Democrat who lost D.C. bid in November says he’ll try for Sacramento next

Dave Min, a UC Irvine law professor who was endorsed by the California Democratic Party in his unsuccessful congressional bid last year, will challenge Orange County GOP state Sen. John Moorlach in the 2020 election.

Min finished third in the June primary for the 45th Congressional District, missing the November runoff by 4,099 votes to Katie Porter, who went on to win the seat in November by defeating Mimi Walters.

Following the loss, Min said he was unsure of his next step in politics but kept hearing from former supporters who urged him to run for public office again. Eventually, he decided to compete for the 37th Senate District.

“We built a really strong and amazing grassroots movement and had hundreds of volunteers for our campaign,” said Min, 42, who lives in Irvine with his wife and three kids.

Min said he plans to make “protecting our environment, ending the gun violence epidemic, building more affordable housing, and protecting our immigrant communities” core platforms of his campaign.

Moorlach has served in the state Senate since 2015, winning a special election that year and then earning a full term in 2016, when he beat his Democratic opponent by 14 percentage points. The former Orange County Supervisor has branded himself a fiscal conservative who has sought pension reform at all levels of government. He launched his political career when he predicted Orange County’s 1994 bankruptcy during a successful bid to become the county’s treasurer-tax collector.

In contrast to Moorlach’s 24 years of experience as an elected official, Min has never held public office. Instead, Min points to a political resume that includes time as a senior policy advisor for the Joint Economic Committee of Congress and as policy director for the Center for American Progress.

The 37th Senate District runs along the coast from Huntington Beach to Laguna Beach and stretches inland through Costa Mesa, Irvine, and Tustin, and up to Orange, Villa Park and portions of Irvine. Republicans hold a 5 percentage point voter registration lead in the seat, but that’s half the of the advantage the GOP had four years ago when Moorlach one his first full term. The district also overlaps with several House seats and state assembly districts that swung Democratic in 2018, continuing a trend that has seen Republicans losing more and more federal and state seats in recent years.

If elected, Min, a first-generation Korean-American, would be the first Asian American Democrat to represent Orange County at the state level.

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Russians will hack again in ’18. Here’s how So Cal elections will answer

At a recent conference on election security, Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley said he’d asked former CIA Director Michael Hayden if Russian hackers will try to disrupt the 2018 mid-term elections.

“He didn’t hesitate,” Kelley recounted. “He said, ‘They will be targeting congressional races.’”

In Southern California, home to some of the nation’s most-competitive congressional contests, that threat is being taken seriously. Consider just a few of the many new security protocols being adopted by election officials in the four-county region.

Office emails are being encrypted and networks buttressed. Election employees are randomly being mock phished to see if they’ll fall for simulated online invaders. Federal officials are being invited to inspect and test the region’s many voting systems.

Even the seemingly oldest of old-school safety protocols — counting up some election results by hand — is expected to play an expanded role in the 2018 midterms.

The local upgrades are part of a national response to Russia’s meddling in America’s 2016 elections. Intelligence agencies have determined that, among other things, Russian agents and their operatives executed a cyberattack on a U.S. voting software supplier, sent spear-phishing emails to election officials, and targeted voter rolls in at least 21 states, breaching a small (but undisclosed) number of them.

Since then, Congress has authorized $380 million to help states strengthen voting systems’ digital defenses, including $34 million earmarked to protect the integrity of elections in California. In the last weeks of the Obama administration, the Department of Homeland Security also designated state-run election systems as critical infrastructure, elevating them to the same classification as nuclear reactors and the Hoover Dam. And the FBI and other federal officials are offering free cybersecurity assessments to local election offices.

To date, there’s no evidence that votes were changed or voting machines infected during the 2016 cyberattacks. And election security experts say such threats are remote in any specific jurisdiction, and nearly impossible on a substantial scale.

But the upcoming midterms are the first national election since 2016. And those same election experts caution that attacks remain feasible in some American elections systems, particularly if existing vulnerabilities aren’t fixed.

Risk is low; security high

California’s voting infrastructure is, in many ways, far more secure than those of most other states. Counties in California are legally required to keep paper ballots as fixed records of electronic voting tallies and to hand-count the ballots cast at one percent of all precincts to verify digital totals. That means even if voting machines are compromised, there’s a physical backup to warn of a discrepancy.

That’s not true in 11 states, where voting equipment can’t be audited manually and a hack that alters voting results could go entirely undetected. (Interestingly, most of the un-auditable, all-digital machines in those states were put into use after Florida’s “hanging-chad” debacle during the 2000 presidential election scared officials away from punch-card voting systems to what were perceived as more reliable electronic machines.)

