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Last updateMon, 23 Mar 2020 12pm

It’s been a turbulent year for Rancho Mirage’s city government. In October 2019, the city received a letter accusing the city of violating the California Voting Rights Act with its current at-large election system.

Then, in November 2019, a group of residents sued the city after the council had approved an In-n-Out Burger restaurant, with a drive-through, on Highway 111. In January, that suit prompted In-N-Out to withdraw from the development agreement.

It is against this backdrop that the voters of Rancho Mirage are voting by mail to select two members of the City Council. Ballots, which are being sent out to all registered city voters, must be returned by April 14.

The Independent interviewed three of the four candidates. Both challengers, Maggie Lockridge and Stephen Jaffe, agreed to phone interviews. Incumbent Ted Weill agreed to respond via email, while incumbent Richard Kite asked for a list of questions, which we sent. After indicating he would “respond accordingly” by our deadline for this story, he did not.

The Independent asked each of them the same set of questions, on topics ranging from the most-pressing issues in Rancho Mirage to their favorite leisure activities. (It’s important to note these interviews took place before the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic set in.)

Here are their complete answers, edited only for style and clarity.

Maggie Lockridge

Nurse, United States Air Force Nurse Corps veteran

What are your most important reasons for becoming a candidate?

I really haven’t been in politics before, and, I didn’t have any plans really until last fall, although I’ve always met any challenge that came into my life. I attended the In-N-Out Burger Planning Commission meeting of Sept. 12 of last year, I believe. There were so many residents living in the neighborhoods around the site where the In-N-Out Burger was to be built who attended that there was standing room only in the main room, and the atrium was at least half-full of people, too.

There was a representative from In-N-Out Burger, and he told us the basic concepts of what was going to be on the site: 3,800 square feet under roof, and 1,500 square feet of patio for the civilians to enjoy In-N-Out. Who doesn’t like a good In-N-Out Burger? I’m not saying anything about that—but he also stated that the presence of the In-N-Out Burger would have no impact on neighborhoods. At that point, everybody became quite upset, because obviously, 1,500 to 2,000 cars going by in your neighborhood is going to have an impact; there’s no doubt about that. And if you walk out of your home and come face-to-face with an In-N-Out Burger sign, it will affect the value of your property, and there is no doubt about that, either. Your quality of life will definitely be affected by it.

So there were about 20 to 25 individuals, including myself, who signed up to speak. We each had three minutes, and everyone basically spoke about the same situation: the traffic, the noise, the late hours—1:30 in the morning (as the closing time), my goodness! Rancho Mirage folds up at 10 to 10:30 p.m. every night. There’s nothing going on, basically, with Rancho Mirage residents after that hour. The latest (people out) would probably be leaving a movie, and at The River, there’s already a Big 5 hamburger place over there. So, it’s not that we need another hamburger place within two blocks of one another, that’s for sure. It was going to be trafficked probably by people mostly from out of town, particularly after 10 o’clock at night. And the delivery trucks come. And there’s litter. There’s always litter. But, basically, (the problem is) the drive-through line and the number of cars that are idling while waiting to get their pick-ups. That’s probably the longest line in the country because In-N-Out is the most successful burger restaurant in the country. So, that will have a huge impact, and Las Palmas Shopping Center is not very large in regards to most shopping centers. It’s 15 acres while most of them are 30 or more. It’s really going to impede a lot of different aspects of traffic and parking and trying to maneuver around where the burger line might (block) other entrances. It’s not going to work out well.

We did not know at the time what the City Council had done in order to get (the project) to the planning commission stage. We found that out when we started doing our research. But first, let’s go back a moment to the 20 to 25 people who poured their hearts out to the Planning Commission as to why this was not a good idea. There was some very impressive commentary going on up there. One woman was actually in tears, because she has two young children, and they ride their bikes out front, and obviously she could no longer allow them to do that with the additional traffic. A lot of other reasons were expressed too. At the end of that particular public comment (segment), if I had been on that council, I’ll tell you one thing that I would have done: I would have said that I feel we should adjourn at this point for 30 minutes so that the council can discuss what it’s just heard. That was the first time that they had heard from their constituents. They had been so quiet about (the In-N-Out project). They had not discussed any aspect of this development with (anyone) in the surrounding neighborhood. But instead, they went straight to a vote and it was yes, yes, yes and yes, because Mr. (Dana) Hobart had recused himself from the vote, stating “personal reasons” because of (the fact that) Dr. Hirschberg, who opposed the project, had once saved Mr. Hobart’s life. So since Mr. Hobart was going to vote for it, he didn’t want that emotional trauma between he and his friend. But, if you research it, there is no legal reason whatsoever on the books that (says) you can recuse yourself for personal reasons. There are only financial ones. That was very upsetting to me that he would do that, because obviously, what’s being hidden here? What is his interest in that (Rancho) Las Palmas Shopping Center? I don’t feel that that is an accurate reason why he recused himself.

Then, on Oct. 3, I went to the City Council (meeting) where they would do final approval, and I’ll state this on the record because there were witnesses: (At one point) in the very beginning … Mayor Iris Smotrich said quite arrogantly, “Anyone who speaks out of turn will be arrested and taken to jail.” I was shocked. I was emotionally traumatized, and I thought, “What country do I live in?” I turned around and looked at the back of the room, and there were eight uniformed policemen standing there. I thought, “This is not right. This is not my council. This should not continue.” Here they are, threatening their constituents. How dare they. I mean, I was totally outraged. And then they voted. Since then, that comment was removed from the video (of the meeting), never to be seen again in the public eye. I did not take pictures or video of it at the time. I never expected that to happen. But, if you go to their website, there is nothing mentioned at the very beginning of the Oct. 3 meeting about being arrested. She (instead) very nicely starts the whole meeting. They address a couple of events on the agenda, and then she gets to the In-n-Out portion, and she says in a very gentle voice that because of specific laws that are on the books, she does have to stipulate that if anyone does speak out of turn, they will be removed and taken to jail. That was a total re-filming of that section that they (then posted) on YouTube and on their website. So it was upsetting to me. If you say something, then stand behind it. Don’t run away from it, conceal it and deceive your public. I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t have a film clip of it to prove it, but I do have people who were there and witnessed it themselves.

So, obviously, they went to a vote, and they voted yes, yes, yes, yes. And there were about 17 of us there from “Save Rancho Mirage,” the organization that we had, so when they did that, we had agreed that we would all stand up in unison and leave, and we did. I was so upset that, as we went out the entrance, I turned around and said very loudly and emphatically, “You have just killed a beautiful city.” That never showed up on the (archived) video, either. Fortunately, I caught everybody by surprise, and I wasn’t arrested, but I almost wish I had been, because then it would have all been brought to light. So, a group of us met together out in the atrium and agreed that now we would find out what the heck happened to get this to this point.

That was when we really started researching and reading documents. We found out that they were using a traffic study that was way out of date, supposedly from 2014. Supposedly, they had just doubled (the numbers in it), and they figured that was good enough to use as a traffic study for today. But it was taken at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. One thing that In-N-Out has proclaimed out loud is that the busiest time for them is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., so 4 o’clock would not have been an accurate study.

There was a law on the books that there would be no fast-food drive-through restaurants in Rancho Mirage. So although that property was zoned commercially, there was this (other) stipulation on the books. But they decided to just do a “text change” (to the law) saying that there would be no fast-food drive-through on less than 15 acres, because, of course, that (Las Palmas Shopping Center) site was 15 acres. Then we found out that (the City Council designated it) as an “in-fill project.” There had been a restaurant there before, and we believe that they were probably using (the restaurant) CoCo’s which was there 15 to 20 years ago. CoCo’s did not have a drive-through, and it closed around 10 to 11 o’clock at night. So, it was not an accurate in-fill. They said it was an in-fill so that they could avoid doing a (California Environmental Quality Act study) or an environmental impact statement. They did not want to do that, because with 30 cars idling in line, they would not pass in such a small area. So, they circumvented both city zoning law and state CEQA law. They did this in such a deceitful, deceptive and illegal way that it just made us all extremely upset. We had our attorney come before the city Planning Commission, and he very clearly stated that if they put this through, then Save Rancho Mirage would be suing them because of these illegal actions they had taken. So they were forewarned, but they just didn’t pay any attention to it, just like they didn’t (pay attention) to their constituents. So, we sued them and the In-N-Out Burger company.

