New Bullet Train Woes Cause Fresh Headaches for Democrat Gubernatorial Candidates

High speed rail constructionThe March 9 release of the first updated business plan in two years for the state’s high-speed rail project could sharply intensify the pressure on Democratic gubernatorial candidates who back the project to explain their support.

The Republican candidates – Assemblyman Travis Allen of Huntington Beach and Rancho Santa Fe businessman John Cox – reflect the GOP consensus that the project is a boondoggle that’s unlikely to ever be completed. But the major Democratic hopefuls – Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, state Treasurer John Chiang and former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin – have all indicated they would continue with rail project, albeit with little of the enthusiasm shown by present Gov. Jerry Brown.

While the new business plan was depicted by the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s new CEO, Brian Kelly, as a constructive step toward salvaging the project, the plan’s key details were daunting:

The estimated cost of the project, which has yo-yoed from $34 billion to $98 billion to $64 billion, changed once again. The business plan abandoned the previous $64 billion estimate for an estimate of $77 billion – accompanied by a warning that the cost could go as high as $98 billion.

Even at the lower price tag, the state didn’t have adequate funds to complete a first $20 billion-plus bullet-train segment linking populated areas. The present plan for a Central Valley route has an eastern terminus in a remote agricultural fieldnorth of Shafter. That’s because the $9.95 billion in bond seed money that state voters provided in 2008 has only been buttressed to a relatively slight degree by additional public dollars from cap-and-trade pollution permits.

The business plan cites the possibility of additional federal funds beyond the $3.3 billion allocated by Washington early in the Obama administration. It doesn’t note, however, that domestic discretionary spending has plunged in recent years amid congressional concern about the national debt blowing past $20 trillion.

The business plan also promotes the possibility of outside investors. It doesn’t mention that such investors have passed on the project for years because state law bars the California High-Speed Rail Authority from offering them a revenue or ridership guarantee.

From 5 years behind schedule to 10 years behind

The initial operation of a bullet-train link serving California residents went from five years behind schedule, in the estimate of the Los Angeles Times, to 10 years behind schedule. The business plan said the project would begin operations no sooner than 2029.

The potential immense cost overrun of the bullet train segment in the mountains north of Los Angeles was fully acknowledged for the first time. A 2015 Times story laid out the “monumental” challenge.

Democratic candidates to succeed Brown have chosen to focus on housing, single-payer health care, immigration and criticism of President Donald Trump in most early forums and campaign appearances. But front-runners Newsom and Villaraigosa in particular seem likely to be pressed on how they can square their claims to be experienced, tough-minded managers with support for a project which seems less likely to be completed with every passing year.

Proposition 70 on the June primary ballot also will keep the bullet train on the campaign’s front burner, to some extent. It was placed on the ballot as part of a 2017 deal cut by the governor to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program until 2030. If Proposition 70 passed, it would require a one-off vote in 2024 in which cap-and-trade proceeds could only be used for specific needs with two-thirds support of each house of the Legislature. Republicans may be able to use these votes to shut off the last ongoing source of new revenue for the high-speed rail project.

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California school superintendent race: Democratic reformer vs. union ally

Marshall TuckThe 2018 race for state superintendent of public instruction may not have an incumbent but is likely to feel like an encore of the 2014 race, pitting a Democrat aligned with the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers against a Democrat who backs reforms opposed by the unions.

In 2014, Tom Torlakson – a former teacher and state lawmaker – won a second term, touting higher graduation rates and somewhat better test scores. He defeated former Los Angeles charter school executive Marshall Tuck 52 percent to 48 percent in a race in which $30 million was reportedly spent, triple the campaign spending in that year’s quiet governor’s race.

With the strong support of wealthy Los Angeles area Democrats who have been fighting for changes in L.A. Unified and who remember the job he did running Green Dot charters, Tuck is running again.