Despite California’s superior safeguards, cybersecurity experts say the state’s voting systems remain susceptible to some forms of attack. Recognizing the threat, election officials in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties all said recently that they’ve become more vigilant since the 2016 campaign and have welcomed help from federal agents to assess their systems.

But implementing fixes has happened at different speeds across the region, with some counties addressing potential vulnerabilities more aggressively than others.

The leader of the pack seems to be Orange County, where four congressional contests in longtime GOP-held districts are being targeted by national Democrats in their effort to take control of the House of Representatives.

In April, Kelley released a 28-page “2018 Election Security Playbook” outlining new security protocols his office has implemented: from improving its ability to detect network intrusions and malware, to encrypting its emails, to enhancing building security, to implementing a third-party cybersecurity audit, to randomly testing its employees by sending them faux phishing emails and seeing if they bite.

The most substantial of the county’s new fixes is its risk-limiting audit – a protection that verifies electronic tallies with an even higher degree of certainty by hand-counting a random sample of paper ballots, with the number of votes scrutinized corresponding to the margin of victory in a given race.

Kelley knows firsthand that malicious actors are constantly probing local voting systems.

At the election security conference, held at UC Irvine in March, Kelley revealed that he and Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters Dean Logan were contacted by federal officials in spring 2016. They warned Kelley that people using overseas IP addresses had prodded his office’s networks in a move that was described as “checking to see if the front door of your house was locked.”

Kelley said his office’s defenses withstood the test, but he immediately worked to strengthen protections anyway.

“We’ve reevaluated every piece of the voting system and process, identified potential vulnerabilities, and made sure those are solid and secure,” said Kelley, who serves on a recently created federal 25-member election security council.

“Even though the risk is low, (the potential for hacking) is being taken very seriously,” he said. “And that should inspire voter confidence, just to know that there’s a different approach being taken to elections than there was in 2016.”

In Los Angeles County, home to another one of the nation’s most competitive congressional races, Logan has educated his staff on cyber threats by having them see firsthand how voting machines can be hacked.

Last year, he sent members of his team to DEF CON in Las Vegas, one of the world’s largest hacker conventions. There, at something called the “Voting Machine Hacking Village,” they watched white-hat hackers “go through and show the vulnerability of voting systems,” a process that helped Logan’s office identify its own potential shortcomings. Since the 2016 elections, the office has upgraded its malware protection and mandated cybersecurity training for staff. It soon will implement vulnerability-assessment and phishing exercises to further test its new systems.

“If we don’t know those vulnerabilities, we can’t respond to them,” Logan said at the conference.

San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Michael Scarpello was more cryptic about what he’d done to enhance election security in his jurisdiction.

Scarpello said his office had been working with federal agents and the county’s IT department to harden its voting systems, website and local voter registration database from attack. He noted the effort was partially in response to a “heightened level of scrutiny, based on what’s going on at a national level.” Scarpello declined to identify any specific security system or protocol changes – and even refused to disclose the federal agency his office worked with.

And in Riverside County, election officials say the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are helping to monitor their network traffic and supplying a list of IP addresses to watch out for.

Riverside County Registrar of Voters Rebecca Spencer said the increased vigilance isn’t in response to a July 2017 Time magazine cover story. In that article, the Riverside County District Attorney stated that hackers had changed a small number of county residents’ voter registration data in advance of the 2016 primary. And unnamed national cybersecurity officials said the incident may have been a “test run by the Russians… (to see) what kind of chaos they could unleash on Election Day.”

Since then, that version of events has been rebuffed by election officials. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office, which operates the state’s voter registration database, said his office had no evidence that voter rolls were breached. And Spencer said her office had identified the cause of nearly all the voter roll changes, many of which occurred because voters simply forgot they had updated their information.

Hacking your confidence

Despite all the recent upgrades to Southern California’s election infrastructure, cybersecurity experts say most voting systems – even bolstered local ones – still have vulnerabilities.

Many Southern California polling places use 15-to-20-year-old voting machines with outdated operating systems that officials acknowledge are less secure than modern versions. While voting machines are tightly protected, some need to be programmed with a separate memory card, which, depending on the offices’ protocols, could be a vehicle for malicious code. And experts say some voting machines are serviced by outside vendors with varying security protocols, sometimes via computers that might occasionally be connected to the internet, providing a pathway for attack.