Twice, the city came back to us after they had received the suit and asked, “What can we do to make you happy and to make you accept In-N-Out?” We said, “Go away.” They offered us all kinds of landscaping around so it wouldn’t show. They offered us gates at our community so that traffic couldn’t cut through. Anyway, evidently, when In-N-Out got their aspect of the suit, I can only imagine that they weren’t aware of all the illegal actions that had been taken to get the approval for them to be on that lot. Or else, they (may have not wanted to) antagonize the neighbors to this point; it’s not good PR. So, they (decided) to withdraw their application and (reserve) the right to do their own CEQA, and if it passes, they could re-apply to build their restaurant. And that’s where (the process) is now.

If everything had been done legally from the beginning, then (neighboring residents) wouldn’t have had any recourse. We would have had to say, “OK. That’s growth.” But by changing the zoning law and doing what they did behind our backs, they just antagonized everybody in the area. To me, having a red-and-white In-N-Out Burger arrow sign on that corner would have been a blight on Rancho Mirage. An, it would have been an illegal blight. I don’t mind an In-N-Out Burger being in another part (of the city); we can bend the rules for them. People do enjoy In-N-Out burgers. But (it should be located) down near Costco, off the Interstate 10, where (property) is commercially zoned, so that you’re not affecting anybody else’s quality of life. And that’s where most of them are. In fact, Save Rancho Mirage did offer to In-N-Out that if they closed at 11 p.m., and they didn’t have a drive-through, we would accept them there (at the location on Highway 111). They do have five other locations where they’ve done that. But they chose not to. So, we did try to negotiate with them. It didn’t work.

If you are elected to the City Council, what steps do you support to resolve this In-N-Out Burger issue, or is the process currently at a wait-and-see standstill?

First of all, I’m no longer associated with Save Rancho Mirage. Once I became a candidate, all relationships were severed. I have to stand alone. I don’t go to their meetings, and I don’t know what they’re planning at this point. Once I’m on the council—obviously, at the moment, the issue is dead. It’s moot. If (In-N-Out Burger) should decide to do their own CEQA, the possibilities of (the CEQA report) coming up and passing, I think are very slim. If it did, legally, they can submit another application. If a traffic report was not a part of the CEQA, then I would require that they do another one at noon, in that location, during high season. The first one was done in August. We all know that we don’t have that kind of traffic here in August. It was so deceptive.

Here’s another point I want to bring up: If you research on how the council has been voting on major issues, it’s always been four “yes” votes or four “no” votes. Dana Hobart is kind of the leader of the pack over there, and they kind of vote leaning toward what Dana would like. I can’t help feeling in my heart-of-hearts that there isn’t somebody (on the council) that is voting against their inner feelings. I would not be afraid. Maggie Lockridge is a Leo. Maggie is a leader, not a follower. If I felt a negative response was warranted when all else were positive, you best know that I would certainly let it be known how I felt. I would not be swayed to vote one way or another by anybody on that council. And you know, two of these council members have been on that council for 20 years—that’s 40 years with just those two members. That’s an awful lot. My inner (instincts) tell me that once you’ve been on a council for 20 years, you’ve got to have a feeling of empowerment come over you. And it gives you a little more leeway to do what you want, and not what the constituents want, so you involve the constituents less in your decisions. I feel that if there’s any type of a major project that’s being considered, such as In-N-Out, then you involve your constituents. They didn’t, because they knew that (the public response) would be so negative. They didn’t want to face such adversity, so they didn’t inform you.

I don’t like that it’s the “good old boy” days on the council. Most of them have been on there from a minimum of seven years to 20-something for Dana. I think there should be fresh ideas, fresh concepts and new people on there. I feel real strongly about districting. We definitely need term limits and districting. Those are two things that I am adamant about. Term limits should be eight years, two terms. That’s plenty. If you haven’t brought your ideas, your concepts and your energy to the council within eight years’ time, you’re old news. You’re gone. I’m sorry. You’re ineffective.

Like many other cities in the state, the city of Rancho Mirage has received a letter from the law firm of Shenkman and Hughes putting the city on notice that it is not in compliance with the California Voting Rights Act of 2001. What should the city’s next steps be?

I certainly would vote for districting. I’d do whatever needed to be done to put it on the ballot. It shouldn’t even need to go on a ballot. It’s a state law. They should do it—and they’re in non-compliance.

Both (fellow candidate) Stephen Jaffe and I met with Isaiah Hagerman, who is the city manager, many weeks ago, in late October or early November, when we first became candidates. We asked if the council had replied to this letter. He said, “Not to my knowledge.” Then we asked if (the council) had discussed this at a council meeting, and he said, “No.” And I said have they discussed this otherwise, and he said, “Yes.” And I said: Where? He said, “In closed chambers.” You know, they’ve discussed it amongst themselves, and evidently, they’ve decided not to reply. This one affects them being re-elected.

I would go to five districts, so there would be candidates for five (races). The people from each district would have a vote, and it would matter, and that’s important to me. And there would be much more involvement (by the public). Right now, there are five of them up there, and I don’t think that any of them are really keying in on the specific problems and certain aspects of the town.

Beyond what we’ve discussed, what would you say is the single most-pressing issue facing the residents of Rancho Mirage in the immediate future?

Homelessness, without a doubt. Homelessness is only going to become a bigger problem. It’s not going to go away by itself. It’s not going to burn itself out. Do you know if you’re homeless, and in you’re in Palm Springs, if you have to find a place for the night, you have to go to Indio? How in the heck are you going to get to Indio? The (Coachella Valley Rescue) Mission right now is the only place that takes them in, where they can get a walk-in—but also, you can’t keep your dog. A lot of these people have pets, because that’s the one reason they stay alive, is to take care of their pet. You know there was a grant for $10 million made to this valley to solve the homeless problem. But the choice, according to people who do home planning, was to build 30 homes. That’s ridiculous. I’m sorry. You have 10,000 homeless in Riverside County, shall we say, and it’s getting worse and worse every day.

We need a shelter. I want a shelter built out near the I-10, near the commercial (district). I want at least 50 cubicles in this building. So, I want to take $5 million of that for the building. I want 50 cubicles with a bed, and a bureau and a closet, so that they have one element of decency, privacy and humanity in their life, and they don’t have to be in a room with 50 bunk beds. This is not a detox center. We’re talking homeless here. If they have other problems, they’re going to have to get rid of that before they come to us. And you’ll be there at this shelter for either 30 days or 45 days. In the back of the shelter will be a huge area where they will be taught plumbing, or television repair, or how to be a sous chef, or how to sew a seam, some skill that would enable them to get a job when they got out. Just giving them handouts is not going to work. We’ve got to give them some way to make a living. And there will be a placement center in there, and consult rooms and a kitchen and a cafeteria. It would not be the lap of luxury. It would probably be very much a barracks-type place, but it would be functional. It would be a partial solution. The other $5 million (from the grant) would run it for five years. So, if you have 30-day contracts with all these people—and I think they could apply themselves to that time period if that’s all they had—in five years we could help 3,000 homeless. That’s a lot. That is at least starting on the problem.

Plus: We don’t have a place for the seniors to go in Rancho Mirage. There’s no senior center. If you’re not behind a gated community and have a club that offers you bridge and craps, etc., there is no place for our elderly—55 and over—to go. I’d love to have a senior center where they can go and just get out of their houses, so that they’re not so lonely and emotionally depressed, like you can get so easily when you limit your social exposure.

You’re talking about possibly building the homeless transition center within Rancho Mirage city boundaries?

