Essential Politics October archive

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It's Halloween night at the governor's mansion

Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa endorses marijuana legalization initiative

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Monday endorsed a marijuana legalization initiative. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Monday endorsed a marijuana legalization initiative. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Monday became the latest high-profile politician to endorse an initiative on next week’s ballot that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in California.

Villaraigosa is considering whether to run for governor in 2018 amid a field that already includes Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a leading proponent of Proposition 64.

“I took my time on this measure because I wanted to make sure it included protections for children and public safety,” Villaraigosa said in a statement. “In evaluating the measure in its entirety, I am convinced there are enough safeguards to make it a workable proposition.”

The Proposition 64 campaign welcomed Villaraigosa’s endorsement at a time when one recent poll indicated slightly fewer than half of Latino voters support the measure.

“We’re glad to have it,” said Jason Kinney, a spokesman for the campaign.

Every member of California's state Senate signs a letter asking Congress to stop the National Guard paybacks

 (Paul Sakuma / Associated Press)
(Paul Sakuma / Associated Press)

In a rare show of unanimity, every member of the California Senate signed a letter on Monday asking Congress to permanently waive any repayment of bonuses offered to the state's National Guard members for Iraq war reenlistment.

Most of the soldiers that accepted the money "acted on good faith, relying on bad information from recruiters and others in positions of authority," said the letter signed by all 39 sitting members of the state Senate. 

The letter comes more than a week after a Los Angeles Times investigation into efforts to require nearly 10,000 of the state's National Guard soldiers to repay the money.

"The federal clawback of the funds is devastating the families of current and former Guard members," said the letter sent to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev).

"The recovery effort ignores that the primary fault lies with the recruiting system's failure to ensure eligibility at the time of the awards," wrote the state senators.

Meanwhile, the state's congressional delegation continues to insist on action from the Department of Defense. Following a conference call with Defense officials last week, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) sent his own letter on Monday afternoon, demanding that all collected funds be returned to state Guard members immediately.

Times staff writer Sarah D. Wire contributed to this report.

Conservative group spends $3.5 million on Central Valley race once considered safe

The Congressional Leadership Fund is pouring another $1.5 million into the race between Rep. Jeff Denham and Democrat farmer Michael Eggman.

The group, which is endorsed by House Republican leaders, and works with the American Action Network, has now spent $3.5 million in the race. The race was initially viewed as an easy win for Denham (R-Turlock), but has become increasingly uncertain in recent weeks.

The district is being closely watched as an indicator of how Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump might affect down-ballot candidates. Democrats have spent more than $6 million in the district.

The Congressional Leadership Fund and American Action Network have spent $45 million in 32 districts nationwide so far and have aired ads in other California House races, including in the nearby 21st District race between Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford) and attorney Emilio Huerta and the 7th District race between Rep. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove) and Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones. 

The group's newest ad in the 10th District race begins running on television Tuesday. It calls Eggman, an almond and bee farmer, an "extreme liberal" and a "rubber stamp" for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) because he supports the Affordable Care Act.

It previously ran an ad against Eggman that used news footage from the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack.

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FOR THE RECORD

2:14 p.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the Congressional Leadership Fund as the Conservative Leadership Fund.

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The Rev. Al Sharpton and civil rights leaders hold rally in support of Proposition 61

The Rev. Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders gathered at a rally Monday morning to support Proposition 61, the ballot measure that seeks to lower the price state agencies pay for prescription drugs.

Sharpton appeared alongside black community leaders, including Marc Morial, former New Orleans mayor and head of the National Urban League, and Kevin Sauls, pastor of a South L.A. church.

"This issue is very simple," Sharpton said to a crowd of about 40 supporters.  "It’s about the right of people to afford what they need, and they need to have accessibility that is affordable with prescription drugs."

He likened the issue of prescription drug affordability to a civil right, and recycled the well-known "Yes We Can" slogan from President Obama's 2008 election to urge voters to pass Proposition 61.

Sharpton's appearance came a day after he and Morial stumped for the measure at seven different churches in South Los Angeles and the Bay Area. 

"The significance of bringing in people of color is that we are the ones who disproportionately are impacted by the prices and impacted by the need for healthcare," Sharpton said in an interview afterward. "I think it's a civil right for people to be able to afford healthcare in the wealthiest nation in the world."

In a statement, No on Proposition 61 spokeswoman Kathy Fairbanks pointed to support for the opposition campaign from groups like the California NAACP, and the California League of Latin American Citizens. 