Another feasible mode of attack, experts say, could target the state’s voter registration system. Intruders might seek to change or delete portions of voter rolls in a way to deter citizens from voting – similar to what was alleged in Riverside County. To prevent such a breach, Padilla’s office has buttressed its information systems in advance of the 2018 elections by conducting an agency-wide security audit, enhancing its server security and replacing antiquated infrastructure. The state also has implemented “increased 24/7 monitoring” to detect and block potential strikes.

“I think we’re in a much better place in 2016 because we really have our antennas up,” UC Irvine law professor Jack Lerner, who studies electronic voting, said of California’s system.

“I don’t think we’re totally safe unless we have a (mandatory risk-limiting) audit, the way experts have recommended. But we’re in way better shape than other jurisdictions.”

Even if the elections systems are never breached, though, many election-security experts worry the intrusions and hacking attempts are damaging elections in a more intangible way.

Mary Beth Long, a former CIA intelligence officer and Assistant Secretary of Defense, said at the UC Irvine conference that a central aim of Russia’s efforts is to foster distrust of the democratic process and amplify divisive dialogues by causing voters to think elections are able to be rigged.

“It sows discord, controversy and a real lack of confidence in our system… And that has a tremendous impact in how we conduct ourselves, and how we move forward with our elections,” Long said.

“We’ll definitely see more (attempts) in 2018 and 2020.”

That knowledge has put election officials and others in a delicate position when deciding whether or not to sound the alarm about potential election security threats and the need to safeguard and modernize voting systems. Tread too softly, and the fixes might never come. Announce the vulnerabilities too loudly, and you risk cultivating skepticism among voters.

“There are election officials who worry that if voters know what the risks are, they might not come to the polling place,” said Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan computer scientist who in 2017 testified before U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about cyber threats to U.S. elections.

“Although studies show that voters who are more aware of cybersecurity issues are just as likely to vote, I think there’s a concern that even talking about these problems is somehow negative,” Halderman said at the UC Irvine conference.

“But if we don’t talk about them, nothing is ever going to get done.”

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D.C. vs. Sacramento? GOP House members target California’s gas tax

With the president and a federal tax bill both less than popular, and talk of a blue wave coming in November, what’s a GOP congressman from California to do?

Take on Sacramento!

Specifically, House Republicans from California are teeing off on SB 1, the gas tax increase passed a year ago by their home state’s Legislature. The effort to repeal the gas tax hike has become a major focus of California’s GOP House delegation.

Reps. Ken Calvert, R-Corona and Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Beach, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, are among the top donors to the committee hoping to get a gas tax repeal measure on the November ballot. House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise have pitched in as well, state campaign finance records show.

Calvert alone has contributed $200,000 in campaign funds to the repeal drive. Joined by Inland Republican Assembly candidate Bill Essayli, Calvert hand delivered boxloads of repeal petitions to the Riverside County Registrar of Voters on Tuesday, May 1.

Calvert, who represents much of western Riverside County, said the bill to raise the state’s gas tax was not written “in the interests of people driving cars.”

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He contends gas tax money will be spent on items like bike lanes and projects outside the Inland Empire region, and not on better roads for Inland motorists.

“If they were getting something out of it, that’d be one thing,” Calvert said. “But they’re not getting a damn thing out of it. It made me angry.”

Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Beach (File photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Beach (File photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

“Unwilling to reduce state spending, Sacramento increased the state gas tax and vehicle fees, squeezing taxpayers’ wallets once again. Last year, Senate Bill 1 increased the state gas tax and vehicle registration fees to raise $52 billion over the next decade, some of which will be spent on non-infrastructure projects like local planning grants and transportation research,” Walters, whose campaign has spent more than $100,000 on the repeal effort, wrote in a March 24 op-ed in The Orange County Register.

Republicans clearly think opposing the gas tax increase is “a potential winning strategy,” said Marcia Godwin, a professor of public administration at the University of La Verne.

In a master’s level class, “we have discussed how many people, regardless of party identification, have a negative reaction to gas tax increases because they directly experience the effects every time they go to the pump,” Godwin said.

“Those who are already struggling to pay their bills or to afford decent housing do not have the option to switch to other forms of transportation or reduce their commute times.”

Repeal backers are optimistic they have enough voter signatures to qualify the repeal, which would reverse the 12-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike – it goes up in subsequent years – as well as new vehicle fees and a higher diesel sales tax that are key to funding more than $50 billion for road repairs and other transportation projects over the next decade.

The funding package, known as SB 1, barely cleared the two-thirds threshold required for passage and forced Democrats to muster every vote in their legislative supermajority in April 2017.

Turnout boost?

If it qualifies, a repeal ballot measure could be a get-out-the-vote tool for a California GOP yearning to mobilize its base.