It would be out there by Costco, near the I-10. There’s land available down there. Del Webb (is building) an over-55 community here now, but (homes there) are still too costly. It’s expensive. Del Webb can’t say they’re helping the homeless. But I think (building the transition center) would be a great example to set for this valley. Would I vote for a prison in Rancho Mirage? No. Obviously, no. But a shelter, not around the neighborhoods? These people aren’t going to hurt anybody. You know, they just want to live. They just want to exist and be independent again. They’d have to be vetted to get in. We’re not going to bring somebody in who isn’t going to benefit from the program. But if they show good intention, and good faith, and apply themselves to the project of learning, then I think absolutely we should have a place for them. At least it could be an incentive for them to go to detox, so they can go to the shelter and learn some way to get themselves on an independent basis again.

The incumbent Rancho Mirage City Council candidates in the last two elections have run a “joint campaign.” What advantage, if any, do you perceive that these candidacies gain from this approach?

The main benefit of that is you can share expenses. You can get both on one pamphlet; you can get both on one billboard, on yard signs or whatever. So it’s less expensive to do a slate. Maybe they think it’s easier for the people?

What do you do to relax? What’s your favorite leisure activity?

Well, I’d have to say I putter around my yard. I love gardening. I have a beautifully landscaped yard. I keep it trimmed, and I feed my roses. I used to love to ski, but that’s been curtailed lately. My foundation, Rebuilding America’s Warriors (RAW), keeps me extremely busy. We are still very active, so that takes up a great deal of my time. I’m dedicated to the military, our veterans. They have a very big soft spot in my heart. They sacrifice so much. Being a nurse, you have a certain feeling of being of service to others, and in my nursing career, that’s what I have been. At this particular point, I believe that the citizens of Rancho Mirage are in need of somebody on that council to serve them. So, they’ve been added to my hopes and desires for my future here, in terms of where my professional career takes me.

I love to go to the theater. I go to the McCallum all the time. I love to go out to dinner. I’m weeping about Wally’s (Desert Turtle restaurant possibly) closing. I truly am. If Michael (Botello, the owner) doesn’t find a buyer, he’s going to walk away in the spring—although they do own that building, so maybe they’ll just sell the building. I don’t know. But I’d hate to lose Wally’s. It’s the classiest restaurant we have in Rancho Mirage, and possibly in the valley.

I collect crystal, and I enjoy my crystal collections. I used to collect professional memorabilia, because the love of my life was Ron Fairly, who was a baseball player at one point in his life. He died last October of cancer. It was a terrible year of cancer and fighting for him. So, it’s given me more time on my hands. We weren’t married. We were extremely good friends. We were out three or four times a week at different restaurants or the movies or theater. So, that part of my life has quieted down a great deal—and the City Council has moved in.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about your candidacy and/or yourself?

I’ve lived in this town for 20 years. I love Rancho Mirage. It’s got a dignity to it. When I first came here, I lived in White Sun Estates, then this particular home I live in now came up for sale. It offered me a bigger home, a bigger yard and a view. So, I jumped on it, although it was a bankruptcy home, and it needed everything done to it. Now I love my home. I love my neighborhood. I love my community, and I love my city. And I want to add to it. I don’t want to detract from it.


Stephen Jaffe

Attorney and mediator; animal-rights advocate and mental-health-awareness

What are your most important reasons for becoming a candidate?

Yes, the “Why are you running?” question. I’ll tell you the story of how this happened. My wife and I are relatively new here. We moved down here last summer, about 6 or 7 months ago. A few months after we got here, we were contacted by one person who we met (during the process) of acquiring our home, who told us about (the plans) for an In-N-Out Burger coming into the city. Apparently, they were all up in arms because it was, and still is, a big controversy in the neighborhood, and (the proposed location) was pretty close to where we live. He asked if we’d like to come to a meeting to learn about it. I said we would, largely because we didn’t know anybody, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to meet some neighbors.

So, I went and found out about the issue, and then wound up going to a City Council meeting. Now I’m not that familiar with how this council works, but with most city councils, they have to pass an ordinance, and then it has to be passed a second time. I wasn’t around for the first time it had passed, but this was the second time they were going to pass it. I was absolutely struck by the way that this body of legislative elected officials ran their business. It was incredible that there was no discussion or debate on the record—and that was for the whole two-hour meeting. They just read agendas and voted. The more I learned, the more alarmed I got about the way the city is run in general. Apparently, Mr. Hobart is kind of an old-school political boss. Everyone I talked to said that he runs the city, and everybody does what he wants. And observing the other four council members during the session confirmed that. Also, aside from the issue of this hamburger place, there was an issue about a notice that had been given to the residents about how (that proposal) had been put through—the transparency of the governmental process and really fundamental democratic issues. So, that’s what really triggered my interest in running.

It’s very important for me to say that my candidacy has absolutely nothing to do with hamburgers, even though my incumbent opponents are trying to spin me as a single-issue candidate opposed to the In-N-Out Burger (project). That has never been, and never will be, the case. It’s really about much deeper flaws in the governmental process that I perceive and I think need to be fixed. So, that’s the short answer as to why I’m running. There are a whole number of issues that I’ve identified and would like to address if I get elected to the City Council.

Like many other cities in the state, the city of Rancho Mirage has received a letter from the law firm of Shenkman and Hughes putting the city on notice that it is not in compliance with the California Voting Rights Act of 2001. What should the city’s next steps be?

I’m strongly in favor of district elections. I have actually spoken to (the attorney who sent the letter) Mr. Shenkman about this. I don’t know how I could put it more strongly or bluntly, other than to say that I’m for district elections.

Using my 49 years of law practice experience, if the city were to be sued, it would lose. For the same reasons that Palm Springs, Palm Desert and Santa Monica—which was sued and lost—(changed their elections), I don’t think the city has a defense to that kind of a lawsuit. So, I’m for it on political, legal and moral grounds. But they would lose the lawsuit.

Also, I discussed this with the city attorney briefly. I said to him at a meeting that we both (attended), “I saw that (the city) got this letter; what are you going to do about it?” He just smiled at me. Apparently, they’re doing nothing, because they haven’t responded. That’s really bad form. But, politically, people will do what they think they can get away with. A quote from Justice Louis Brandeis, that I use often, says, it is frequently said, sunshine is the best disinfectant. If were to characterize the role I hope to play if elected to the City Council, I want to be the sunshine here, and shine some light into the dark corners of what goes on.

If you are elected to the City Council, what steps do you support to resolve this In-N-Out Burger issue, or is the process currently at a wait-and-see standstill?

For me, it was never opposition to an In-N-Out; my opposition was to the procedures and the ways that particular project was shoved through the governmental process illegally, in my opinion. I have nothing against In-N-Out burgers. I eat them. It’s about process and legality and transparency and public awareness.

I’ll give you another example of what I’m talking about. There’s an entirely vacant square-mile piece of land called Section 31, that’s across the street from what used to be Annenberg estate. It’s bordered by Gerald Ford, Frank Sinatra, Monterey and Bob Hope. So, there’s a monster-size project going through the City (Council) right now that hardly anyone has even heard of. It calls for 2,000 new dwelling units and 175,000 square feet of retail (space) and service businesses. Just like with the In-N-Out Burger, which was snuck through (the City Council) in what I call the “dark of August,” when nobody was here in town, the traffic study (in that case) was done in August when there was nobody on the road. Now Section 31 is being marched along very, very quietly. We’re talking about increasing the population of Rancho Mirage by 6,000 to 8,000 people. And it may very seriously increase the number of businesses here. Look, it’s kind of a beach ball through the snake scenario, and nobody knows about it. So, that’s another example of the lack of transparency.

The incumbent Rancho Mirage City Council candidates in the last two elections have run a “joint campaign.” What advantage, if any, do you perceive that these candidacies gain from this approach?

