in California. According to the most recent filing statements published on the California Secretary of State’s website, Dolphin has received nearly $25,000 in consulting fees and expense reimbursements from the Yes on 32 effort. Dolphin Senior Vice President Elizabeth Hansell is personally involved in the Yes on 32 effort, taking part in at least one pro-Prop. 32 community forum in Kern County, and is referred to in campaign literature as Stop the Special Interest Money’s “Coalitions Director.”

Prop. 32’s cynical appropriation of Occupy Wall Street-style anti-corporate rhetoric, and the language of campaign finance reform, fits what has become Dolphin’s signature in recent years – the “Trojan Horse” political campaign. The firm has upped the cynicism of its Willie Horton ad by specializing in taking the most draconian big business-backed measures and draping them in the language of good government reform. (Requests for comments for this article have not been answered by the Dolphin Group.)

One of the firm’s most disingenuous political efforts in the state was the campaign strategy it developed on behalf of California’s 1994 ballot initiative, Proposition 188. Funded by the tobacco industry, Prop. 188 would have eliminated more than 300 local anti-smoking ordinances across California, gutted new legislation to ban indoor smoking in workplaces, and replaced strict state protections against selling tobacco to minors with a toothless, loophole-filled ordinance.

So how do you sell something like that to a voting public highly supportive of anti-smoking legislation?

Bring in the Dolphin Group.

Since there was virtually no chance of Prop. 188 winning on its merits, Dolphin simply flipped the switch, billing the measure as an anti-tobacco reform effort and a worthy heir to the wave of anti-smoking legislation (Assembly Bill 13 and the STAKE Act, to name two) that the California state legislature had been passing. Dolphin set up an Astroturf anti-smoking group called Californians for Statewide Smoking Restrictions to front the subterfuge. CASSR ran radio spots featuring the voice of a woman claiming to be a school vice principal, telling voters that Prop. 188 is the “best way to keep cigarettes away from kids.”

Initially, the ruse worked. According to an October, 1994 poll taken by the Los Angeles Times, Prop. 188 was ahead among likely voters only weeks before election day. California public health officials were appalled.

“I’m hard-pressed to see how 188 is a stronger approach to this very difficult problem,” then-California Health Director S. Kimberly Belshe told the Los Angeles Times. Former California Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman described Dolphin’s attack plan as “misleading at best and fraudulent at worst.”

Eventually, however, a coalition of anti-smoking advocates filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, which subsequently forced CASSR to add the tagline “A Committee of California Hotels, Restaurants, Philip Morris Inc. and other tobacco companies” next to its name on all advertising. Once the connection between CASSR and Big Tobacco was spelled out, voters wised up and Prop. 188 wound up losing by a nearly 70 to 30 percent margin.

Dolphin’s Trojan Horse strategy, however, endured.

In 1999, Dolphin was back at it again, speaking for yet another Astroturf group, Coalition for a Sustainable Delta (CSD) as a front for Beverly Hills agribusiness magnate Stewart Resnick’s interests in a looming water controversy in the Sacramento River Delta.

In the late 1990s, California Department of Fish and Game officials noticed the stocks of native salmon and endangered smelt were declining precipitously in the Delta, thanks to a receding fresh water supply. Water pumping restrictions to California’s farms were put into motion.

The Delta is a major source of water for Resnick’s farming interests, however, and he wasn’t about to have his virtually unlimited cheap water source potentially restricted. In response to proposed pumping caps, Dolphin-backed CSD successfully sued to halt the caps, claiming the plunge in native fish stocks was really caused by non-native “stressors,” such as the striped bass. The bass CSD claimed, ate the eggs of salmon and endangered Delta smelt. Eight years later the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service debunked this fish tale and imposed water pumping restrictions to protect the smelt.

One would think that actively fighting California environmental officials would have kept Dolphin associates busy, but in 2000 they helped start another fake grassroots organization called Santa Monicans for a Living Wage — which spent its time undermining attempts to impose living wage regulations. The coalition fronted a local ballot initiative, Measure KK, which would have stopped efforts to impose a minimum wage of $10.69 an hour on Santa Monica’s wildly lucrative coastal luxury hotels, restaurants and boutiques. The proposal would have covered approximately 3,000 employees.