"Higher drug prices resulting from Prop. 61 will decrease access to care," Fairbanks said. "That's a policy step in the wrong direction."

The Rev. Al Sharpton at a Yes on Proposition 61 rally in downtown Los Angeles. (Christine Mai-Duc / Los Angeles Times)
The Rev. Al Sharpton at a Yes on Proposition 61 rally in downtown Los Angeles. (Christine Mai-Duc / Los Angeles Times)

U.S. Senate candidate Loretta Sanchez releases tax returns — and is ripped by her rival's campaign

U.S. Senate candidate Loretta Sanchez casts her ballot at Orange High School in the June primary election. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
U.S. Senate candidate Loretta Sanchez casts her ballot at Orange High School in the June primary election. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

U.S. Senate candidate Loretta Sanchez earned a total of $156,674 in 2015 and paid $36,306 in federal and state income taxes, according to the Orange County congresswoman’s 2015 tax returns.

Sanchez declined to release the tax returns of her husband, attorney John "Jack" Einwechter, saying they filed separate returns and that she felt no obligation to disclose his tax information.

“He has no financial conflict,” Sanchez said. “My husband is a lawyer. He has four or five clients. They have nothing to do with anything.”

Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris in mid-October released the joint 2015 tax return she filed with her husband, Los Angeles attorney Douglas Emhoff.  The couple reported earning approximately $1.17 million that year and paid just under $450,000 in federal and state income taxes.

The Harris campaign was quick to criticize Sanchez for not releasing her husband’s return.

"Like nearly every aspect of her campaign, Loretta Sanchez’s failure to honestly and completely release her taxes is a joke.  And it’s not funny,” said Harris political consultant Sean Clegg.  “Every serious candidate for U.S. Senate, including Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, has fully disclosed spousal tax returns.”

The congresswoman said her husband filed separately in 2015 because he was still sorting out some financial matters with his ex-wife. Sanchez added that by filing individually she pays more in taxes because she cannot claim the marriage deduction.

“The Harris campaign can ask and whine for anything and everything they want. That doesn’t mean we need to adhere to their demands,” said Sanchez political advisor Luis Vizcaino.

Both Sanchez and Harris have a net worth in the millions, according to financial disclosure reports.

Here are some highlights from their returns:

  • Sanchez claimed $4,394 in charitable contributions, about 3% of her income, including donations to the California Breast Cancer Research Fund and the California Peace Officers Memorial Fund.

  • Harris and her husband claimed $32,947 in charitable contributions, about 3% of their income, including donations to USC and the United Nations Children's Fund. 

  • Sanchez collected $43,200 in rent from a home she owns in Palos Verdes, and had $41,000 in expenses for the home.

  • As California attorney general, Harris makes $158,775 annually.  As a congresswoman, Sanchez is paid an annual salary of $174,000.

Voters are being asked whether they want to cast more votes in future elections on big public works projects

 (Russel A. Daniels / Associated Press)
(Russel A. Daniels / Associated Press)

Voters casting a ballot for Proposition 53 on election day are, in effect, choosing more voting on more propositions in future elections.

The ballot measure, bankrolled by a wealthy Stockton agribusiness owner, seeks to force voter approval of a particular type of borrowing for large public works projects. Its most likely impact, in the near future, would be ballot measures on a landmark water project and on California's high-speed rail effort.

The proposition's backer, Dean Cortopassi, argues it's all about more transparency when it comes to government debt.

His critics suggest there's more to it than that.

A weekend of bus tours and political jabs in California's U.S. Senate race

An overflow crowd watches through a window during a rally with Kamala Harris at the Democratic Party's headquarters in Santa Clarita. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
An overflow crowd watches through a window during a rally with Kamala Harris at the Democratic Party's headquarters in Santa Clarita. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

U.S. Senate candidate and California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris launched a 10-day campaign bus tour in Santa Clarita on Sunday, holding a rally with down-ballot Democrats who hope she’ll bring out the party faithful in the November election.

The rally, which was jam-packed inside the tiny, local Democrat Party headquarters, will be the first of many Harris will hold this week in congressional districts where Democrats threaten to nab seats from Republican incumbents.

Harris’ rival in the race, Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange, was campaigning in the Inland Empire over the weekend, touting her record on water issues and taking a few swipes at Harris. Sanchez said she’s the only candidate in the race talking about the issues and that all she’s seen from Harris are "commercials on TV."