Democrats, who dominate the state’s political landscape, have their sights set on flipping Orange County seats held by Walters and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa and taking two seats being vacated by the retiring Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, and Ed Royce, R-Yorba Linda. On a national level, nonpartisan political forecasters predict the GOP could lose control of the House and perhaps the Senate in the November mid-terms.

Compounding the GOP’s problems are President Donald Trump’s dismal poll numbers in a state he lost decisively to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Two-thirds of California’s registered voters view Trump unfavorably, according to a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll released May 2.

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Nationally, the federal tax code overhaul spearheaded by Republicans is touted as a signature achievement of the GOP-controlled Congress. But it’s polling poorly in California – 58 percent disapprove, according to a Public Policy Institute of California poll released in March – and Democrats are using the bill against Republicans on the grounds it raises Californians’ taxes by eliminating popular state and local deductions.

What’s more, there’s a strong chance that the November election for governor and U.S. Senate won’t feature a Republican. California’s top-two primary system advances the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, and until recently, Republican candidates for governor and senator trailed Democrats for second place in polls.

“Without a draw at the top of the ticket, GOP turnout could crater, leading to GOP losses in races for Congress and the Legislature,” said Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College.

“Republicans will definitely support a measure to roll back the gas tax. The question is whether it would increase GOP turnout. A strong ‘No’ campaign could dampen enthusiasm for the initiative.”

“End of the game”

By concentrating on the gas tax, “Republicans are desperate to turn the focus away from their toxic agenda and their enabling of the most corrupt and dysfunctional White House in history,” said John Vigna, communications director for the California Democratic Party.

“This is desperate, delusional thinking on their part,” Vigna added.”The voters are sick and tired of our busted roads and bridges, and they are absolutely nauseated by the stench of corruption and incompetence coming off the Trump Republican Party.”

Calvert disagrees, saying the suggestion that the gas-tax focus is the GOP’s attempt to distract voters is “a bunch of bull.”

“I’m still a citizen of the state of California,” Calvert said. “And when I see bad legislation which costs people of the state of California and hard-working families, I’m interested in pursuing those issues.”

A key is a general disagreement about how much money the gas tax will generate for new roads and related projects.

Calvert says just 5 percent of the revenue collected by SB1 can be used to add road capacity.

Fix Our Roads Coalition, an alliance of business, labor and local government groups that lobbied for SB 1’s passage, says the figure is much higher. They argue that just Riverside and San Bernardino counties collectively stand to receive nearly $2 billion in SB1 money over the next decade, with money going for 63 projects aimed are relieving gridlock, according to a coalition fact sheet.

“The repeal is being funded by D.C. Republicans and their party leaders for purely political reasons; to re-elect Republican politicians,” said Michael Quigley, executive director of the California Alliance of Jobs, which is a coalition member.

“In the process of protecting themselves, they are willing to leave Californians with unsafe bridges, crumbling roads and traffic congestion.”

John Hakel, executive director of the Southern California Partnership for Jobs, which is part of the coalition, said he wonders where California House Republicans were when SB 1 was being debated.

“Why didn’t they come back from D.C. to Sacramento and testify against (SB 1)?” he said. “It’s kind of the end of the game and now you want to go back and change the score.”

Calvert said the legislature “is not interested in what Republicans think; that’s obvious.”

“(The legislature takes) other people’s money and spend it the way they want to spend it,” he added.

“Why is it unfair for the people of California to have an opportunity to vote on this?”

Federal gas tax

SB 1 represented the first increase in California’s gas tax since 1994. The federal gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993.

Trump and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which typically supports Republicans, have called for the federal tax to be raised to help fund much-needed infrastructure repairs. Walters opposes a federal gas-tax hike, and Calvert said: “Until we can spend money effectively and efficiently, I’m not raising taxes on anybody.”

California Republicans “may have to do some creative reasoning to support a federal infrastructure bill,” Godwin said.

“It is a key part of the federal Republican agenda. Passage may take place independent of new funding or other funds shifted around to cover the cost. There may also be optimistic projections about federal revenues as long as the economy continues to do well.”

  • Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, left, with Bill Essayli, a candidate for the 60th Assembly District, deliver boxes of signatures to the Riverside County Registrar of Voters at Riverside County Registrar-Voter in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

    Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, left, with Bill Essayli, a candidate for the 60th Assembly District, deliver boxes of signatures to the Riverside County Registrar of Voters at Riverside County Registrar-Voter in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, right, delivers boxes of signatures to election technician Tralyn Davis at Riverside County Registrar of Voters in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

    Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, right, delivers boxes of signatures to election technician Tralyn Davis at Riverside County Registrar of Voters in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

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  • Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona delivers boxes of signatures to the Riverside County Registrar of Voters at Riverside County Registrar-Voter in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

    Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona delivers boxes of signatures to the Riverside County Registrar of Voters at Riverside County Registrar-Voter in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, left, and Bill Essayli, a candidate for the 60th Assembly District, center, deliver boxes of signatures to election technician Tralyn Davis at Riverside County Registrar of Voters in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

    Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, left, and Bill Essayli, a candidate for the 60th Assembly District, center, deliver boxes of signatures to election technician Tralyn Davis at Riverside County Registrar of Voters in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, left, with Bill Essayli, a candidate for the 60th Assembly District, deliver boxes of signatures to the Riverside County Registrar of Voters at Riverside County Registrar-Voter in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

    Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, left, with Bill Essayli, a candidate for the 60th Assembly District, deliver boxes of signatures to the Riverside County Registrar of Voters at Riverside County Registrar-Voter in Riverside, Calif. on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The signatures are for a ballot measure to repeal the state’s gas tax hike. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

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Mail-in primary ballots arrive this week; here’s what’s happening

Primary election day is June 5 in California and local communities. But balloting actually begins May 7 — this Monday. That’s the start of voting by mail.

For people who have avoided thinking about politics for as long as they could, time’s up. Here’s a refresher about what’s at stake in the next month.

In this election between presidential elections, voters here will begin to decide who leads California, with primaries to select the two candidates to advance to the Nov. 6 general elections in races for governor, seven other statewide offices, every Assembly seat and half of the state Senate, and the state Board of Equalization. They’ll also begin to choose California’s representatives in Washington, D.C., with a U.S. Senate seat and all U.S. House seats in play. And they’ll start to select who’ll hold many municipal offices and judgeships.

Some themes will be pervasive.

The #MeToo movement, which hangs over several races for the state Legislature in Los Angeles County, has brought out a record number of women candidates, hoping to increase their numbers in Sacramento and Washington. Also, young voters — many who registered during pro gun control marches related to the Parkland shooting — are expected to turn out in higher numbers than usual, even as 84-year-old U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein seeks her sixth six-year term. And the partisan battle for control of the U.S. House, with Democrats targeting at least a half-dozen Republican-held seats in California, could energize voters of all stripes.

Donald Trump isn’t on any ballot — or you could say he’s on almost every ballot as Democratic candidates play up their opposition to the president whose record-low approval percentages nationally are even lower in California’s major cities.

“A lot of them [the elections] are about Trump, and the divisions that are so raw in this country among people who follow politics,” said Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State Los Angeles. “This doesn’t mean we’ll get record [voter] turnout, but there is a heightened sense that these elections matter.”

These are the contests likely to get the most attention in the weeks before election day:

GOVERNOR: Jerry Brown, now 80, is leaving office because of term limits. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, another Democrat, has led the polls. It was long assumed the race would boil down to Newsom and Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa, a battle of former San Francisco and L.A. mayors. But some polls show Villaraigosa fighting for the second spot in the top-two primary against Democrat John Chiang and Republicans John Cox and Travis Allen.

CONGRESS: Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats in the 435-member House of Representatives to seize the majority and take control from Republicans. The districts they’re targeting include seven in California where voters in ’16 elected GOP representatives even as they picked Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump for president. Five of those districts are in Southern California, including two in Orange County where incumbent Republicans (Dana Rohrabacher and Mimi Walters) are hoping to keep the seats, and two others in the county where long-time GOP representatives (Darrell Issa and Ed Royce) are retiring, and one in northern L.A. county where Republican Steve Knight hopes to keep the seat.

STATE LEGISLATURE: Sexual harassment scandals in state government hang over several races for the Legislature, all involving Democrat-controlled districts in L.A. County. Special elections will fill out the terms of Raul Bocanegra and Matt Dababneh, assemblymen from the San Fernando Valley who resigned after multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. (The race for Dababneh’s seat includes 19-year-old Republican Justin Clark, who could become the youngest known legislator in California history.) A special-election primary will fill out the term of Tony Mendoza, a senator from Artesia who resigned after being accused of sexual harassment, only to remain on the ballot for the special election.  Also, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, is running for re-election while on voluntary, paid leave during an investigation of sexual harassment charges against her.

Potentially confusing for many voters is this: The special elections to fill out remaining terms of resigning legislators occur on the same day as the primaries in the regular elections for the next full term of those same legislative offices.