Measure KK would have also prevented the Santa Monica City Council from ever instituting a living wage on a private business in the city. It failed by a 78 to 22 percent margin.

Two years later, the local hotel industry put Measure JJ on the Santa Monica ballot, as a public referendum on the city’s living wage law – with the goal of repealing it. Dolphin represented yet another Astroturf group, Fighting Against Irresponsible Regulation (FAIR). Without offering any evidence, the group claimed to have an army of bellboys, waiters and housekeepers working its phone banks against the initiative.

Measure JJ went down in defeat.

In 2006, the hotel industry hired the Dolphin Group to run a “scorched earth” campaign against Santa Monica city councilman Kevin McKeown’s run for reelection, ostensibly for his support of the living wage initiative in the early aughts. Right off the bat, Dolphin created yet another faux grassroots organization called “Santa Monicans for Sensible Priorities” to attack McKeown. They took out TV ads—unheard of in Santa Monica–accusing McKeown, among other things, of importing mass populations of homeless people to the city’s beaches.

“It was far and away the most negative campaign in the history of Santa Monica,” remembers McKeown.

McKeown won the election, thanks to a Steve Lopez column in the Los Angeles Times, debunking Dolphin’s disingenuous campaign tactics.

“They will distort the electoral process on behalf of their clients without any care for voter trust,” McKeown says, “or for maintaining voter faith in the democratic process. As long as they win.”

Like the pro-tobacco and anti-environmental and anti-living wage crusades before it, Prop. 32 bears the unmistakable DNA of a Dolphin campaign. If you can’t win on straight merit, appropriate the other side’s arguments and use them to mask your own.

Proposition 32 is no different than the California “paycheck protection” efforts that preceded it in 1998 and 2005—and failed. The only difference this time around is Dolphin’s Occupy-inspired, anti-corporate packaging.

2018 Election Results

7 Takeaways from California’s Elections

Two of the biggest shockers happened in Los Angeles and Orange counties, in races that have historically drawn the most conservative voters: sheriff and district attorney.




Official voting results are weeks away from getting verified for the 2018 general election, but big, historic trends are already emerging: some old, some new, some bad — and a lot of Blue.

1. Real estate interests prove again that they’re some of the evilest people in California history

The people who helped to bring to the Golden State housing covenants, redlining, Proposition 13, the overturning of the Rumford Fair Housing Act, McMansions in canyons that always burn and so much more housing nastiness were on the wrong side of history again this election cycle. They spent at least $74 million to demonize Proposition 10—which would only allow municipalities the right to consider rent control—to the point where even renters felt it was a nefarious plot to destroy property values and bankrupt elderly landlords. Unsurprisingly, Prop. 10 lost by a nearly two-thirds majority, and real estate special-interests groups will spend even more if another such measure ever goes statewide again.

2. The Democrats’ next big battleground will be the Central Valley

Most of the Dems’ millions were spent on flipping Orange County blue, but as I wrote for the Los Angeles Times recently, the Democrats can learn a lot for 2020 by what’s happening in the Central Valley. There, Latino candidates have climbed the political ladder from school board seats to a majority of the Valley’s state Assembly and state Senate seats, flipping two of the latter with Latinas (Anna Caballero in the 12th, Melissa Hurtado in the 14th) on Tuesday. What they yet don’t have is one of the congressional seats held by the region’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: David Valadao, Jeff Denham, Kevin McCarthy and Devin Nunes, all whom won their races this time around (although Denham is still sweating his out). Expect the Dems to groom some rising stars for 2020—and expect them to mine data from the Valley about how to attract rural voters.

3. People in Southern California mistrust law enforcement more than ever before

Two of the biggest shockers happened around elected positions that have historically drawn the most conservative voters: sheriff and district attorney. In Orange County, Supervisor Todd Spitzer handily beat 20-year incumbent DA Tony Rackauckas, who has been dogged by a jailhouse snitch scandal for years. But even more surprising was the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s race, where Jim McConnell—supported by virtually the entire L.A. political class—lost to former deputy Alex Villanueva. Villanueva will be the first Democratic sheriff in more than 100 years.