Conservative-leaning Hispanic Leadership Fund backs Republicans in Central Valley congressional races

This congressional race could be one of the Republicans' worst nightmares

 (Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)
(Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Jeff Denham represents the Modesto area in Congress and is up against Democratic beekeeper Michael Eggman, the same man he beat just two years ago by 12 points. Denham first won his seat in 2012 even as a majority of his constituents voted for President Obama.

When Denham (R-Turlock) started this latest campaign, most observers thought he would probably win.

But some now wonder if Denham's 10th District race will be an example of what Republicans fear across the country. Will conservatives expected to win actually lose because voters aren't excited about Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump?

Rep. Loretta Sanchez's day on the campaign trail: Two ribbons cut, one candle lit, and jabs made at her Senate rival

U.S. Senate candidate Loretta Sanchez shows Clifford Young, president of the West Valley Water District, where to cut the ribbon for the grand opening on a new water treatment plant Saturday. (Phil Willon / Los Angeles Times)
U.S. Senate candidate Loretta Sanchez shows Clifford Young, president of the West Valley Water District, where to cut the ribbon for the grand opening on a new water treatment plant Saturday. (Phil Willon / Los Angeles Times)

With less than two weeks to go before election day, U.S. Senate candidate Loretta Sanchez bounced from the Inland Empire to Monterey Park on Saturday as she tries to drum up support for her uphill Senate bid.

Sanchez, the U.S. representative from Orange, started her day with a gaggle of other Inland Empire politicians at the grand opening of a $23-million water treatment system in Rialto, using the occasion to lay out her record on water issues during her 20 years in Congress.

Sanchez told the crowd of about 60 that shortly after she was elected to Congress, two members of a local water board approached her about a way to deal with California's serious drought.

“They said, we need to convince people that we’re going to take toilet water and we’re going to clean it up enough for people to drink it,” Sanchez said. “They said, we can’t get anyone to champion this for us. Well, no wonder.”

Sanchez said they won her over, and she helped deliver federal funding for Orange County’s Groundwater Replenishment System to do just that. The system uses treated waste water to recharge the local groundwater basin and provides enough water for nearly 850,000 residents.

After the event, Sanchez accused her rival in the Senate race, state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, of having little grasp of the complexities of California’s drought and water crisis. 

“One of the biggest differences between my opponent and myself is that I actually talk about issues, I actually meet with people, I actually try to figure out what’s going on,” Sanchez said. “I’ve not seen anything about her. I’ve not seen any policy. All I see is commercials on TV.”

U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Orange) officially opens the children's Diwali celebration at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Hindu temple in Chino Hills on Saturday. (Phil Willon / Los Angeles Times)
U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Orange) officially opens the children's Diwali celebration at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Hindu temple in Chino Hills on Saturday. (Phil Willon / Los Angeles Times)

A few hours later, Sanchez raced over to Chino Hills to open the Kids' Diwali Celebration at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Hindu temple, a family-friendly event filled with carnival rides, booths and food. She thanked festivalgoers, saying they were setting a good example for the rest of the country at a time when the presidential election is filled with "such meanness."

"This is a time where through tradition and through culture you can show Americans the better part of people," Sanchez said. "You give the rest of us hope."

After listening to Sanchez speak, Kay Mistry, a volunteer at the festival, said he still wasn't sure who he will vote for in the Senate race. He said he was aware that Harris, whose mother emigrated from India, went to a Hindu temple as a child.

"I'm not sure that matters to me," said Mistry, 48, of Chino Hills. "I'm pretty conservative." 

Sanchez attends her second ribbon cutting of the day, this time for Halloween in the Park in Monterey Park. (Phil Willon / Los Angeles Times)
Sanchez attends her second ribbon cutting of the day, this time for Halloween in the Park in Monterey Park. (Phil Willon / Los Angeles Times)

The Orange County congresswoman's final stop of the day was in Monterey Park, where she helped cut the ribbon to open city's Halloween in the Park festival. 

After the ceremony, Sanchez mingled with the crowd, handing out campaign fliers.

Arnold Jeung, 62, stuck the flier in his back pocket. He said he didn't know much about Sanchez or Harris. 

"I'm not sure what I'm going to do," said Jeung, a Republican. "I might not even vote."

California Politics Podcast: The lowdown on the state's big down-ticket races

Perhaps more than any other recent election season, races for seats in the California Legislature and U.S. Congress are being reshaped by the broad, national discussion.

In short, it's the Trump effect.

On this week's episode of the California Politics Podcast, we take an overview of some of state's most closely watched down-ticket races.

There's new polling data in the U.S. Senate race that suggests a sizable number of voters will skip casting a ballot. Meanwhile, President Obama had endorsed candidates all the way down to the state Assembly level.