In another unusual state legislative contest, Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, faces a recall election. Republicans started the recall drive after Newman voted in favor of California’s gas-tax increase.

State legislative election results in November will determine if Democrats regain their hold on two-thirds of the Assembly and Senate. Democrats currently are one seat short in each house of the two-thirds “supermajority” that would allow them to, among other things, pass tax increases without Republican members’ votes.

Voters have until May 21 to register to vote and until May 29 to request vote-by-mail ballots (see the sample ballot that comes in the mail). For those who have already requested mail-in ballots or have arranged for permanent vote-by-mail status, the ballots will be sent out starting May 7; so many Californians could fill out their votes in the next few days.

Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by June 5 and arrive at county election offices by June 8 to be counted.

The percentage of votes cast by mail in Californians has grown steadily in the past 50 years from the low single digits — back when, ostensibly, only people traveling out of town used what was known as “absentee voting.” The past six state election primaries have all seen more than half of the votes cast by mail, including 69.4 percent in the 2014 primary.

Southern Californians can get more information about voting from election officials in Los Angeles County at 800-815-2666 and www.lavote.net/home/voting-elections, Orange County at 714-567-7600 and ocvote.com, Riverside County at 951-486-7200 and voteinfo.net, and San Bernardino County at 800-881-VOTE and sbcountyelections.com.

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Cannabis business, and cannabis’ political clout, are growing up quickly

As they work to grow their newly legal industry, many in California’s cannabis business are looking to grow their political clout.

And, at all levels of politics, candidates and backers of many causes are likely to help them do just that.

  • Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, left, gets a tour of Bud and Bloom dispensary from Kyle Kazan, a partner and board member, in Santa Ana on Friday, May 5, 2017 during a “meet and greet” and Cinco del Mayo celebration at the dispensary. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, left, gets a tour of Bud and Bloom dispensary from Kyle Kazan, a partner and board member, in Santa Ana on Friday, May 5, 2017 during a “meet and greet” and Cinco del Mayo celebration at the dispensary. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Jeff Bleich, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.

    Jeff Bleich, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.

  • Christopher Beals, left, President and general counsel, and Dustin McDonald, Vice President of government relations for Weedmaps, the Orange County and Denver based online cannabis community. in Irvine on Friday, February 16, 2018. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

    Christopher Beals, left, President and general counsel, and Dustin McDonald, Vice President of government relations for Weedmaps, the Orange County and Denver based online cannabis community. in Irvine on Friday, February 16, 2018. (Sam Gangwer, Contributing Photographer)

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Once quick to say “I didn’t inhale,” California politicians today are quick to accept campaign contributions from donors with ties to marijuana commerce or the drug legalization movement. Since 2001, campaign finance records show, cannabis-connected donors have given more than $831,000 to people running for state offices, with about a third of the contributions coming over the past three years.

But that $831,000 is almost certainly just a fraction of what’s been given. It doesn’t count cannabis donations to local government leaders, or to people running for federal office. What’s more, it’s hard to track every contribution by every marijuana-minded donor.

With recreational marijuana now legal in California, observers wonder if cannabis will rival labor unions, developers and other traditional sources of campaign cash. Some look to the rise of Indian gaming money — which has become a powerful force in California politics — and see a possible template for cannabis.

“There are some parallels with Indian gaming interests,” said Marcia Godwin, a professor of public administration at the University of La Verne. “In that area, there were large… political donations ahead of the ballot measures that set up the current legal framework.”

Supporters of Proposition 64, the voter-approved 2016 ballot measure that legalized recreational cannabis, pumped $23.5 million into promoting the initiative.

Godwin sees the rise of a new era of cannabis in state politics.

“The first phase mostly consisted of a few wealthy donors, in the 1990s, who supported medical marijuana legalization,” she said. “Next, we had the emergence of more active interest groups that were related to owners of medical marijuana dispensaries. Now, we are moving into more corporate-type donations.”

Godwin and Rick Hasen, a UC Irvine law professor who specializes in elections, see parallels between marijuana and industries like alcohol and tobacco when it comes to campaign donations.

“They depend on government regulation to be able to proposer, so they participate in the political process by throwing money around,” Hasen said.

The fact that marijuana remains illegal at the federal level gives industry insiders more incentive to influence state and local politicians, hoping to sway state and local cannabis regulations.

“It’s just an absolute necessity to get politically involved in this space,” said Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech, an Irvine company that owns cannabis businesses in California and Nevada. “If we’re not politically engaged, they’re not going to see us as a formidable industry that they need to stop and pay attention to.”