4. Los Alamitos is now unofficially Southern California’s City of Hate

The tiny northwest Orange County town made news earlier this year when the city council decided to pass an ordinance protesting California’s sanctuary state law. The councilman who pushed that resolution, Warren Kusumoto, was reelected this week. But also winning a seat was former councilmember Dean Grose, who made national headlines in 2009 when he emailed a racist cartoon of a watermelon patch growing outside the Obama White House.

5. AIDS Healthcare Foundation needs to stop wasting money on propositions

The nonprofit giant spent over $23 million on the Yes on 10 battle, two years after spending $4.5 million on Proposition 60 to mandate condoms on adult films sets in California and more than $14 million on Proposition 61 to regulate prescription drugs bought by the state. Last year, it spent $5.5 million on Measure S, an anti-development ordinance in Los Angeles. All that money went to nothing, as each measure lost handily. Maybe AIDS Healthcare Foundation head Michael Weinstein should’ve spent that $47 million on services?

6. The California GOP’s last, best hope are Asians

The party has long been dead in the state, but a glimmer of hope has emerged for it in Orange County. Asian-American Republicans there now hold one congressional and state Senate seat, two state Assembly spots, three of the five chairs on the Board of Supervisors, and multiple school board and city council positions. And the new mayor of Anaheim, Orange County’s largest city, is Indian-American Harry Sidhu. Leave it to Orange County to get minorities to side with the Party of Trump!

7. With five of seven congressional seats now Democrat, this ain’t your dad’s Orange County anymore

It’s not even your Orange County. A brave new OC awaits all of us, indeed….

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Why Was Climate Change Omitted From Colorado’s Debate Over Fracking?

Co-published by Westword
The total absence of climate change discussion in Colorado’s 2018 election was striking, considering the state’s intensified floods, droughts and wildfires.




Illustration: Nicolás Zúñiga

Over eight debates between gubernatorial candidates Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton, Colorado’s press corps mustered just three questions about climate change.


Co-published by Westword

It is no overstatement to say that Colorado’s Proposition 112 and Amendment 74 were two of the most significant and far-reaching climate change measures in America’s entire midterm election. But don’t blame yourself if you didn’t know that. While the initiatives sparked a pitched battle about the fossil fuel industry just as scientists were issuing a dire warning about climate change, that term — “climate change” — was largely absent from the state’s political conversation in 2018, even though some local officials say climate change could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in the near future.

While Colorado’s oil and gas industry was asserting that burning carbon-emitting fracked gas is “helping to reduce carbon emissions,” it sponsored an anonymous website attacking journalists who report on energy and climate issues.

Oil and gas corporations spent roughly $40 million to oppose 112, which would have mandated larger distances between fossil fuel extraction sites and schools, hospitals and residential neighborhoods, and likely restricted some fossil fuel development. Some of that money also went into promoting 74, which would have empowered those same oil and gas companies to sue towns that try to restrict drilling and fracking. While the industry offered a smorgasbord of arguments in its campaign — it would defund schools, it would kill jobs, etc. — those criticisms were all based on one central premise: that the setbacks measure would allegedly ban all new oil and gas exploration.

Had climate change been a central topic of conversation, that assertion could have boomeranged on the industry — proponents could have argued that an all-out ban was in fact urgently needed in light of a recent United Nations report warning of a full-fledged dystopia if new fossil fuel development is not halted. And they might have found a receptive audience: Recent polling from the University of Colorado has shown that 70 percent of Coloradans say they are at least somewhat concerned about climate change — and that survey was done before a summer of climate-change-intensified wildfires.

Even though Prop. 112 was not a total ban on fossil fuel extraction, at least a few national voices noted that it represented an important front in the climate change battle.

However, the Colorado press corps barely mentioned climate change in its coverage of the fight, and groups pushing the proposition never made climate change a central argument in their campaign.

An analysis by Media Matters found that out of 12 Colorado newspaper editorials about 112, just one — that of the Boulder Daily Camera, which endorsed the measure — even mentioned climate change. News coverage of 112 focused alternately on the health and environmental hazards highlighted by activists and industry doomsaying about its economic and budgetary implications, but reporting on fossil fuel-related carbon emissions and their contribution to climate change was almost nonexistent.