I'm joined by Marisa Lagos of KQED News and Anthony York, author of the Grizzly Bear Project website.

California, your official presidential write-in options include Bernie Sanders and Evan McMullin

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is one of five officially certified write-in candidates for president in California. (Christopher Dolan / Associated Press)
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is one of five officially certified write-in candidates for president in California. (Christopher Dolan / Associated Press)

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla released the names of the five officially qualified write-in candidates for the presidential race in California, along with their vice presidential running mates.

Contrary to popular belief, votes for write-in candidates only count when the candidate is officially certified. (That means votes for Mickey Mouse, Giant Meteor, or Chuck Norris will not be counted.)

The officially qualified write-in candidates are:

  • Laurence Kotlikoff for president and Edward Leamer for vice president

  • Mike Maturen for president and Juan Muñoz for vice president

  • Evan McMullin for president and Nathan Johnson for vice president

  • Bernard "Bernie" Sanders for president and Tulsi Gabbard for vice president

  • Jerry White for president and Niles Niemuth for vice president

Now, that doesn't mean that Sanders and the other candidates wanted to be recognized as official write-ins. California law only requires that 55 "electors" sign on to declare a person a write-in candidate, not that the person consent, according to a statement from the Secretary of State's Office.

A full list of each candidate's electors can be seen here.

Write-in votes for these candidates will not be reported until the counties send their final vote certifications after the post-election canvass period, meaning a write-in vote will take longer to count. 

You might be wondering: Does spelling count? The Secretary of State says election officials "will accept a reasonable facsimile of the spelling" of a candidate's name. For example, "Joe Smith" and "Joseph Smith" would both be accepted.

Yes on Prop. 61 campaign to air a 30-minute documentary-style ad over the weekend

The campaign supporting Proposition 61, a measure seeking to lower the prices that state agencies pay for prescription drugs, plans to air an unusual 30-minute documentary-style ad Saturday morning on TV stations around California.

The video, titled "Your Money or Your Life," features interviews with a war veteran diagnosed with hepatitis C, a nurse, a doctor and politicians who continue the campaign's strategy of seizing on public anger against drug companies.

In between interviews with patients worried about the cost of prescription drugs is footage of Martin Shkreli, former chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, smirking as a congressman calls him "the poster boy for greedy drug company executives."

Also featured are Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has endorsed the measure and campaigned for it in California, and Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), who authored a bill on drug-pricing transparency that ultimately failed this year.

The advertisement will air at 10 a.m. Saturday on CBS stations and will be broadcast in the Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento and Fresno media markets.

Yes on 61 consultant Garry South says the campaign originally purchased the time when it challenged drug company executives to a televised debate on the measure, but will use it instead for the ad.

Opponents and proponents of the proposition have raised nearly $124 million combined, with most of it raised by the "No" campaign.

Dueling ads aim to persuade Latinos on proposition to legalize marijuana in California

With a poll indicating Latino voters lag in their support for a ballot proposition that would legalize recreation marijuana in California, the campaigns for and against the measure are launching dueling ads aimed at that large demographic.

A poll Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California found that Proposition 64 is favored by a majority of likely voters in California, including a majority of all ethnic groups, except Latinos. Latinos support is just under half at 47%.

The campaign against the ballot measure will launch its second ad on Spanish language television, titled “Asusta” or “Scary” on Halloween. The ad warns if approved, Proposition 64 could eventually lead to radio and television ads for “marijuana candy.”

Federal law prohibits such ads on broadcast stations, and the initiative prohibits television advertising aimed at minors if federal law ever changes.

The campaign in favor of the ballot measure said Friday it has launched new counter TV ads targeted to the Los Angeles area, where there is a large Latino audience. One ad, for Spanish language television, labels as “falso,” or “false,” the claims that there will be television commercials for marijuana candy.

A second ad, in English, features a mother of teenagers saying she appreciates that Proposition 64 has “important safeguards for families, like strict product labeling and child-proof packaging of all marijuana products and banning edibles that would appeal to a child.”

The two sides each claimed Friday that the polls are favorable to their cause.

“The polls highlight the lack of support by the Latino community because they know their neighborhoods will have to face the problems that recreational marijuana creates,” said Andrew Acosta, a spokesman for the opposition campaign.

Not true, said Jason Kinney, a spokesman for the Proposition 64 campaign.

“Polls show that Latino support for Proposition 64 and marijuana decriminalization has been increasing as they learn how communities of color are being disproportionately targeted for marijuana arrest and prosecution," he said.