I think you’ve already had my answer to this one. They’re all being herded and directed by a single person who dominates the City Council, and you can quote me on this, by fear and bullying, and that’s really what he does. One person asked me almost the same question, but in another way. They asked me, “Why do you think they all walk together in lockstep?” They do it because that’s the way they’re set up to operate by Mr. Hobart. Why do they run together? Because they stand for the same things, and they vote together.

As I mentioned in my answer to the first question and what caused me to run: At that first City Council meeting I was at where the In-N-Out Burger issue was being discussed, there is a (public) comment period at the start of the meeting. And there was this very long, passionate parade of people standing up and speaking out against this hamburger location, and talking about how this had happened without anybody knowing about it, which is the transparency issue. And these five people (on the council) sat there like Mount Rushmore, stone-faced and not saying a word. So, for the half hour to 45 minutes that all of these people spoke, there was no engagement, and no exchange of ideas. The only words ever said during that time came from the mayor at the time who said, “Thank you for your comments; now here’s the next person.” And following that, (the council members) did not debate or discuss. Someone read the motion, and they all voted electronically, and it was done. I think I spoke, too, and I pointed my finger at them and said, “You people are not listening to the people who elect you. Your constituents are the residents of this city, not the businesses and corporations. Your constituents are people.” Of course, they just stared at me, and said not a word. So, that’s really another reason why I’m running, because they’re not listening to the people who elected them. It’s supposed to be a representative body, and it is not.

Beyond what we’ve discussed, what would you say is the single most-pressing issue facing the residents of Rancho Mirage in the immediate future?

One of the other issues important to me is term limits for these (council members). Mr. (Richard) Kite sent out an email a couple of days ago in which he’s bragging about his accomplishments. One of the accomplishments he brags about is that he’s been mayor of the city five times … mayor of the city five times. What’s wrong with this picture? I don’t think anybody should be on the City Council long enough to have been the mayor five times. What has happened is that they claim the city is magically run. It’s like Disneyland for adults, and nobody wants a change. Therefore, they equate that to what amounts to a lifetime entitlement to be constantly re-elected, because everything is so wonderful. I think legislative bodies benefit from a change in personnel from time to time. I mean, the state does it. I think there should be a two, four-year term maximum for Rancho Mirage City Council (members). So that’s a big issue.

Crime is a big issue. A lot of people are shocked to know that Rancho Mirage crime stats are not good, particularly in the area of property crimes. Burglaries, car break-ins and things like that all need to be addressed.

I am in favor of public financing of campaigns, which goes hand-in-hand with one of my personally most important issues, which is the elimination of “dark money” from politics. A lot of cities publicly finance or do matching funds to campaigns, so that the influence of outsiders and money is diminished. So, I would be in favor of that.

The CV Link is a big deal, too. I have a really open mind about that. I’m generally in favor of bicycle paths, and, I think the notion of people being able to ride a bike from one end of the valley to the other is a good one. I understand the voters voted against it in the past. I’m concerned about the true motive of the people who opposed it and if it’s really what they say it is. A lot of times I hear, “I don’t want those people here.” Well, who are those people? I don’t have a “for” or “against” position on it. I have an open mind to reconsider it, and I would like to.

Even though it’s a non-partisan election, I know that I’m the only Democrat running in this election as a self-identified Democrat.

What do you do to relax? What’s your favorite leisure activity?

We have four parrots, so I like to spend time with them. I read a lot. My wife and I walk a lot. We also have a rescue dog, so we spend a lot of time with our dog. I’m a political junkie, meaning I’m interested in it. So, I try to keep up on it.

In this day and age, you find following politics closely to be relaxing?

I’m one of these guys who needs to keep his mind going around something. I can’t just sit around and do nothing. That’s why I’m still practicing law at my age. I think I’d go nuts if I didn’t do that. I do animal-rights work with two organizations. I do pro bono legal defense for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and I’m the national legal counsel for what’s called the American Federation of Aviculture, which is a bird organization. And I’m a very passionate and strong advocate for the mentally ill and their families. I’ve spoken to the national convention of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), run support groups and written quite a bit about it. So, that’s a subject that’s very important to me.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about your candidacy and/or yourself?

SJ: I think I’ve given you a pretty good overview of my opinions, and I hope some of my personality came through here. I’m a real open book. 


Ted Weill

Incumbent, real estate developer

What are your most important reasons for becoming a candidate?

Before I got on the council, I served on the city’s Planning Commission and witnessed a tremendous amount of rapid growth. I was first appointed to the council in 2012 to fill the late Councilmember Gordon Moller’s seat, and then ran and won in 2014 and 2016. Serving the city for so many years has been a very rewarding experience for me. I find the work both emotionally and intellectually rewarding because of the challenges presented to the council that allow me to contribute and utilize my business expertise and problem-solving skills to City issues. Although the work can be very demanding and sometimes unappreciated, it provides me with a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction and a sense of achievement knowing I am doing my part in furthering the public good in a real and tangible way for the city overall.

Like many other cities in the state, the city of Rancho Mirage has received a letter from the law firm of Shenkman and Hughes putting the city on notice that it is not in compliance with the California Voting Rights Act of 2001. What should the city’s next steps be?

Without disclosing any confidential attorney-client privileged information, I can say that based on empirical evidence, the city of Rancho Mirage does not meet the criteria for being forced to revert back to district elections. Rancho Mirage had a district-based election system in place a while ago. While I think it is critical that minorities, such as my wife, should and must be given a real voice and a real opportunity at all levels of our local, state and national political forums and venues such as Congress, state legislatures, county boards of supervisors and city councils, particularly where minorities have been historically shut out of the system, Rancho Mirage is not one of those jurisdictions where the issue is an issue. There is simply no evidence that there has been any racially polarized voting in any of our elections in the city, whether the election included candidates for president, Congress, governor, state elected officials, the State Legislature, water district, school district or City Council. Also, the city does not have a significant population of any under-represented group of persons that would be sufficient to make them a majority in a city-created district. While I truly believe in the benefits of diversity and representation of the under-represented on elected bodies, I don’t believe converting back to district elections will solve an issue that is not an issue in the city

Why did you vote to approve the In-N-Out on Highway 111? Where do you stand now on this question, and what next steps do you support to resolve this matter?

I understand the lawsuit may now be moot, since the developer requested the city to prepare an environmental impact report which will likely involve a new traffic study. Again, while I understand the opposition to In-N-Out by some property owners, I also understand the support expressed by the business owners in the center concerned about the survival of their businesses. I expect that once we process the project again, with an EIR, I will have to engage in the same balancing act that takes into consideration not only the opponents’ testimony, but also the interests of the merchants and the city’s residents as a whole.

Councilman Dana Hobart recused himself from voting to approve the franchise establishment due to a conflict on the matter which he described as “a personal non-financial interest.” Do you believe that the nature of Hobart’s “interest” in any way influenced the voting of any of the council members? 

I do know that Hobart agonized over this issue, which he has made very public. Although he was advised by the city attorney that he was not required to recuse himself from the matter since one of his doctors “saved his life,” I thought it was a very noble act on his part to do what he did under the circumstances.

I constantly remind myself that in the business of local politics, “perception is often reality” and I gather in Hobart’s case, this was a concern. It is critical, legal-wise, that we, as decision-makers, make land-use decisions that are fair, impartial and rational. It seems Hobart may have been concerned that with his participation, it may have tainted the decision-making process, which could undermine the public’s confidence in the decisions we make on development projects. I respected Hobart’s decision to recuse himself under the circumstances. However, I can say his decision had zero influence on how I voted on the project, since I made my decision after balancing all evidence, testimony, etc. Whether Hobart’s decision had any influence on any other council member, I cannot answer that for any of them. If I did know, it could have created the perception that I violated the Brown Act.

Beyond what we’ve discussed, what would you say is the single most-pressing issue facing the residents of Rancho Mirage in the immediate future?

