What’s at Stake for California in the March 5 Election

What’s at Stake for California in the March 5 Election

People arrive to cast their ballots at the Shasta County Clerk Registrar of Voters offices in Redding, Calif., on Feb. 23, 2024. In this week's "Super Tuesday" primaries, security guards will monitor the back door at one Shasta County polling precinct—a sign of political tensions in rural northern California. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

John Seiler

John Seiler

3/4/2024

Updated: 3/4/2024

Commentary
For California, the March 5 primary election launches what will be a fateful year for the state and the nation. These are times that try men’s souls on foreign, national, state, and local policy. Here’s a preview.

National Election in California

In 2017, California passed legislation to switch its national primary from June to March to give it more clout in the presidential selection process, after previously moving the primary from March to June starting in 2012. But California won’t have much of an impact this year. It’s preordained President Joe Biden will win the Democratic Primary and former President Donald Trump the Republican Primary, both easily.
Yet there are things to watch. Last week, Michigan Democrats cast 13 percent of their votes for “Uncommitted,” with Mr. Biden garnering 81 percent. That resulted from many Arab-Americans casting protest votes against the president over his policy over Gaza in the Israel-Hamas War.
As The Epoch Times reported, “Michigan is home to a large community of Arab and Muslim Americans, 146,000 of whom voted for Joe Biden in 2020. If the president doesn’t change course on Gaza, they are determined to swing the state in favor of former President Donald Trump, the GOP frontrunner.”
That’s less likely to happen in California because, in Michigan, Arab-Americans are centered in Dearborn, just west of Detroit, while in California they’re more dispersed across the state. And California’s total population is an unwieldy four times as large. There also is no “Uncommitted” option on the ballot, and there is no effort to rally around another candidate.
For Republicans, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is hoping somehow to score more than a few percentage points against Mr. Trump. But that seems unlikely.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) speaks with supporters during the annual Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco on Feb. 24, 2024. (Josh Edelson/Getty Images)

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) speaks with supporters during the annual Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco on Feb. 24, 2024. (Josh Edelson/Getty Images)

US Senator

As I reported in “What Political Flyers Show Us About California’s March 5 Election,” this election involves odd strategies for Democrats. Rep. Adam Schiff has been giving attention to Republican Steve Garvey so the two face off in November for an easy win for the Democrat, while Rep. Katie Porter is trying a similar strategy by attacking Republican Eric Early.
The stratagems result from the state’s anti-democracy Top Two system, in which there is a single primary jumbling together Republicans, Democrats, minor parties, and those of no party, with only two heading to the Nov. 5 runoff. In 2016 and 2018, U.S. Senate finalists included only two Democrats, respectively Attorney General Kamala Harris vs. Rep. Loretta Sanchez and the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein vs. Los Angeles Councilmember Kevin DeLeon. Republicans were left out.
Although that might happen again this time, producing Mr. Schiff vs. Ms. Porter, I don’t think it will. For one thing, another Democrat, Rep. Barbara Lee, also is in the race, grabbing votes Ms. Porter needs. And Republican registration, although declining, still stands at 24 percent, reported the Secretary of State as of Jan. 5, compared to 47 percent for Democrats, and 22 percent No Party Preference. Combining Republicans, NPP conservatives, and baseball fans should boost Mr. Garvey among voters—and the latest numbers indeed show him closing in on Mr. Schiff.
The problem then is Republicans in California now find it hard to break above 40 percent statewide, let alone get to 51 percent. Mr. Garvey’s heroics as a Los Angeles Dodger and San Diego Padre, or his positions on topics such as the border crisis, are unlikely to change that.