Eva Longoria voices support for repealing English-only education in California

Actress Eva Longoria this week voiced support for a proposition that would repeal English-only instruction in California by tweeting a new "Yes on Prop 58" online campaign ad that has reached nearly 450,000 views on social media.

Like in radio ads released this month, the commercial features children touting the importance of speaking more than one language.

Proposition 58 helps students learn another language while ensuring they still acquire English in a global economy, the young supporters tell viewers. "To get the best jobs, we need the best education," one girl says.

The ballot measure, which emerged from a 2014 bill authored by Los Angeles area Democrat Sen. Ricardo Lara, seeks to repeal a 1998 voter-approved law that mandated all children be taught only in English in public schools unless parents request otherwise through a waiver.

Opponents argue the current laws were put in place to end bilingual classes that were failing a population of mostly Spanish-speaking Latino students. But Lara and fellow supporters say they have prevented teachers and parents from developing new and more effective bilingual and multilingual programs.

Proposition 58 has garnered an estimated $2.4 million in donations from a variety of supporters this year, including business groups, school associations and the California Teachers Assn./Issues PAC. It has no organized opposition. 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi endorses ballot measure to repeal the death penalty in California

 (Win McNamee / Getty Images)
(Win McNamee / Getty Images)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) on Friday announced her support for a proposition that would repeal the death penalty in California, calling the practice "cruel and unusual punishment" under the 8th Amendment to the Constitution.

"Even the most heinous of crimes can be punished without killing," she said. "As Pope Francis said in his address to Congress, where he reaffirmed his advocacy for the global abolition of the death penalty: ‘every human person is endowed with an unalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes.’"

Pelosi is among a string of top political leaders, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and celebrities to come out in support of Proposition 62, which would replace the punishment with life in prison without parole and apply life sentences retroactively to death row inmates. The initiative is one of two competing death penalty measures on the Nov. 8 ballot.  

She also is among fewer political leaders to denounce the death penalty itself on moral grounds.

“I oppose the death penalty because too many defendants have not had access to appropriate legal counsel; because poor people – especially in communities of color – have been disproportionately charged with capital crimes and sentenced to death, compared with more affluent defendants; and, so many people have been exonerated with DNA evidence.  It is time for us to take a moral stand.”

Republican donor Charles Munger Jr. throws nearly $1 million into Assembly race after Obama endorsement

Charles Munger Jr. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Charles Munger Jr. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

President Obama announced Thursday he was supporting three Democrats running for the California Assembly, a rare move for any sitting president.

One of the candidates is Cheryl Cook-Kallio, a Democrat running against one of the most targeted Republican lawmakers in California, Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-San Ramon) in the Bay Area.

Hours later, Republican mega-donor Charles Munger Jr. reported dropping $965,455 to oppose Cook-Kallio, the largest single expenditure he's reported this election cycle. 

Munger has now spent a total of $1.2 million supporting Baker and opposing Cook-Kallio, a close second to the $1.4 million he's poured into the 66th Assembly District race in Los Angeles County. 

In total, Munger has spent more than $3.3 million across 20 legislative races this year — and there are still 10 days left until the election.

Obama endorses Emilio Huerta in his Central Valley race against Rep. David Valadao

 (Sarah D. Wire / Los Angeles Times)
(Sarah D. Wire / Los Angeles Times)

President Obama on Friday endorsed 21st District congressional candidate Emilio Huerta, the Democrat's campaign announced.

“I am proud to endorse Emilio Huerta for the United States House of Representatives,” Obama said in a statement released by the campaign. “In Congress, Emilio will be a fighter for Central Valley working families. Emilio isn’t afraid to take on tough challenges, and he’ll fight for more and better access to clean water, good jobs with fair wages, and an education system that works for every child. Emilio is the kind of smart leader who will build on what we’ve accomplished and move our country forward, and that’s why I know Californians can count on Emilio Huerta.”

Huerta, an attorney and son of labor rights icon Dolores Huerta, is challenging Rep. David Valadao in the Central Valley district. Obama had already endorsed six California Democrats.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was in the district Thursday to campaign for Valadao. He's in the middle of a swing through California to support vulnerable House Republicans.

“David Valadao is exactly the type of representative Central Valley families and those involved in the agriculture industry need. He understands the issues impacting the area, because that’s been his life. David was born in the Central Valley, he grew up there, he went to school there -- and he even met his wife there. In Congress, he has led the fight on water, veterans issues, and education," Ryan said in a statement.

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