That was true not only of the fight over 112, but of the state’s wider political discourse. Over eight debates between governor-elect Jared Polis and opponent Walker Stapleton, the Colorado press corps mustered just three questions about climate change, accounting for less than 10 minutes of discussion during eight and a half hours of debate.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association was sponsoring an anonymous website attacking journalists who report on energy and climate issues. And as a backup measure to defang any potential climate arguments, the industry also ramped up its production of promotional PR asserting that burning carbon-emitting fracked gas is “helping to reduce carbon emissions,” as COGA insists. That assertion relies on the public never realizing that it’s only true in comparison to burning coal, but not actually true overall: Natural gas is a fossil fuel, so carbon is emitted when it is burned — no matter what COGA tries to insinuate.

The defeat of an explicitly climate-related ballot measure in Washington State suggests that many voters are not willing to support even modest efforts to frontally address climate change.

That context, though, is rarely noted in a political arena that has long been dominated by armies of fossil fuel lobbyists and millions of dollars of fossil fuel campaign spending. This year, much of that money was spent on ads designed to narrow the debate to one primarily about jobs and economic impact, thereby precluding 112 campaigners from broadening the conversation to one about the climate change dangers of fossil fuel extraction. Colorado Rising, the group behind Proposition 112, was boxed into making arguments only about better protecting the public health and safety of those living near fracking rigs, and to defensively insist that the measure wasn’t an actual ban.

In a media environment that was already erasing climate change from the conversation, there was no space for them to more straightforwardly argue that dramatic reductions in fossil fuel extraction are necessary to address climate change.

“What the polling is showing is that if people are really convinced that it’s an outright ban, they aren’t going to vote for it,” Colorado Rising’s Anne Lee Foster told Capital & Main when asked why climate change wasn’t a more prominent part of the campaign. “It’s not about what the actual percentage [ban] is, it’s proving that they have been blowing this out of proportion the whole time.”

At times, 112’s proponents ended up publicly asserting that the measure would not significantly reduce fossil fuel extraction at all, even as climate scientists argue that’s exactly what’s necessary.

“The oil and gas folks out there will still be able to do their thing,” said Mark Williams, a former Democratic congressional candidate, at a Longmont town hall where he promoted 112. “My concern is you have all these operators that are out there that are trying to make a quick buck, [but] Colorado does not have strong enough regulations.”

There’s no guarantee 112 would have been more successful had the proponents tried to focus the fight on climate change; the oil and gas industry’s success in defeating an explicitly climate-related ballot measure in Washington State suggests that many voters are not willing to support even modest efforts to frontally address climate change.

However, the total absence of the issue in Colorado’s 2018 election was striking, considering not only the IPCC report, but also the state’s own specific struggles with the effects of climate change. After all, leading scientists say that climate change is already intensifying Colorado’s floods, droughts and wildfires. And although COGA has demanded that “natural gas must be part of the climate change conversation,” many of those scientists disagree.

“There is more than enough carbon in the world’s already developed, operating oil, gas, and coal fields globally to exceed 2°C,” wrote a group of 26 climate scientists in a July letter to California Governor Jerry Brown, urging him to immediately halt the approval of all new oil and gas drilling. “There is simply no room in the carbon budget for any new fossil fuel extraction.”

“Absolutely no new fossil fuel developments. None,” said climate scientist Will Steffen, when asked earlier this year what the U.S. needs to do to help avoid global catastrophe. “That means no new coal mines, no new oil wells, no new gas fields, no new unconventional gas fracking. Nothing new.”

This is why even though 112 was not a total ban on fossil fuel extraction, at least a few national voices noted that its potential to somewhat reduce that extraction represented an important front in the climate change battle.

In a guest column for the Denver Post, former NASA scientist James Hansen encouraged Coloradans to vote for 112 because it would “help prevent climate change by making oil and gas harder to access.” Senator Bernie Sanders, who has called for a nationwide ban on fracking, also endorsed the measure on climate-related grounds. And toward the end of the campaign, founder Bill McKibben promoted the measure as part of his organization’s nationwide push to combat climate change.

But by that point, the industry’s PR machine was already skilled at suppressing any discussion of climate change and transforming every 112 argument into economic alarmism. An editorial in oil magnate Phil Anschutz’s Colorado Springs Gazette was emblematic: In attacking McKibben, it didn’t even bother to mention climate change, much less address his substantive argument.

