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“If people just vote for an R or D then all of our conversations are a waste of time.” Robert Howell, the Republican candidate for California insurance commissioner, shared that somewhat fatalistic sentiment — that voters cast ballots for candidates simply based on the letter designating their party affiliation — in a Los Angeles Times […]
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California stuck in Dem-GOP binary

An array of GOP memorabilia for sale at the Republican Party booth at the California State Fair in Sacramento on July 15, 2022. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters
  

“If people just vote for an R or D then all of our conversations are a waste of time.”

Robert Howell, the Republican candidate for California insurance commissioner, shared that somewhat fatalistic sentiment — that voters cast ballots for candidates simply based on the letter designating their party affiliation — in a Los Angeles Times interview published Monday.

But, in the same interview, Howell appeared to reaffirm the very concept he was denouncing: He said he decided to run for insurance commissioner against Democratic incumbent Ricardo Lara because there initially weren’t any other Republicans in the race, giving him a better shot of advancing to the Nov. 8 general election. (Howell also acknowledged that he isn’t familiar with the nuts and bolts of the insurance industry, which he would be in charge of regulating if elected.)

In California — where the latest voter registration numbers show Democrats outnumbering Republicans nearly 2 to 1 — the R-D binary can make for less-than-exciting statewide elections.

Yet that’s the matchup voters will see on their November ballots for each of California’s eight statewide elected officers — an outcome likely due in part to an increasingly polarized electorate and the Golden State’s top-two primary system.

In seven of the races — including state superintendent of public instruction, which is officially a nonpartisan race — Democratic incumbents will face off against Republican challengers with little name recognition and limited funding. This dynamic suggests that even though some Democrats are embroiled in scandals and policy pitfalls, that won’t hinder them from sailing to reelection.

In the eighth statewide race, Democrat Malia Cohen and Republican Lanhee Chen are vying to replace the termed-out Democrat Betty Yee as state controller. Chen is widely seen as the Republican Party’s best hope to win its first statewide office in nearly 20 years, but in the end it all may come down to numbers.

And those numbers don’t bode well for Republicans, who have increasingly struggled to field statewide candidates and find political messages that appeal to a majority of Californians.

Indeed, as Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton argued Monday, Republican gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Brian Dahle of Bieber is “likeable, level-headed and highly respected by colleagues of both parties.” But “there is no conceivable way” Dahle can win against Democratic incumbent Gov. Gavin Newsom in a deep-blue state where even no-party-preference voters lean liberal.

Skelton noted that Dahle doesn’t have enough campaign cash to run a statewide TV ad blitz, whereas Newsom has hardly been campaigning in California at all. Instead, he’s been leveraging the millions of dollars in his campaign warchest to support a statewide ballot measure to protect abortion rights in California’s constitution and to run ads and billboards in other states. (On Monday, Newsom and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut announced a fundraising drive for a slate of candidates across the country that they said would stand up to the National Rifle Association.)

Nevertheless, Newsom and Dahle are set to hold a live gubernatorial debate on KQED — though the 1 p.m. time slot on Sunday, Oct. 23 isn’t exactly prime time. Another factor that could diminish the number of people tuning in: It coincides with San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers football games.

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Other Stories You Should Know

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story number 1

State to investigate Govern For California after all

 
The state Capitol on June 24, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
  

From CalMatters political reporter Alexei Koseff: After initially declining to open an investigation into the influential campaign donor group Govern For California, the state’s election finance regulator has reconsidered and will scrutinize whether the nonprofit and its network of chapters violated rules on contribution limits.

In a Monday letter, Galena West, executive director of the Fair Political Practices Commission, said “further review of the relationship between the GFC and its chapters is warranted.” A spokesperson declined to provide additional information about why the commission reversed course.

A CalMatters investigation published in August explored how Govern For California is pushing the boundaries of state campaign finance law with its network of 18 chapters, which are legally considered independent if they’re controlled by separate chairpersons who make their own donation decisions — but are largely funded by the same small collection of donors through Govern For California’s statewide committee and frequently make identical contributions to the same legislative candidates on the same day.

Following the story, former labor union leader Dave Low filed a complaint with the commission, raising concerns that the structure of Govern For California amounted to illegal coordination between the chapters, allowing the organization to effectively circumvent contribution limits to individual candidates. 

The FPPC initially declined to investigate, citing insufficient evidence. But after Low appealed the decision, it granted reconsideration Monday to explore whether chapters’ contributions are controlled by Govern For California and should be aggregated.