Cannabis industry players

Perhaps the biggest cannabis industry player in California politics is Weedmaps, which runs a Yelp-like website that tracks marijuana shops. The Irvine-based company donates tens of thousands of dollars each year to candidates at the federal, state and local levels.

Fighting against marijuana prohibition has been “part of the company DNA” since the startup was founded 10 years ago, said Christopher Beals, Weedmaps’ president and general counsel. Over the past five years, the company has developed a sophisticated lobbying team that drafts white papers on potential regulations, and tries to educate lawmakers across the United States, Canada and Europe.

Beals and Peterson said they generally donate to candidates who’ve been supportive of the cannabis industry so they can encourage them to continue that support and to make their voices heard.

“A big part of it is making sure we have access and we have the ear of policymakers so we can tell them what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to regulations,” said Peterson, who personally gave $30,000 to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign. Newsom was a key promoter of Prop 64.

Those efforts aren’t slowing now that California has opened its recreational cannabis market. “There are more issues to be solved going forward than I think are settled,” Beals said, with concern over stringent lab testing standards, limited banking access and more.

Once marijuana businesses in California adjust to the evolving regulations, Peterson hopes to see an upturn in cannabis-backed political action.

“More players in the industry need to put their money where their mouth is.”

State candidates court industry

Candidates for the state’s top elected offices are courting cannabis-oriented money and voters.

During a recent cannabis investment forum in Santa Monica, guests heard a speech from Jeff Bleich, a former U.S. ambassador to Australia and Democrat candidate for lieutenant governor.

They also heard from State Treasurer John Chiang, who is running, as a Democrat, for governor. Chiang, who has been a guest at other cannabis conferences, is spearheading an effort to give the industry access to banking services.

In 2017, Weedmaps contributed $10,000 to his campaign for governor.

In an emailed statement, Chiang spokesman Nicholas Jordan said: “John Chiang is the only candidate for governor working to fill the gaps left by Prop 64. As treasurer, John partnered with our state Attorney General to explore the idea of a state bank with a focus on cannabis.”

California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, speaks at a visit to a labor union office in Riverside in this January file photo (John Valenzuela/Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, speaks at a visit to a labor union office in Riverside in this January file photo (John Valenzuela/Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

But perhaps the biggest beneficiary of cannabis industry support is Newsom, a Democrat who was the most high-profile figure to support Prop. 64.

In an emailed response, Newsom campaign spokesman Nathan Click said: “Proponents of marijuana decriminalization and criminal justice reform overwhelmingly support Gavin Newsom for governor because, unlike the other candidates, he doesn’t just talk the talk. He helped pass Prop. 64 and is the only candidate for governor who supported all five major criminal justice ballot measures.”

Local lawmakers are key

More so than with most other businesses, local politicians have a great deal of power over how the cannabis industry develops in California.

Prop. 64 gave city and county leaders full authority to regulate the industry within their boundaries. Unless voters pass their own ballot initiative, city council members can decide how many businesses of which type can locate where, set restrictive hours of operation and more. And most cities are so far choosing to shut out the marijuana industry entirely.

A review of campaign finance records filed with city clerks across Southern California show marijuana industry donations at the local level.

In Santa Ana – the only Orange County city that allows marijuana shops – Councilman Vincente Sarmiento received more than $1,000 in donations from the industry in 2015 and 2016.

In 2017, the Santa Ana City Council voted to extend hours of operation for shops, lift signage restrictions and loosen other rules for the city’s dispensaries. Sarmiento led those efforts.

In Compton, where marijuana businesses are banned, HerbalCure Hemp Seed Oil Company donated $500 to City Councilwoman Tana McCoy’s 2017 election campaign.

In cannabis-friendly Culver City, ERBA dispensary owner Jay Handal donated $250 to council candidate Marcus Tiggs.

Long Beach Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce. (File photo by Brad Graverson/Southern California News Group)
Long Beach Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce. (File photo by Brad Graverson/Southern California News Group)

Marijuana donors also are rallying around Long Beach Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, who faces a recall campaign. Cannabis interests are waiting for Long Beach to lift a temporary moratorium on recreational marijuana businesses in the city.

Adelanto, in San Bernardino County’s high desert, was on the brink of bankruptcy when it started embracing the cannabis industry three years ago. This past summer, the city balanced its last budget on a pledge of cannabis industry tax payments.

Adelanto Mayor Pro Tem Jermaine Wright is now awaiting trial after he was accused in late 2017 of accepting a $10,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent who said he wanted Wright’s help to establish a marijuana distribution business in town.