Instead, its headline simply screamed, “Out-of-stater comes to kill Colorado jobs.”

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2018 Election Results

CA-49: A GOP District Realigns With Democrats After Mike Levin Victory

Republican Diane Harkey ended her dispirited campaign by attempting to distance herself from Trump’s personality but supporting him on “substance.”

Kelly Candaele




Mike Levin

Was the victory of Democrat Mike Levin in the 49th Congressional District race a decisive one? It seems so. Levin’s roughly seven point victory over Republican Diane Harkey might make newcomers to the district – running from southern Orange County down the coast to northern San Diego – wonder how Republicans have dominated that stretch of California for so long.

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Demographic shifts explain part of what happened. Educated high-tech workers have moved into the area, and Levin targeted Latinos and women in this “year of the woman.” Levin was also blessed with a weak opponent plagued by her husband’s financial scandals.

But perhaps something beyond political math was also taking place. Decades ago political scientist Walter Dean Burnham worried that American political parties had deteriorated to such an extent that they could not deal with critical national and international issues. Burnham lamented the decline in voting participation, particularly among the lower classes, and trained his analytical eye on “realignment” elections that led to durable shifts in political coalitions and public policy. The results in the 49th district could be such a realignment where a general political crisis can force a breakthrough and renewal.

One sign of how much has changed in the 49th is that Levin brought Bernie Sanders to campaign with him in the final week of the campaign, a risk in what most political observers regard as a “centrist” district. Sander’s message denouncing the state of our health care system and the cost of higher education is neither scary nor politically costly when it resonates with the realities of so many people’s lives.

Harkey ended her dispirited campaign by attempting to distance herself from Trump’s personality but supporting him on “substance,” meaning the “booming” economy she said he created.

For many voters, the “substance” now is their aesthetic and existential disgust at how President Trump is attempting to re-create our country.

The current battle may lead to the rebuilding of a political force on the progressive side that is able to fight more effectively by forging broader, more sustainable coalitions. That rebuilding is certainly under way in the 49th Congressional District.

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2018 Election Results

Proposition 11: Emergency Crews Lose Out

Framing Prop. 11 as necessary to protect public safety was a strong argument, but it didn’t help that the opposition failed to file paperwork in time to have their arguments against the measure included in the state’s voter guide.

Gabriel Thompson




Proposition 11, which rewrites California’s Labor Code to allow private ambulance companies to require paramedics and EMTs to be on call during breaks, cruised to an easy victory on election night, with 60 percent voter support. The result wasn’t surprising; polling showed the measure was leading by a two-to-one margin. Prop. 11’s primary supporter, private ambulance company American Medical Response, vastly outspent the opposition, pouring $22 million into the campaign to argue that response times to emergencies would increase if the measure were defeated.

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The proposition came in the wake of a 2016 California Supreme Court ruling that private security guards are required to be given uninterrupted rest breaks. That ruling likely would apply to the state’s private sector EMTs and paramedics, who are also on call during breaks, and who have filed several lawsuits challenging the practice, including one against AMR. Last year, a legislative attempt to solve the problem stalled in the face of AMR opposition; one of the sticking points was whether the bill would protect AMR from active lawsuits. (As written, Prop. 11 shields AMR from liability regarding breaks in pending litigation.)

Framing Prop. 11 as necessary to protect public safety was a strong argument, but it didn’t help that the opposition, led by the United EMS Workers, an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local, failed to file paperwork in time to have its arguments against the measure included in the state’s voter guide. (Disclosure: AFSCME is a financial supporter of this website.) AMR largely drowned out the local’s attempts to highlight the grueling working conditions faced by emergency workers, and the need for extra staffing to allow more predictable breaks.

What remains to be seen is whether Prop. 11 will in fact shield AMR and other private ambulance companies from pending lawsuits, a decision likely to be determined in court. Jason Brollini, president-executive director of United EMS Workers, estimates that AMR could owe workers as much as $100 million in settlements if the cases are allowed to proceed.

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2018 Election Results

CA-25: Katie Hill Ends Knight Reign in Changing District

While Hill’s youth, bisexuality and comfortably modern persona got the attention of Vice and other media, Steve Knight was seemingly out of touch with his own constituents.