Prop. 1: $6.4 Billion for Homeless Programs

Proposition 1, to be blunt, is a cynical way to garner publicity for those pushing it, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democrats in the Legislature. The voter pamphlet says it will cost $310 million a year from the general fund for 30 years, meaning other programs will have to be cut or taxes raised. The bulk of that will be collected after the governor and other politicians are out of office.
But in my Epoch Times article on the bond, I quoted another very relevant point from the “Against” segment in the voter pamphlet: “[W]ith interest rates today, it’s a very bad time to be taking on new bond debt, adding at least 60% in interest costs, costing taxpayers an estimated $10.58–$12.45 billion.” Meaning the true payback cost will be something like $600 million a year, double the official amount.
This is the only ballot measure in the primary election because the Legislature, in another cynical and anti-democracy move, in 2011 limited initiatives advanced by the people to the November general election. Only the Legislature itself can put measures, such as Prop. 1, on the primary ballot. That’s because primary voters trend Republican and conservative, while the general election brings out more low-motivation voters, who tend to be Democrats. Thus, conservatives can no longer put, say, a tax-cut measure on the primary ballot, only the general election ballot.
Congressional candidate Scott Baugh speaks in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Oct. 27, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Congressional candidate Scott Baugh speaks in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Oct. 27, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Battleground US House Races

The biggest impact of this election will be from California’s battleground races for the U.S. House of Representatives. Democrats currently dominate. Of 52 seats, they hold 40, to 11 for Republicans, with one vacancy. But the full U.S. House includes 219 Republicans, 213 Democrats, and three vacancies. If Democrats increase their total by just four, they take back control.
So Democrats hope to grab a couple of those 11 GOP seats, along with other flips nationally. But Republicans also hope they can tip a couple Democrat seats their way. The ultimate decisions will come in November.
For now, Democrats and Republicans are jockeying for positions in the Top Two system. I’ll highlight just one race, for the 47th Congressional District. It’s open because the incumbent is Ms. Porter, the Senate hopeful.
As I mentioned in “Anti-State Senator Ads Show Technology Changes Elections,” this election has turned nasty for Democrats. The state senator is Dave Min, who would have been a prohibitive favorite. But his main Democrat opponent, Joanna Weiss, has highlighted his DUI from a year ago. Like him, she’s a former law professor.
The national character of these congressional elections also is shown by what I highlighted. Most of the anti-Min flyers are paid for the United Democracy Project, the super PAC affiliated with AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The main Republican is Scott Baugh, a former assemblyman who lost to Ms. Porter in 2022, 51.7 percent to 48.3 percent. It was close even though he was outspent by her, $28 million to $3 million.
However, another Republican, newcomer Max Ukropina, has sent me 10 flyers, paid for by his own campaign.
Funding reporting by the candidates’ campaigns as of Feb. 14:
  • Joanna Weiss $2.2 million;
  • Scott Baugh $1.9 million;
  • Dave Min $1.7 million;
  • Max Ukropina $595,202.
Mr. Baugh is well known, as he was also the chairman of the Orange County Republican Party. But this election possibly could lead to two Democrats in the November runoff, with the Top Two system once again freezing out Republicans.

California Legislature

As I wrote in my last article on the Republican Party’s failure to endorse a single candidate in state senate District 37, the party just can’t act decisively to ensure the Top Two system puts one of its candidates on the November final choice. And for some reason, even though I’ve been telling party honchos for 12 years they need to replace the Top Two with a Top Four initiative, they keep doing nothing.
Although anti-democracy, Top Two is here for now, and must be addressed. Republicans currently hold only eight of 40 state Senate seats. They need 12 to get above the one-third threshold that lets them stop tax increases by the Democrats, as well as other benefits such as being able to prevent vetoes by the governor from being overridden.
In the Assembly, Republicans hold only 18 of 80 seats. Meaning they need to win 10 more seats to get above the one-third threshold of 28.

Conclusion: Democrats Not Being Seriously Challenged

Unfortunately California’s one-party status is unlikely to change until Republicans get serious about uniting behind a bold strategy and going on the offensive. Democracy needs at least two parties to give the voters a choice.
In addition to replacing Top Two with Top Four, I have suggested for years Republicans always ought to put a tax-cut initiative on every November ballot. They could ride that to victory in more races. Even if the initiative itself lost, it would be an excellent soapbox on which Republican candidates could stand in this time of high inflation, ludicrous housing expenses, and flight to states with lower living costs.
Despite wallowing in their current electoral “slough of despond,” to borrow a phrase from Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,” Republicans still hold a trump-card: They’re the tax-cut party.
Why don’t they combine that with the state’s initiative system? When will they wake up?
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John Seiler

John Seiler

Author

John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. Mr. Seiler has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary for California state Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at JohnSeiler.Substack.com and his email is writejohnseiler@gmail.com

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