Local control has always been a pressing issue that has a direct impact on the city’s residents. The city is a charter city, which allows the city to adopt a plethora of local policies that are beneficial for the city, even though they may conflict with the general laws of the state. The state has been usurping cities of local control, with various laws and regulations that were once the purview of the city. For instance, the city is now required to approve secondary units without regard to setbacks, parking problems and density. This should remain within the jurisdiction of the local government, since it would hold the local elected official accountable for policies that are either bad for the city’s residents, unworkable, unnecessary or too expensive. Local control allows the city’s future destiny to be determined at the local community level, instead of by the State Legislature or governor’s office, who are total strangers to the concerns of Rancho Mirage residents and local businesses.

The incumbent Rancho Mirage City Council candidates in the last two elections have run a “joint campaign.” What’s the rationale behind this strategy?

Richard Kite and I are not running a joint campaign, although we totally support one another’s re-election. We are very fortunate to have a group of people on the City Council with very different backgrounds and divergent political views that get along as well as we do. Although we don’t socialize much on a personal level, we are constantly with each other at community events, nonprofit fundraisers, ribbon cuttings, city-sponsored events and festivals, and most of us make time to attend. It all boils down to the fact that each of us on the City Council have the same objective in mind, which is to do what we think is best for the city overall—and not for any special interest. This seems to unite us as a City Council, and makes us more productive. The fact that we all get along also makes for good government in general, since it reinforces the confidence that many residents in Rancho Mirage have in the council as a whole, which is a council that does not waste its time nipping at each other’s heels, leveling personal attacks against each other and all the other unbecoming conduct one often witnesses at other council meetings.

With all this said, it just makes good political sense that we support each other’s re-election. Why break a system that is not broken?

What do you do to relax? What’s your favorite leisure activity?

I have always participated in athletics. In college, I was on the wrestling and soccer teams. I later became an active golfer when I moved to the desert. I no longer have the leisure time to spend four hours on the golf course as a result of my commitment to the City Council. However, I start every day by being in the gym by 5:15 a.m. By the time I finish my workout, that includes cardio, stretching and light weights, it is 7:30 a.m., and I am ready to start the day. This has been my routine for many years.

Published in Politics

As you read this article, Proposition 13, the $15 billion school-construction bond, either failed by a historically wide margin, or it didn’t.

Likewise, Bernie Sanders bulldozed the competition, beating out California’s second-place Democratic finisher, Joe Biden, by hundreds of thousands of votes. Or he didn’t.

And turnout might have been historically high—who knows? 

Like Schrodinger’s Cat, the ambiguously fated feline in the physicist’s thought experiment who is both alive and dead simultaneously, California election results currently exist in a kind of quantum state of uncertainty. Hundreds of thousands—or is it millions?—of ballots remain to be counted.

“California has election month, not election day,” said Mike Young, political director at the California League of Conservation Voters. So strap in.

Why the delay? California’s votes now arrive and get tallied in slow motion. That’s largely by design. (Not by design: Thousands of voters more were apparently stymied by long lines and administrative gridlock across Los Angeles County’s new vote centers.) The state opts to make it very easy for Californians to vote, allowing them to register to vote or change their party registration on Election Day. And it permits any voter for any reason to mail in a ballot postmarked as late as Election Day, and have it counted so long as it arrives within three days.

We’re now in that window, during which an untold number of mail ballots are on their way to county registrars.

So, no, we really don’t know what most of the results are.

We don’t even know how many ballots still have to be counted, which would at least allow us to say how little we know about what the results are.

“This is not like Iowa, where there was pandemonium,” said Young, referring to the bug-ridden reporting process after the Iowa caucuses. “That’s a lot of room for improvement on the vote centers, there’s no doubt about that. But the election results are going to take time and that’s California’s process.”

The California process is a particular source of anxiety for political reporters who, in the days immediately following election night, invariably run out of ways to say “it’s too soon to say for sure” and “we’ll just have to wait and see.”

An example: On Wednesday, about 24 hours after the polls closed, the Prop 13 school bond was down 56 to 44 percent— a 593,013 vote deficit. 

To be clear, that’s a big gap. Could the remaining votes close it? We have no idea, in part because we don’t know how many ballots remain uncounted.

We may know at least that much soon. Counties are required to begin publishing their estimates of “unprocessed ballots” at the end of day Thursday (March 5). The estimates are rough (some county offices use scales to measure the stacks of paper ballots), and even then, many more votes that were postmarked at the last minute will continue to pour in. 

After the first uncounted ballot estimates were published after 2016 and 2018 primaries, roughly 35 percent remained to be tallied. This year, with so many voters casting their ballots by mail and registering to vote on Election Day, the share could be significantly higher, said Paul Mitchell of Political Data Inc.

With an emphasis on “could be.”

What we can say about these yet-to-be-counted ballots, said Mitchell, is that they tend to come from younger, lower income, non-white voters, which almost certainly means more Democrats. Thus, a good rule of thumb: in a clear Democrat versus Republican race, expect the results between their current estimates and their certification in mid-April to move reliably into the Democratic column.

It’s a pattern we saw in the aftermath of the 2018 midterms when a number of contested congressional races initially seemed to favor the Republican candidate only to creep steadily leftward as more results came in.

That isn’t a conspiracy; it’s just late voters having their ballots counted.

“An older, Republican homeowner who has been voting in every election for decades doesn’t have to go to a same-day registration or mail their ballot in at the last minute,” said Mitchell.

Another unique dynamic this year: Moderate voters in the Democratic presidential primary may have gone down to the wire before deciding which presidential candidate to support. That surge of ballots may still be on the way.

With an emphasis on “may be.”

And while there is some evidence that participation rates were high, it’s still far too early for confident assertions about turnout in California.

That’s the point that Chief Deputy Secretary of State James Schwab was perhaps trying to make when he published this tweet Wednesday: “Turnout in the California Presidential primary will be around.”

No, a word is not missing. Which is yet another way to say, “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

On Nov. 1, 2019, District 28 State Sen. Jeff Stone, a Republican, resigned to become the western regional director of President Donald Trump’s Department of Labor. On March 3—the day of California’s primary election, as well as Super Tuesday nationally—voters will start the process of choosing Stone’s replacement.

Five candidates—three Democrats and two Republicans—are running in the district, which reaches from Temecula Valley in the west to the Colorado River in the east, and includes nearly the entire Coachella Valley. Presuming no candidate gets a majority of the vote, the top two finishers will move on to a special vote on May 12, and the winner will serve the final two years of the term.

The Independent recently spoke to all of the candidates and asked each of them the same set of questions, on topics ranging from the Salton Sea, to their personal accomplishments, to California’s primary format. Here are their complete answers, edited only for style and clarity, and presented in the same order as the certified list of candidates.

Anna Nevenic

Retired registered nurse, nonprofit director and author

Democrat, 72

What specific steps would you recommend to stop the erosion and evaporation of the Salton Sea, and to mitigate the negative effects of the multiple health threats already evidenced in the eastern Coachella Valley, such as increased asthma and respiratory illness?

We have been talking for some 20 years about it, and we should have started doing something about it years ago, because you can’t fix that problem in one day or one year. But we haven’t done any of that. We’ve just been researching and analyzing and wasting more money in the process.

My plan always has been that we can’t save the whole lake. So we (should) cover the area with trees, so that we have a big park, which will also be good for the wildlife. They should have done that right away. Then (we) use what revenues we have and work together with the private sector to use the algae, because we have a lot of algae, which are good for renewable energy. There’s talk about bringing water in from the Sea (of Cortez) and using recycled water to help regenerate the sea. But you have to be sure before you can say there’s a plan.

People can say, “This is what I want,” but it has to be realistic.

Other than the Salton Sea challenge, what is the single most pressing issue currently facing District 28 constituents, and how do you intend to address it if elected?

As a community activist working in the health-care profession for the last four decades, I’ve been working to have health care for all, because health care is the most important asset we have. It should not be treated like a commodity, because our bodies should not be for sale. We can save money, too, if we take measures and prevent people from becoming disabled. Prescription-drug treatment is a key component of any individual’s health care plan, and we need to be increasing access to safe and affordable prescription drugs. It is unacceptable that Americans pay inflated prices for vital medications. Health care for all ensures that health services are appropriate, effective, cost efficient and focused on consumer needs. Preventative care will play a major role in meeting health-care needs. Prevention works, costs less, and it saves lives.