Katie Hill went to bed last night at the end of an excruciatingly tight congressional race, not knowing if her home district was red or blue. At stake was California’s 25th District, where Hill spent the last 18 months on an unlikely quest to unseat two-term GOP Rep. Steve Knight. By six this morning, Hill, a 31-year-old first-time candidate, appeared to have won by more than 4,000 votes.

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The seat was among several Republican-held offices targeted by the Democratic Party, in districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, but it was never going to be easy. CA-25 had been in Republican hands since 1993, representing territory stretching from northern Los Angeles County to parts of Ventura County. It may have been tilting from red to purple, but Hill wisely shaped her campaign to the immediate kitchen-table interests of the district, and avoided all discussion of presidential impeachment, Russia or special counsel Robert Mueller.

“We’re not running an anti-Trump campaign,” Hill told Capital & Main early in the campaign. “I just don’t think that’s the issue that people care the most about here.”

Hill grew up in the tiny district town of Rosamond and, later, in Santa Clarita, and now resides in rural Agua Dulce. She was a cop’s daughter running against former LAPD officer Knight. Hill began her campaign after working eight years at PATH, one of the largest homeless services providers in California. Growing homelessness in CA-25 was one of her core concerns, along with health care and economic opportunity.

While her youth, bisexuality and comfortably modern persona got the attention of Vice and other media, Knight was seemingly out of touch with his own constituents, many of whom commuted daily to Los Angeles. He was on record as supporting legislation banning gay marriage and voted with President Trump 99 percent of the time, including the failed attempt to eliminate the Affordable Care Act. If her lead holds through the week’s final ballot count, Hill will join an unprecedented wave of women elected to Congress and presumably will take a new and far different path than Knight.

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2018 Election Results

CA-10: Jeff Denham Loses Lead As Democratic Enthusiasm and Cash Turn District Bluer

As of Friday evening Denham had lost his narrow lead over Democratic challenger Josh Harder, who now claims 51 percent of the vote in the latest ballot count.




Josh Harder

UPDATE, Nov. 9: Democratic challenger Josh Harder has passed incumbent Jeff Denham in late-ballot counting. According to the California Secretary of State’s website, Harder leads Denham 51 percent to 49 percent. The Fresno Bee reports, “The swing came after Stanislaus County election workers processed an extra 63,631 late-arriving mail-in ballots, and San Joaquin County added another 1,460.”

A TV ad for incumbent Republican Congressman Jeff Denham stated that his Democratic challenger Josh Harder “shares Nancy Pelosi’s liberal San Francisco values.” The ad, running in the Sacramento media market and on digital platforms throughout California’s 10th District, went on to state that Harder, if victorious, would leave residents of this Central Valley district with dramatically worse health care options.

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It was a puzzling claim, considering Denham voted with his party to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, several times, and voted for the Republican replacement, the unpopular American Health Care Act.

As of Wednesday morning, Jeff Denham clung to a lead of 50.6 percent of the vote, with Harder claiming 49.4 percent. While 100 percent of precincts had reported, the race had not been called, pending the counting of mail-in and provisional ballots. Democratic activists said enthusiasm and campaign cash were up. Harder raised more than $7 million in this cycle to Denham’s $4.4 million.

Back in February, most of the volunteer canvassers trying to boost Democratic registration in Modesto, the heart of the district, were from the Bay Area. They said they had driven east to turn this purplish district solid blue. CA-10, which voted for Hillary Clinton by three points in 2016 while giving Denham a similar margin of victory, was one of the top Democratic targets for flipping in 2018.

Whether Denham or Harder end up winning, the trend of people relocating from the pricey Bay Area could end up re-shaping the electorate in the district. New research from BuildZoom and the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley shows a growing connection between the Bay Area and its neighbor to the east, CA-10. “More than 55 percent of Bay Area out-migrants in households earning less than $50,000 a year stayed in California, [heading to] more affordable markets, such as the Sacramento region or Central Valley metro areas, like Modesto or Fresno,” the study said.

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2018 Election Results

CA-21: Valadao’s Win Defies Demographics and Democratic Headwinds

Incumbent David Valadao grew up in the district, and has given unwavering support to agribusiness interests, a very important position in this largely agricultural region.