Subbing for termed-out Torlakson is Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, who has worked closely with teachers unions on many fronts – most notably joining in maneuvering last summer that helped kill a tenure reform bill that had gotten off to a strong start in the Legislature. He has also opposed efforts to more closely monitor how education dollars are being spent under the Local Control Funding Formula. The law was supposed to be used specifically to help districts with high numbers of English language learners, students in foster care and students from impoverished families to improve their academic performance. But civil rights groups say the extra dollars often have been used for general spending, including for teacher raises.

Thurmond was also among lawmakers who expressed interest in helping teachers deal with California’s high housing costs, proposing legislation to award $100 million in rental grants to teachers in need. It didn’t advance.

Tuck may have better shot than when he challenged incumbent

The conventional wisdom is that Tuck has a better chance than in 2014 because Thurmond has much lower name recognition than Torlakson. But that could be erased with a heavy television ad run by the teachers unions using the same anti-Tuck themes as in 2014: Making the argument that the charter schools he led are part of a corporate scheme to take over public education.

If Tuck, 44, gets his way, the debate will focus on his reform agenda – the idea that charters serve as healthy competition for regular schools; the need for much better oversight of how the Local Control Funding Formula is used; adopting teacher tenure reform; and accountability standards that make it easier to judge whether a school is improving.

Thurmond’s website emphasizes his view of California educators doing battle with President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over what he describes as their intent to “gut” and “defund our public schools.” Thurmond, 49, a military veteran who was a social worker before running for office, also said teachers need “bonuses and other incentives” to address the shortage of qualified instructors.

Complicating the Tuck-Thurmond race is the likelihood that for the first time in the 21st century, a prominent Democratic gubernatorial candidate is running as an anti-union reformer – which could make schools a more prominent issue in the 2018 election cycle than is normal.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who repeatedly tangled with the United Teachers Los Angeles while seeking authority over L.A. Unified, has already won the endorsement of the state Democratic lawmaker recognized as the leader of education reform efforts: Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of San Diego.

The CTA endorsed Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom in the governor’s race and Thurmond for superintendent in October. The CFT did as well in December.

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Travis Allen surges to top Republican, #3 overall in Governor’s race!

Travis-Allen-Associated-PressDespite Republican opponent John Cox’s spending over $3 million already in his race for Governor, conservative Assemblyman Travis Allen (R – Huntington Beach) has surged past Cox in a USC statewide poll released today, and is now in the #3 spot over-all in the 2018 race for California Governor, and is the top Republican contender. Allen gained the support of 15% of voters who plan to cast ballots in the primary.  Cox received the support just 11% — and is now in a more distant #5 spot in the race to beat Gavin Newsom.  In the last series of polls, Allen has been consistently gaining percentage support, while Cox has consistently declined, despite spending much more than Allen on consultants and social media advertising for his campaign.  Cox has had trouble convincing Republican volunteer group members to support him in recent weeks, as it was revealed that he did not support the Republican party nominee for President – Donald Trump, in the last election, and instead says he voted for the Libertarian Party nominee, Gary Johnson.

Here are the poll results:

Gavin Newsom (D): 31%

Antonio Villaraigosa (D): 21%

Travis Allen (R): 15%

John Chiang (D): 12%

John Cox (R): 11%

To read the Los Angeles Times story on the USC poll, click here:


Sexual harassment scandal at state Capitol causing headaches for other state Democrats

Raul BocanegraThe far-reaching reverberations from the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal continue to roil the state Capitol more than two weeks after 147 women released a letter denouncing a culture of pervasive male harassment and abuse in the Legislature.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Daily News published an editorial that said the only sitting lawmaker known to have been formally rebuked for sexual harassment – Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-Los Angeles (pictured) – should resign.

“While Bocanegra has apologized for his conduct, we believe the best way for him to serve the public at this point is to resign from office,” the Daily News editorial concluded.