Also, we should be diversifying our economy. Most of the jobs created in our area are low-wage jobs in hospitality and the restaurant business and so on. A lot of them are part-time jobs, which are OK for senior citizens, but are not OK for the young people, because they don’t have health care overage or retirement plans. We need to bring high-tech industry (into our district). It’s growing in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, but in the entire Inland (Empire) area, we have maybe a few startups, but nothing really. And that’s very important to bring wages up, especially for young people who are supposed to be our future.

What is the one accomplishment of which you are most proud?

I’ve been a community activist and rallying for health care for all for the last 40 years. I’ve been going to Sacramento and trying to get a bill passed. Every year, we lobby for that … but it’s the regular citizens who are making this happen. So I’ve been working with the environmental movement, and fighting for sex education in schools. Each time, you have to gather signatures on the petitions, and then you go and lobby for the bill. I’ve been doing that for the last four decades. I’ve educated many people as to why they should get involved, why it’s important to go to alternative media like PBS to get the information you need. I give lectures to young people wherever I go, and I’ve spoken to thousands and thousands of young people explaining what the generations before them did to provide them with things they all enjoy today like civil rights.

I never got married … that’s my point. So I’m proud I didn’t do it. Instead, I’ve spent thousands of hours of my time going to different conferences, and participating in annual summits where you talk about the economy, and other issues of importance to the average citizen. I’ve spent more time doing that than making my own living, because I felt as a young girl that there were many people who were not as strong as I, and they needed help in some way.

Given today’s highly partisan political environment, what are the most important personal qualities you possess that will help you succeed, both in terms of winning elections, but also having a legislative impact if elected?

The only reason I’m running is because I hope to educate enough people that influence and money is a problem, and (they should) not to be influenced by the establishment that only promotes people who raise big money while ignoring the others. I feel that, because of my professional background, my educational background and my civic engagement, I’m the most prepared for this position. I have traveled, and I’ve seen how other countries deal with their health-care issues. If you listen to all these powerful voices like the (American) Medical Association or the trial lawyers or big pharma, somebody’s always standing in the way. So I try to educate as many people as possible that they have to use their own minds.

There is a solution to every problem, and for every dollar we invest in preventing problems and intervening early, we save $7. So, I believe that one person can make a difference. That’s why I wrote a book called Out of the Shadows about American women who changed the world. I do believe that I could influence (legislative) colleagues to put the money in the right place where we really need it.

What else would you like voters to know about you and your campaign?

From when I was about 11 years old, I saw all these horrible movies about war and misery and what people are capable of (doing to each other), and I always thought that when I grew up, I might be able to help make a better world, and a better society by working together rather than against each other. I’ve been a peace activist all my life, and I still am. People don’t understand that $1 trillion is going to the military, and how are we going to pay for all the other problems that we have? We have such a broken system. But if you believe in the Constitution, you know that it says, ‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people.’ It doesn’t say anything about being led by the professional politicians. I think it’s a problem, because we have people (in elected office) who want to stay there forever, because it’s a good position, right? But I just want two years, and I believe that if I’m elected, I’ll be able to put my agenda in front (of my legislative colleagues) and say, ‘OK. There’s already a solution for this problem, and this one, and this one. So let’s do it!’

I’m an independent voice. I will do what is right for the people who elected me, and not what’s right for wealthy corporations and individuals. I will never change my positions. I don’t blindly obey any policy platform. So if I’m elected I will take the approach that everybody matters. Every child matters. Every person matters. And all my decisions will be based on human needs, not on corporate needs.


Elizabeth Romero

Assistant vice chancellor of governmental community relations at UC Riverside

Democrat, 36

What specific steps would you recommend to stop the erosion and evaporation of the Salton Sea, and to mitigate the negative effects of the multiple health threats already evidenced in the eastern Coachella Valley, such as increased asthma and respiratory illness?

As a resident of the eastern Coachella Valley, obviously I have firsthand experience and knowledge about what is happening in and around the sea, especially related to some of the environmental-justice issues that are currently impacting our communities. I think the most important thing is that we have to ensure that we are moving forward in a way that is founded in science and research, so that we can find the best solution to mitigate—not only the current dust (pollution being dispersed into the air), but also find long term solutions that allow us to restore the sea, not only for habitat (redevelopment), but for economic development, as well as long term continuity of the sea.

If we have an option to bring water into the sea, which is something that I think has been on the table and is still being explored, then we should pursue that. So there are various proposals out there, and I’m open to listening to and assessing all of them. But what I think is really important now is to also leverage the $220 million in funding that has already been allocated in the budget through the water bond so that we can actually get some projects moving.

Other than the Salton Sea challenge, what is the single most pressing issue currently facing District 28 constituents, and how do you intend to address it if elected?

There are several issues that I’m passionate about addressing. I don’t think there’s one single issue that we need to point our finger at, but there’s a whole host of things that are intersectional and that we need to focus on. Those include the state’s affordability issues, which some would say is what’s pushing us into the crisis around homelessness. But it’s deeper than that. It’s about people having access to affordable and diverse housing in the region, which means (we need better) transportation access, health care and quality education. There is this whole host of different issues that I think it’s really important that we focus on. … We’re finding that as we talk to people, there’s not one single issue. People want quality jobs. People want a quality environment and quality education. So, (overall) we want to make sure that we’re focusing on issues that matter to the residents of the 28th District.

When you mention “diverse housing” as a need, what exactly are you referring to?

I think we need to have entry-level housing and affordable housing, (which can be done) obviously by expanding access through California’s Section 8—a government funded program that aims to help low-income families find housing—but also through self-help programs. We need to have first-time home-buyer programs and veteran housing programs. So there are many programs that exist, not only through the state, but through the federal government that we need to leverage and expand here in the desert. This housing needs to be built throughout the Coachella Valley, so that our communities are built out in a way that allows people to live closer to where they work.

What is the one accomplishment of which you are most proud?

Most recently, professionally, as assistant vice chancellor of governmental community relations at UC Riverside, I’ve been very focused on helping to expand the number of doctors serving our region. I’ve worked to help raise $100 million to build a School of Medicine education building that will double the size of the current class at UC Riverside from 250 (per class) to 500 over time. Also, we’re focused on leveraging the state funds to fully fund residencies and programs that are addressing direct health-care access needs in our region. As you know, we have a health care crisis in our region (due to the fact) that the underserved communities of our region don’t have the same number of doctors that the more affluent communities do. So we’re trying to level the field in terms of having primary-care physicians who are focused on serving the entire region. The best way to predict where a doctor will actually start their practice is (determined by) where they did their residency. So that’s why it’s important to embed these doctors in our communities throughout the 28th District. That way, we will be able to deal with the health-care shortage we’re experiencing long term.

Given today’s highly partisan political environment, what are the most important personal qualities you possess that will help you succeed, both in terms of winning elections, but also having a legislative impact if elected?

My career in the region has spanned over 20 years of serving the greater Coachella Valley area, and throughout Riverside County. I’ve been elected for 13 years in a very purple part of the district (to the Coachella Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees and then the Riverside County Board of Education). I’ve been successful in serving this area for a couple of reasons, and I think they underscore the qualities that you’re speaking to: I’m a coalition builder and a good listener, too. Even though I may not agree with someone’s point (of view), I’m always willing to engage in the conversation. Also, I’m someone who’s able to bring people together to solve issues. My campaign currently has the support of Republicans and Democrats and everything in between. I’ve worked on both sides of the aisle. I’ve served for county supervisors in a nonpartisan office, and I’ve sought to just do the work. I think that’s really important for this race.

Moving forward as a state senator, I think we need somebody who’s focused on getting results, and addressing the issues that matter to everyone. There are issues that are cross-cutting. People, regardless of their party affiliation, want to have quality schools. They want to have access to healthcare. They want quality jobs that have benefits. So I think it’s important to focus on the issues that matter to the people in our region, and work across the aisle to make things happen.