Patterns of government corruption show that it’s most likely to take place in smaller communities, said UC Irvine’s Hasen, who noted that ever-shrinking media outlets are less likely to keep close tabs on what’s going on in smaller cities.

Such communities also are more likely to be desperate for funds, Hasen said, and to “see dollar signs when they look at the cannabis industry.”

Will cannabis sway elections?

Godwin, the University of La Verne professor, isn’t sure how heavily marijuana – or the industry’s campaign donations – will weigh on voters’ minds.

“There might be a few communities where marijuana becomes a hot spot issue, depending on how much tax revenue is to be gained…  or if problems develop with marijuana stores,” she said.

With a recent Gallup poll showing support for marijuana legalization at a record-high 64 percent, Peterson said he believes candidates who continue to oppose or ignore the industry may be at risk for the first time during the mid-term elections this fall.

He hopes those candidates take notice, both of public opinion and of the money flowing from deep wallets to candidates who support a regulated cannabis industry.

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Honduras president declared election winner; unrest persists

By FREDDY CUEVAS

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — President Juan Orlando Hernandez was declared the winner of Honduras’ disputed election, but that did little to quell unrest from weeks of uncertainty as challenger Salvador Nasralla called for more protests Monday and the Organization of American States proposed a re-do of the vote.

The OAS, which sent election observers to the country, issued a statement saying it was impossible to determine the outcome with enough certainty due to irregularities including “deliberate human intrusions into the computer system, intentional elimination of digital traces,” opened ballot boxes and “extreme statistical improbability regarding levels of participation within the same department,” combined with the narrow vote differential.

“The only possible path for the winner to be the Honduran people is a new call for general elections. … Respecting democratic values and citizens is the necessary road to safeguard society from death and violence,” the OAS said.

“The Honduran people deserve an electoral exercise that offers democratic quality and guarantees. The electoral cycle that the (Supreme Electoral Tribunal) gave as concluded today has clearly not been that,” it added.

Electoral tribunal president David Matamoros announced Sunday evening that Hernandez had won, saying, “We have fulfilled our obligation (and) we wish for there to be peace in our country.”

According to the court’s official count, Hernandez won with 42.95 percent to 41.42 for Nasralla, who well before the announcement had challenged the result and said he would not recognize it.

There were reports of nighttime demonstrations on main boulevards in Tegucigalpa, the capital, and other cities, and Nasralla’s party called for more protests Monday. At least 17 people have died in violent street clashes since the Nov. 26 election.

There was no immediate public comment by Hernandez, whose sister Hilda Hernandez, a Cabinet minister, died Saturday in a helicopter crash.

Earlier in the day, Nasralla traveled to Washington to present what he called “numerous” examples of evidence of alleged fraud. He said he planned to meet with officials from the OAS, the U.S. State Department and human rights groups.

Interviewed by UneTV during a layover at the Miami airport, Nasralla called Hernandez’s re-election illegitimate and said he would ask the OAS to invoke its democratic charter against Honduras.

“The declaration by the court is a mockery because it tramples the will of the people,” Nasralla said. He added that he was “very optimistic” because “the people do not endorse fraud.”

Former President Manuel Zelaya, a Nasralla ally, called for civil disobedience.

“May God take us having made our confessions because today the people will defend in the streets the victory that it obtained at the ballot box,” Zelaya said.

In a statement, he urged police and the armed forces to “place themselves under the direction of President-elect Salvador Nasralla” and cease operations against the election protests.

The first results reported by the electoral court before dawn the day after the Nov. 26 election showed Nasralla with a significant lead over Hernandez with nearly 60 percent of the vote counted.

But public updates of the count mysteriously stopped for more than a day, and when they resumed, Nasralla’s lead steadily eroded and ultimately reversed in Hernandez’s favor.

The electoral court recently conducted a recount of ballot boxes that presented irregularities and said there was virtually no change to its count. Since then, it had been considering challenges filed by candidates.

Hernandez, a 49-year-old businessman and former lawmaker, took office in January 2014 and built support largely on a drop in violence in this impoverished Central American country.

But corruption and drug trafficking allegations cast a shadow over his government, and his re-election bid fueled charges that his National Party was seeking to entrench itself in power by getting a court ruling allowing him to seek a second term.

Re-election has long been outlawed in Honduras, and Zelaya was ousted as president in a 2009 coup ostensibly because he wanted to run again himself. He later founded the party that ran Nasralla as its candidate.

“The people say: ‘JOH you are not our President,’” Zelaya tweeted, referring to Hernandez’s initials. “We must mobilize immediately to all public places. They are violating the will of the PEOPLE.”

 

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