The Los Angeles Times story that revealed Bocanegra’s rebuke could also portend headaches for Democratic lawmakers who knew about the incident that got him in trouble but who either kept quiet or actively helped Bocanegra’s career. The story was based on an interview with his victim, Elise Flynn Gyore, who provided a copy of the Assembly Rules Committee letter rebuking Bocanegra.

The incident that led to the complaint to the Rules Committee came at a 2009 Sacramento event in which Bocanegra – then the chief of staff for then-Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Los Angeles – allegedly reached down the blouse of Gyore, then a staffer for state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello. Bocanegra also acted in a way Gyore characterized as stalking.

A subsequent Sacramento Bee story detailed how Bocanegra’s rebuke didn’t get in the way of his political ascent. He was elected to the Assembly in 2012. Among those who helped him with donations or endorsements: then-Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, who served on the Assembly Rules Committee while it reviewed the allegations against Bocanegra, and then-Sen. Calderon, whom Gyore said knew about what Bocanegra had done.

Hall went on to serve in the state Senate before losing a bid for Congress last year. In January, Hall was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, with an annual salary of $142,095. Hall, 45, is expected to seek elected office again in coming years.

Calderon was convicted in 2016 of federal corruption charges and is now serving a 42-month prison sentence.

Gyore is now chief of staff for Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, who has been among the leading advocates in the Legislature for holding lawmakers accountable for their bad behavior.

Villaraigosa, Newsom may face questions over their past scandals

The Bocanegra case has many insiders wondering what California politician might next come under fire for inappropriate behavior or worse. But the increasing focus on politicians’ treatment of and attitudes about women could eventually lead to tough questions for the two Democratic frontrunners to replace termed-out Gov. Brown in the 2018 election.

In 2007, when he was mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa revealed that he was involved romantically with a much-younger TV journalist, leading to his marriage’s collapse and his divorce in 2010.

The Los Angeles Times reported then that Telemundo reporter-anchor Mirthala Salinas, 35, apparently began her affair with Villaraigosa, 54, while she was covering the mayor for her network.

Villaraigosa got remarried in 2016.

Also in 2007, then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was involved in a messy office scandal. Alex Tourk, Newsom’s campaign manager and former deputy chief of staff, abruptly resigned “after confronting the mayor about an affair Newsom had with his wife while she worked in the mayor’s office,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Ruby Rippey-Tourk had been Newsom’s appointments secretary for two years.

The New York Times gave national coverage to what it described as “a fast-unfolding scandal with all the sex and betrayal of a tawdry novel,” noting that the affair came while Newsom was “in the throes of a divorce.” But after Newsom repeatedly apologized, his political career continued, seemingly unaffected.

In 2008, he got married for a second time.

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Kamala Harris a Self-Professed ‘Blood-Sport’ Candidate

Attributing her success to a “blood sport” view of politics, California Attorney General Kamala Harris has established herself as the leading contender to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who is retiring in Jan. 2017.

“I always start my campaigns early, and I run hard,” Harris told the New York Times. “Maybe it comes from the rough-and-tumble world of San Francisco politics, where it’s not even a contact sport — it’s a blood sport. This is how I am as a candidate. This is how I run campaigns.”

But that attitude has helped set up what could be a difficult dynamic for Harris in her quest for the Senate.

She has cleared away key potential competitors from Northern California, such as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has opted to run for governor in 2018. But Harris has not dispatched credible Democratic contenders in the Southland, including Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank, Rep. Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles and Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove. Then there are potential Republican contenders, such as Assemblyman Rocky Chávez of Oceanside.

For years, Southern Californian Democrats have chafed at what many have seen as an excessive degree of dominance within the state party by San Francisco and Sacramento-area members, including Boxer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, both from Marin County; and Gov. Jerry Brown, the former mayor of Oakland.

A wide-open field

Harris’ aggressive approach to political advancement has helped knock one nationally recognized L.A. Latino out of the Senate scramble. Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa bailed out of contention late in February.