Do you believe that the California “top-two” primary format is fair for candidates? Fair to the public interest?

Obviously, it’s the system that we have. I think it’s important to communicate, as a candidate, to the voters. So, in all fairness, I think it’s definitely a process that allows us to put the best candidates forward, and have them come to voters who can participate in the democratic process and decide (which candidates) they want to move forward.

What else would you like voters to know about you and your campaign?

I’d be honored to have the votes of your readers. As a lifelong resident and a homegrown candidate that has served this community for over 20 years, I am poised to hit the ground running on day one. I can ensure that our voice will be heard in Sacramento and that we will be leveraging the state resources that we need to address the issues that are important in our region. So, I would be honored to have the vote of all of your readers on March 3.


Joy Silver

Businesswoman; housing adviser; political activist

Democrat, 64

What specific steps would you recommend to stop the erosion and evaporation of the Salton Sea, and to mitigate the negative effects of the multiple health threats already evidenced in the eastern Coachella Valley, such as increased asthma and respiratory illness?

I’m really happy to talk about (this issue), because, for me, running for this office is the continuation of working on the things that I’m already doing. A lot of times, politicians get elected and say, “When I get elected, I will do this and the other thing,” and they elucidate some things that they’ll accomplish should you elect them. But for me … it’s about continuing to finish what I’m already pursuing. … What’s important to know about the Salton Sea is the “sea-to-sea” solution which has received traction throughout the desert cities. Resolutions have been passed through a number of those city councils (supporting this approach) as an answer to stopping the erosion and evaporation of the Salton Sea.

The recommendation of the Salton Sea Coalition—of which I’m a member—is to put the engineering in place to start what is called the “ocean water import.” Now, the second part of this is to support the declarations of emergency that have been passed by Imperial County. The first declaration of emergency regards the local emergency for air pollution. The second one addresses the stoppage of emptying raw sewage into the New River. Both of those emergency declarations are of critical importance to overcome the delays that have happened (while trying) to implement any of the projects. What is great about these declarations is that they mitigate the permitting issues, procurement issues and agencies getting in each other’s way, including using money, because once the declarations of emergency are accepted, (any corrective actions) can be paid for without another bond. The total state revenue is $146 billion, and the “rainy day fund” has $16.5 billion, and the budget surplus is $21.5 billion. So the money is there to move forward and mitigate the declarations of emergency on both the raw sewage and the air.

Getting that into forward motion will push solutions toward getting done. We’ve got to use the available funds to clean the water and update sewage treatment. This needs to be for both the New River and the Salton Sea itself, since there’s been an increase in pesticides (flowing into the sea) along with the raw sewage and military munitions (contamination). The Region 7 State Water Control Board has been non-compliant around these issues for the past 27 years, and that has to change. (The region covers approximately 13,000,000 acres, some 20,000 square miles, in the southeastern portion of California.) There have been funds earmarked (by the state) for the Salton Sea, and we can use them to start the engineering plans to begin water import. There have been about 11 proposals for importing ocean water already submitted, and we need an unbiased agency to evaluate those proposals. That will determine what the actual cost is for importing ocean water. Ocean water, with salinity management, offers the most feasible path to restore the Salton Sea and protect the region from environmental disaster.

The good thing that’s happened is that (Arturo) Delgado is the assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy at the California Natural Resources Agency. He has made the commitment to the community that there will be an open and unbiased evaluation of those ocean-water import proposals, and that’s really major, from our point of view. You know, the connection (from the Salton Sea) to Mexico’s Sea of Cortez was actually there at one time, so, fully restoring the sea would restore the environment, and bring back the birds and the plants, restore boating and fishing, and help with economic development in the area. All of that will mitigate the health issues (including elevated) asthma and respiratory illness rates. Right now, as that sea water evaporates, the playa just releases more and more toxins into the air.

It’s so interesting to me that people who are unaware of the challenge happening with the Salton Sea don’t realize that they’re actually breathing in the toxins released. We breathe the same air (all over Southern California). So, this is not simply a problem in Brawley, or Salton City, or Imperial or Riverside County. This is a problem for California and further. I think that understanding needs to be made clear to Sacramento, and that would be my job, to advocate for moving (a solution) forward in some way.

Other than the Salton Sea challenge, what is the single most pressing issue currently facing District 28 constituents, and how do you intend to address it if elected?

Here’s where I have difficulty with this question: “the single.” The reason it’s so challenging is because the issues that we face are integrated. So, there is no one solution of one item that’s going to solve that very issue. See what I’m saying? Unless things are going on along, at least, three tracks, you can’t really solve any issues without the other things rolling forward.

That being said, what I would look at as one of the pressing issues that we’re facing is the need for affordable housing—whether it’s for seniors on fixed incomes or veterans in need of support services due to (post-traumatic stress disorder) challenges, or entry housing pricing for young families and work-force housing for those with jobs in the district and have to drive far out of their own neighborhoods. This (housing initiative) goes further in that it helps create solutions as well for the homelessness crisis. My intention to address this is to develop a legislative initiative—which I’m working on right now—that refocuses the funding efficiencies of the state to allow for easier permitting and funding when criteria has been met that is not dependent upon federal funding sources.

What actually is the strategy as to how you would go about accomplishing such objectives?

Well, we have to reallocate our existing resources to developing efficient strategies for funding affordable housing. Part of the funding of affordable housing relies on federal tax credits, for example. We see legislators who are putting together bills to mitigate the timelines of how long it takes to go through the processes to bring affordable housing into line and to go into construction in communities. Some of that has to do with the permitting process, and some of it has to do with conditional use of permits, which means that municipalities get to choose the location for what the use of the land can be. (What’s needed) is bringing municipalities on board to find land to integrate affordable housing communities. So, how do you fund that? It has to be more state focused. There has to be more incentive through the state, so that the competition for funding is lessened, and there are more no-profit developers who can begin the process of construction. So that’s one of the big issues that we’re facing.

What is the one accomplishment of which you are most proud?

For me, we’re still on the subject of affordable housing, and what I’m most proud of is that, when Palm Springs says we have land available, but we can’t find a developer to come in and build an affordable housing community, I said at the time to someone who was on the City Council during that time period, “I’m going to bring a really good organization into Palm Springs to do that.” So, consequently, I did, and I now work as a consultant for that nonprofit organization (the Community Housing Opportunities Corporation) as their regional director for Southern California, and we’re bringing more affordable housing communities into Riverside County right now. I’m very proud of that.

Given today’s highly partisan political environment, what are the most important personal qualities you possess that will help you succeed, both in terms of winning elections, but also having a legislative impact if elected?

A couple of things. The first thing is that I am not a career politician, and that’s important, because I can afford to be strong in my stance to represent our district. Also, I have skills and experience in the real world that I bring to a legislative body. That’s important, because when you represent people, you represent those who actually are in the work force, who have experience in creating business, who actually provide health care and these are the kinds of skills that I have. So when a piece of legislation is put forward, knowing how things actually work in the real world can help that legislation be stronger and not simply be developed without being able to see that it may cause obstructions that no one intended, because they actually didn’t know how the thing itself works. I think that’s an important piece. I’m also able to motivate people into taking action, and that’s a quality that’s really critical in moving something forward. That’s why I got into running for this office, because I was already mobilizing and motivating people to move forward, and so I thought, “OK … we’re moving forward, but we have some challenges in getting things done—like with the Salton Sea Coalition or other things that I was moving forward with—so it’s time to move those obstructions out of the way on the state level.” We haven’t really had any representation in District 28 that moved things forward. Basically, we had representation that was saying “no” and keeping things at status quo, and certainly not fighting for our fair share of resources to get those things done.