David Valadao

California’s 21st District seemed like a plausible target to flip from red to blue in 2018 even though incumbent Republican Congressman David Valadao had beaten his Democratic challenger Emelio Huerta by 13 points in 2016. Hillary Clinton handily carried the district, and the demographics also looked good for a Democrat. The district is 71 percent Latino, a group that gave Clinton 66 percent of its vote nationwide two years ago. Republicans account for 27 percent of registered voters in CA-21, 16 points lower than Democratic registration. According to the political forecasting site FiveThirtyEight, Valadao voted with Trump policies nearly 99 percent of the time.

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Despite those headwinds for Valadao, and visits from Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Democratic challenger TJ Cox fell far short. By early Wednesday, Valadao claimed 53.7 percent of the vote to 46.3 percent for Cox with provisional and mail-in ballots still to be counted.

Throughout the campaign, Cox was on the offensive, blasting Valadao’s votes for the unpopular Republican tax reform bill, and the even more unpopular American Health Care Act (ACHA) or “Trumpcare.”

Valadao claimed the Republican tax plan saved families thousands of dollars in a district with a far lower median household income than California as a whole. He also touted his willingness to break from Trump in a failed attempt at immigration reform earlier this year.

Valadao’s strong ties to the district may have given him an advantage. A dairy farmer, small-business owner and son of Portuguese immigrants, Valadao grew up in the district, and has given unwavering support to agribusiness interests, a very important position in this largely agricultural region. Cox, an engineer who has never held elected office, owns a home just outside the district in Fresno and earlier in the election cycle claimed a home in suburban Washington, D.C. as his principal residence.

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2018 Election Results

Proposition 5: Real Estate Industry’s Tax-Break Measure Stopped in Its Tracks

The failure of this homeowners’ tax-break measure might have been predictable–its creators didn’t mount much of a campaign, and evidently left it for dead.

Bobbi Murray




Proposition 5 sunk at the polls Tuesday night with a 57 percent No vote. It had gotten little notice in the recent welter of ballot propositions– even though it had everything to do with two California obsessions—taxes and housing.

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State homeowners over 55, or who are disabled, are currently entitled to a onetime opportunity to transfer the property tax set by 1978’s Proposition 13 when they sell their home.

Prop. 5 would have expanded that tax break—making it transportable no matter how many moves and no matter the price of the new property. Someone wealthy enough to purchase beach-front property would still have artificially fixed low tax rates.

The California Realtors Association qualified Prop. 5 for the ballot and backed it with $13, 204,875—chump change in the world of California initiative politics.

Yes on Prop. 5 and No on Proposition 10 were prominent on the C.A.R website; spending on the soundly defeated Prop. 10, which would have expanded local governments’ ability to enact rent control, exceeded $45 million.

A California State Legislative Analyst’s report shows 85,000 homeowners 55 years or older sell property and move without extra tax enticements that drain state revenues and projected Prop. 5 would have drained $1 billion annually from schools and local government budgets.

Proponents tried to play the housing-shortage card, arguing that Prop. 5 would create more home ownership opportunities by increasing the sale of existing homes as previous owners move on.

“It would be a generous thing to say that Prop. 5 has anything to do with addressing the housing crisis,” Chris Hoene of the California Budget and Policy Center told Capital & Main. “The Realtors Association has tried to say that this will help with housing mobility but the economists and the housing experts agree that it won’t.”

Media representatives for Prop. 5 did not respond to requests for interview or to e-mailed questions.

But its failure might have been predictable–any campaign strategist will tell you it’s easier to get voters to mark “no” when confused or unsure. The industry itself didn’t mount much of a campaign, qualifying the measure but then evidently leaving it for dead to concentrate money on defeating Prop. 10.

A slew of editorials in papers from the Los Angeles Times to the San Francisco Chronicle to the San Jose Mercury News castigated Prop. 5 as bad policy.

Real estate interests evidently anticipated Prop. 5’s electoral failure—in October the Secretary of State’s office cleared a modified version of the 2018 model for circulation for the 2020 ballot. It’ll have company: A 2020 measure, potentially threatening to real estate interests, seeks to assess commercial and industrial property taxes at current market values rather than keeping them at low Proposition 13 levels.

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2018 Election Results

CA-45: Will the Orange Curtain Remain Up for Mimi Walters?