“I know that my heart and my family are here in California, not Washington, D.C.,” he said in a statement posted to Facebook. “I have decided not to run for the U.S. Senate and instead continue my efforts to make California a better place to live, work and raise a family.” Villaraigosa’s decision was seen as signaling greater interest in pursuing a bid for governor.

Even though Villaraigosa himself was seen as one of Harris’ most formidable would-be rivals, his weaknesses as a candidate were far greater than other Southern California Latinos currently weighing serious Senate bids. Villaraigosa struggled with personal scandal and an embarrassingly rough landing after leaving office, when he had to scrounge for lucrative work through personal connections and the strength of his name recognition.

Ironically, that opened the field for others to challenge Harris. The kind of travails Villaraigosa faced haven’t been a problem for Harris’ most likely Latino challengers. Schiff, Becerra and Sanchez have “been waiting for colleagues to retire so they can move up, and they still face the constant threat that even after biding their time, rivals could outmaneuver them,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

“But with scant hope that Democrats could seize control of the House next year, they are also stuck in the relatively powerless minority. Democrats stand a better chance of retaking the Senate, so the potential leap may be that much more tempting.”

Meanwhile, noted the Times, Harris still hasn’t made an impression on more than half of California’s registered voters, according to a poll conducted with USC Dornsife.

Pressure on the right

Despite expressing strong interest, neither Becerra nor Sanchez officially has declared their candidacy. For now, that gives an advantage to Chávez, the only other candidate to declare after Harris.

And within the California GOP, as the Sacramento Bee observed, his “résumé and standing as a state legislator make him the most prominent Republican among those weighing bids. A former city councilman in Oceanside, he spent nearly three decades in the Marines and later served as acting secretary to the state Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Chávez’s political positioning also has raised hurdles for other Republicans considering a run. “He supports gay marriage and has chided members of his own party for blocking immigration reform,” noted the Bee. “He opposes abortion rights, however, a position he attributes to his Catholic upbringing.”

Running to the left or the right of Chávez could pose problems for GOP rivals. That could inspire the state party to rally around him relatively early. Although not an electoral cure-all, California Republicans could score a perceived coup by fielding a Latino candidate against Harris.

“A lot of things can happen on the way to a coronation,” Chávez recently told the New York Times.

Originally published by

Villaraigosa Won’t Challenge Harris for Senate Seat

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced he won’t challenge state Attorney General Kamala Harris for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Senator Barbara Boxer in 2016. That boosts the prospects of fellow Democrat Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove.

Villaraigosa announced his decision Tuesday in a post on Facebook that foreshadowed a run for governor in 2018.

“I am humbled by the encouragement I’ve received from so many to serve in the United States Senate,” the former Democratic Speaker of the California Assembly wrote. “But as I think about how best to serve the people of this great state, I know that my heart and my family are here in California, not Washington, D.C.”

If Villaraigosa’s statement that his heart remains “here in California” wasn’t a clear enough indication of a future run for governor, he added he’ll continue his “efforts to make California a better place to live, work and raise a family.”

“We have come a long way, but our work is not done, and neither am I,” he concluded.

Kamala Harris

Villaraigosa’s decision to pass on an application for membership in “the world’s most exclusive club” follows similar announcements by Treasurer John Chiang, billionaire climate-change activist Tom Steyer and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

It didn’t take long for Harris, the only major announced Democratic candidate, to issue a statement praising the former Los Angeles mayor.

Kamala-Harris-hands“The city of Los Angeles, and our state and nation, have benefitted [sic] greatly from his leadership,” Harris said in a prepared statement tweeted by her campaign. “I know he has much more to offer. I wish him and his family all the best.”

Although Harris welcomed Villaraigosa’s exit from the race, the biggest beneficiary could be Loretta Sanchez. A moderate Orange County Democrat, Sanchez would have appealed to similar voters — Latinos and Southern Californians — as Villaraigosa.