  • Low: “Hopefully, they are at least open to the fact that it’s more than just coincidence.”
  • In a letter to Govern For California’s treasurer, FPPC enforcement chief Angela Brereton wrote: “At this time, we have not made any determination about the validity of the allegations or about GFC’s culpability, if any.” 

Govern For California is the brainchild of David Crane, a Stanford lecturer and former economic adviser to Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who aimed to create a counterweight to the political influence of organized labor in Sacramento. He has defended the organization’s chapter structure as similar to how unions operate and said that each operates independently.

In a statement, Govern For California said it follows campaign finance laws and accused the FPPC of making a political decision to investigate. “Clearly, our impact has shaken up Sacramento’s power brokers so much that they’re willing to try and compromise the state’s campaign watchdog…. We’re not afraid, and we’re not going anywhere.”

(Crane and many donors to Govern For California are financial supporters of CalMatters, which retains full authority over editorial content and makes news judgments independent of donor support.)

 
story number 2

Castro nabs tenured job at Cal Poly

 
Former California State University Chancellor Joseph Castro, who resigned in February. Photo by Cary Edmondson, courtesy of California State University, Fresno
  

Joseph Castro, who resigned as chancellor of the California State University system in February following allegations that he mishandled sexual harassment complaints against a colleague while serving as president of Fresno State, will next year start as a tenured professor of leadership and public policy at Cal Poly, according to Mustang News, Cal Poly’s student media organization. The Friday announcement came one day after CSU released a long-anticipated report from an outside law firm investigating Castro and Fresno State’s response to the sexual harassment complaints that piled up against Frank Lamas, Fresno State’s head of campus student affairs, from July 2014 to November 2019.

  • The report found that Castro had “a blind spot” for Lamas and “consistently did not take any significant actions against but instead supported Lamas throughout his employment even in the face of multiple allegations, growing evidence, and ultimately, confirmed findings of Lamas’ alleged misconduct.”
  • Castro said in a statement to EdSource that his decisions on matters relating to Title IX — which prevents sex-based discrimination in education programs that receive federal funding — “were guided by campus and California State University system policies and protocol,” including the “direction” of then-Chancellor Timothy White and other officials. Castro added, “I have been a steadfast champion for gender equity throughout my career and will redouble my efforts in this important area going forward.”

Castro’s tenured position at Cal Poly is the result of a controversial policy known as “retreat rights,” which allows certain administrators to return to faculty positions after leaving their posts. In his statement to EdSource, Castro noted that he “urged” the CSU Board of Trustees “to adopt a policy that prohibits any administrator who violates a Title IX policy from retreating to a faculty position,” which they “thankfully” did in July. The change won’t affect Castro, however.

  • Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier told Mustang News: “Dr. Castro’s retreat rights to Cal Poly were established by the CSU in September of 2020 in accordance with the standard process of naming a new CSU chancellor. CSU policy mandates that Cal Poly honor Dr. Castro’s retreat rights.”
 
story number 3

Will Uber be forced to report sexual assaults?

 
An Uber logo is seen in the window of a rideshare vehicle in Los Angeles on Aug. 20, 2020. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters
  

“Uber receives a complaint, investigates the complaint, makes a finding and handles said finding internally and privately. … Uber has essentially carved out its own justice system.”

That assessment of the gig-economy giant’s approach to handling sexual assaults experienced by its riders came from Terry Harman, a Santa Clara County assistant district attorney, whose office, along with San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, is pushing for Uber to report all such incidents to law enforcement so they can undergo official investigation, the New York Times reports. But Uber has so far declined to do so, arguing that survivors of sexual assault should be the ones to decide whether to share their experiences and with whom.

  • Uber told the Times: “Our position wasn’t created in a vacuum. It was guided by the foremost experts on this issue and by survivors themselves, all of whom have consistently told us that assuming someone wants the police involved, or pressuring them to do so, risks re-traumatizing them.”
  • Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen: “We just want Uber to call the police and let the police investigate. The victim may or may not want to talk to the police — and that is fine. But Uber needs to let us explain to the victim what their options are. … It is in Uber’s interest to do this if it wants to be a positive part of society — just as it is in Stanford’s interest or the Catholic Church’s interest.”

Liccardo said he plans to call this week for a new city ordinance to require Uber and other ride-sharing companies to report sexual assault cases to law enforcement so perpetrators can be held accountable and prevented from harming other residents. Uber received 1,243 complaints of sexual assault on California rides between 2017-18, according to company data shared with the California Public Utilities Commission in court filings.

CalMatters Commentary

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CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom insists he’s not running for president, but continues to cultivate a national political profile that may indicate otherwise.

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