On Election Night the incumbent, a former investment banker who sounded all the GOP notes, enjoyed a slight edge. But the vote-counting continues.

Judith Lewis Mernit




Donald Trump listens to Mimi Walters, far right. (Photo: Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)

UPDATED 7:30 p.m., Thursday: In light of new information about uncounted mail-in ballots, this article has been changed to reflect the current uncertainty in this race.

Since she emerged from the June primary as the Democratic challenger in the race to represent California’s 45th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, Katie Porter cut a careful path through the issues dividing her typically conservative inland Orange County district. She hit her opponent, incumbent Republican Rep. Mimi Walters, hard on her ties to the National Rifle Association, on her many votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, on her ties to President Trump. She played up hard Walters’ support for a new federal tax law that might end up costing many of her mostly upscale constituents money.

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But she also supported Proposition 6, a state ballot measure that would have repealed the 12-cent gas tax levied to raise money for road repairs and transportation. Republicans had used the gas tax to cut short the state Senate tenure of at least one Orange County politician, Josh Newman. Porter, who called the tax “regressive,” knew that supporting the tax could pre-empt her political career altogether.

Will it be enough? As of Wednesday afternoon, Walters was leading her progressive challenger by more than three points. It might also have been too much: Porter’s Medicare-for-all, common-sense gun law, anti-tax reform message may have galvanized the liberal base in the traditionally conservative district, bringing out college students and Latino voters who might otherwise have stayed home. But many voters rejected the law professor’s egalitarian agenda and stuck with Walters, a former investment banker who sounded all the GOP notes on the immigrant threat and Nancy Pelosi’s socialism. In a district Trump lost by five points, Walters’ margin looks decisive if it holds.

Decisive, but not necessarily auspicious, says Alexa Macias, a political science professor at California State University, Northridge who leads a nonpartisan research team that studies and polls the district. “In her last race Mimi won by 17 points,” Macias says. In Walters’ first race two years earlier, she won by slightly more than 30 points. “Her margin has gotten narrower and narrower in every race,” Macias says. “That’s not what you expect from an incumbent that has not had a scandal.”

Win or lose, Macias says, Porter’s candidacy has established a beachhead. In the past, Republican candidates in the region haven’t faced much of a challenge, knowing all too well the reality of the area’s political tilt. This year, Porter was one of five primary candidates to line up for the chance to challenge an incumbent. “She’s opened the field to better and better candidates,” Macias says. “Mimi can expect 2020 to be even closer.”

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2018 Election Results

Proposition 6: California Keeps Its Gas Tax — And Infrastructure Repairs

Decades of ballot-box budgeting and artificial constraints on lawmakers’ authority have created a kind of vice grip around Sacramento. With Prop. 6 the voters decided not to tighten the screws.




By soundly defeating Proposition 6 by more than 10 points, California voters decided to let the legislature govern for once. Funding for the state’s decaying roads, highways and transit systems will not be wiped out, a year after the popularly elected legislature collectively decided, by a super-majority, to modestly increase gas and vehicle taxes to pay for it. Moreover, the voters decided that the legislature should keep the responsibility of determining gas and vehicle taxes, rather than taking over that responsibility themselves.

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Conservatives explicitly put Prop. 6 on the ballot to boost votes for Republican members of Congress – a tactic that appears to not have worked, as at least three and maybe four California House seats will flip to Democrats once all votes are counted. There’s anger in conservative circles over “misleading” ballot language that is perfectly accurate; indeed, Prop. 6 would have “eliminate[d] road repair and transportation funding by repealing revenues dedicated for those purposes.” Conservatives may not like it when dedicated taxes that fund something specific are described as… dedicated taxes that fund something specific, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to indulge them.

That’s what public investment is: We pay collectively to maintain the common resources we all use. This will result in over 68,000 annual jobs from 6,500 infrastructure projects, and indirect economic benefits from the improvements. Just as important, a tax measure decided by the legislature will stand. Decades of ballot-box budgeting and artificial constraints on lawmakers’ authority have created a kind of vice grip around Sacramento; with Prop. 6 the voters decided not to tighten the screws.

We should go further. It shouldn’t take two-thirds of our elected representatives to make the routine decision to tax, and only a simple majority to cut programs. That wrongly biases a state that regularly votes for activist government toward austerity.

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