Sanchez may prove formidable challenger to Harris

She hasn’t received the same media hype as Villaraigosa, but in some respects Sanchez may prove to be a more formidable challenger to Harris. The 10-term Democrat has said she’ll make a decision later this year. Sanchez has a head start on fundraising with nearly $400,000 in federal cash on hand, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.

Loretta SanchezHer statewide name identification, albeit lower than Villaraigosa’s, comes without the personal baggage. Early in his tenure as mayor, Villaraigosa disclosed an affair with a Telemundo newswoman. That was followed by photos showing the mayor partying with Hollywood bad boy Charlie Sheen at a hotel opening in Mexico.

But as pointed out by, the biggest weight on a Villaraigosa campaign could be his support for Esteban Nunez, the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez. Esteban pled guilty to manslaughter for the fatal stabbing of a 22-year-old college student. Villaraigosa, on official mayoral letterhead, wrote a letter of support for “a young man of good and upright character.”

The case was riddled with political favoritism, as detailed in a lengthy profile by the Los Angeles Times, and ended with Nunez friend Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s commutation of Esteban’s sentence.

Latino Caucus: Senate contest bigger than any one candidate

Villaraigosa’s decision to pass on the race also does nothing to cool the burning frustrations of Latino political leaders, who are being pressured by some Democratic leaders to clear the field for Harris.

Earlier this year, former Speaker of the Assembly Willie Brown, who at one time dated Harris, said Villaraigosa should forgo a campaign out of respect for his friendship with the attorney general.

“His loyalty and his relationship with her should be so valuable, and he should, in my opinion, see it as an opportunity to demonstrate that,” Brown told the Sacramento Bee.

That comment inspired grumblings from members of the California Latino Caucus, who say the race is bigger than any one Latino candidate. Earlier this month, the group released a poll showing a Latino candidate could contend with Harris. The survey of 600 likely Latino voters, according to CalBuzz, showed Villaraigosa leading Harris, with Sanchez not far behind in third place.

“The U.S. Senate race has importance beyond the contestants themselves,” Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, said in a press release. “This is not about one candidate or another. An exciting race can generate enthusiasm among voters that have not been energized in years.”

Other Democratic candidates that are considering the race include Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank, Rep. Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles and former Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera.

On the Republican side, Assemblyman Rocky Chavez of Carlsbad and former California Republican Party chairman Tom Del Beccaro are seriously exploring bids.

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And The Political Oscar Goes To …

Oscar Sunday has arrived, and while the celebrities are preening for their 30-seconds on screen, we thought at F&H we should put out Oscars for California political performances so far this year.

Best Actor: Neel Kashkari, on the streets of Fresno (albeit a performance that the locals didn’t vote for)

Best Subtle Performance: Jerry Brown at his budget press conference assuring reporters Prop 30 taxes are temporary … or are they? See Joel’s column here and Dan Walters here both picking up the same thing, maybe there is some flexibility in the word “temporary.”

Best Imitation of Hamlet: Antonio Villaraigosa – Will he or won’t he run for the U.S. Senate?

Best Special Effects: Kevin de Leon’s swearing in as Pro Tem

Best Original Song: Kim Alexander and California Voter Foundation 2014 Proposition Song

Best Director: Ace Smith, making all the political actors move as he wishes

Best Editing: Nathan Fletcher, turning his war hero Republican movie into an independent film, then a mainstream Democratic one

Best Adapted Screenplay: Prop. 2, with spare parts from previous rainy day fund attempts

Best Supporting Actor: Sutter Brown

Best Costume (to Prove this is Not 1980 California): Proposed ballot measures to reverse English Only, require condoms in porn films, and legalize marijuana

Surprise Newcomer of the Year: Assemblywoman Patty Lopez

Most Surprising Performance: Leland Yee, really was there any doubt?

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Joel Fox is Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee. Joe Mathews is Connecting California Columnist and Editor at Zócalo Public Square, and Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University.