Also, I am persistent, with a laser focus on goal attainment. I possess an awareness of different community needs throughout our district, because I’ve been out there talking to people for a good three years now. I hunt down the truth, and I stand up for solutions when they’re for the common good. (Because I’m not) a career politician, even if (the position) is politically unpopular, if the solution is for the common good, then I’m willing to take that stand. So, meeting people where they are in this district that’s more than 6,000 square miles means a lot of travelling. But I’m willing to go out and meet with people throughout the district, and I bring those people together to move things forward. I’m a fighter. I’m inclusionary, and I’m a negotiator.

Do you believe that the California “top-two” primary format is fair for candidates? Fair to the public interest?

Here’s the thing: I’m not really sure about this, because my senate races have been my first such races (both in 2018 and the current 2020 campaign). I don’t know what it would be like in a different environment. I think what we’re seeing right now is the different political parties having their primaries let the political party’s strength (in a particular region) decide who is the stronger candidate. That could be advantageous, but not having experienced that (scenario), I don’t know for sure. Having the run-off election be between the two highest vote-getters can be difficult, because I don’t think it offers (the voters) the same amount of choice as, potentially, the party primaries do.

What else would you like voters to know about you and your campaign?

I would like to let your readers know that I’m a working-class kid who was once out on the street, but I worked my way up from an entry-level job at a health-care clinic to the executive suite. I have said before that I’m not a career politician, and I have real-life experience in health care, senior care, housing development and renewable fuel technology. I’m the renewable-energy-economy candidate, actually. I’m not running to get things done when I’m elected. I am running to get the things done that I’m already doing.

My agenda for change will focus on reducing the cost of prescription drugs and opposing harmful cuts to health care. I want to tackle the homelessness crisis and provide housing, also for homeless veterans. And I will fight for our fair share of state funding, because you know what? Riverside County cannot afford to wait any longer.


Melissa Melendez

U.S. Navy veteran; California District 67 assembly member

Republican, 52

What specific steps would you recommend to stop the erosion and evaporation of the Salton Sea, and to mitigate the negative effects of the multiple health threats already evidenced in the eastern Coachella Valley, such as increased asthma and respiratory illness?

From the people who I’ve talked to about this issue, and from the things we’ve seen coming through Sacramento, I can say from the beginning that we really need more money. The government really needs to step up here and help us out. But I do think there are things we can do in conjunction with that, which range from some wetland development along the edges and the open areas. We can partner with state, local and federal entities on that. I would say we could be creating some habitats in there, too. These would be habitats that the community could access as well. We could provide some other amenities in there to really get community buy-in. The reality is that we need more water out there, which we can do in the future by bringing it in from new sources.

I feel like we’ve just been standing still on this issue. A little bit of money gets thrown in there, but then the situation doesn’t change. I think that some of the things I mentioned are things we can do immediately. I think the governor promised about $220 million, but that is contingent on the bond measure passing. So what happens if the bond measure doesn’t pass? I don’t think that’s a fair solution. While I appreciate the (governor’s promise to direct) $220 million, let’s be honest: It’s going to take more than $220 million to solve this problem.

Is there any particular restoration strategy that you favor?

Yes. More water. We know that the issue is that we need to fill the sea back up. We have to do that. Years ago, my great uncle lived near the Salton Sea, and I remember him talking about it as the place to be, and the place to go. But now you look at it and say, “What the heck happened here?” Why has it been neglected for so long? So, it’s got to be a group effort, and now is not the time to point fingers and argue about whose fault it is. Let’s get something done.

I’ve heard talk about a “sea-to-sea” water replenishment strategy. Do you think that’s a viable approach?

The problem we always seem to run into is that environmental groups come in and challenge whatever is trying to be done. That’s always going to be an issue. The question is how we can get everybody to at least agree to some (restorative actions) in the middle, because it’s a health hazard out there. People are getting nose bleeds, and there are asthma problems and other respiratory problems. This is not something that we can argue about all day long as far as environmental concerns, and then do nothing. People deserve better than that.

I’m in the western part of our district, and there are times when we can smell the Salton Sea where we are. And that (polluted air) wafts over Los Angeles, even. You’d think that they would say, “Hey, what’s going on here?” So, everybody thinks that there’s just one answer, but there isn’t. I think people need to be mature about this and (understand) that you’re not going to come with some silver bullet. This calls for a multifaceted solution, and we have to stop trying to find that magic wand to wave and fix everything, because that’s not going to happen.

Other than the Salton Sea challenge, what is the single most pressing issue currently facing District 28 constituents, and how do you intend to address it if elected?

I think the two top issues, in the whole state really, are affordability and the homelessness crisis. That’s what people have been talking to me about, and that’s what we’ve seen in the polling. The cost of living is pretty darn high in California, and it impacts every aspect of our lives, from housing affordability to long commutes and the time that people are spending on freeways. I will say that I have personally authored legislation. … I’ve even offered bills to re-purpose the high-speed rail funding and put it into the building of new housing. There is a bill that we put forward to make sure that the gas tax money is actually going to (maintaining) the roads instead of other pet projects which everyone is frustrated with.

The homeless issue—which I think is the No. 1 polling issue in California—everyone’s concerned with that. I did put policies forward to address chronic homelessness that can be lessened, or averted, by providing more mental-health funding, because we know that there’s a large contingent of homeless out there who have some mental-health issues. They really need some help, so we’re going to beef up the funding for that, in addition to making sure that those out there who have substance abuse issues are getting the help that they need too.

Relating to “sober living” homes: Basically you (or anyone) living in your neighborhood could open a “sober living” home. As long as you have six or fewer clients living there, there are no regulations that you have to follow. It is literally the wild west. It’s kind of insane. So we put a bill forward saying there are certain standards that have to be met, because people have been coming out here from all over the country to get help. But, once (the patient’s) money runs out—their health insurance or whatever form of payment they’re using—they kick (the patient) out. They have a term for it: They call it “curbing.” Talk about dehumanizing someone. And (the patients) don’t get the help. So, now we’re back to square one. I think that’s all pretty important when we talk about the homelessness issue. It’s not just that people can’t afford a place to live, although that is a portion of it. But there’s a whole host of other issues out there that we can do something about and adjust.

These policies that you’ve been referring to: Are some of them still pending in the Legislature, or have they been passed already?

These are bills that have been introduced and have failed to get passed in the Legislature. We’ve gotten further with them each year we bring them up. Apparently it takes like 50 attempts to get something meaningful through, but we’re working on it. Even on the “sober living” homes bill, we had the coalition of the (home) operators who came forward in support of the bill. Their feeling is that they run a legitimate organization, and they want the bad actors to be gone. They want rules to be followed, because (the bad actors) aren’t helping people. But the other side is saying that when it comes to addiction issues, (the patients) are a protected class, and we don’t want to get into a situation where we’re somehow violating their civil rights by saying where these “sober living” homes can and can’t operate, which we weren’t trying to do. We were just trying to say that there are certain rules and certain standards to make sure that they are actually helping people.

What is the one accomplishment of which you are most proud?

That’s an easy question. That would be marrying my husband and going on to have our five kids. They are the best thing ever. You know, politics is short-term, and even a career is not forever, but family is forever, and I’m very blessed. We’ve got great kids: the oldest one is a (United States) Navy diver; we’ve got one in college, and two in high school; one in eighth grade, and they are the loves of my life. That’s definitely the thing I’m most proud of.

Given today’s highly partisan political environment, what are the most important personal qualities you possess that will help you succeed, both in terms of winning elections, but also having a legislative impact if elected?

It’s a precarious situation at the end, but I think it’s important for all of us who are serving to remember that we serve the people that we represent. We are not to be serving the special interests that dominate the halls in the state capitol. I made that commitment to be their voice when I first got elected, and I’m going to continue to be their voice. I’ve hosted over 100 town halls since I’ve been in the Assembly. We do two a month: one during the day, and one in the evening. We do that because voices need to be heard. I always tell them that I can’t represent them effectively or well if I don’t know what’s on their minds and how they feel about the issues. Frankly, I wish every legislator would do that. It’s been very helpful, because sometimes we have bills that come up, and they are definitely partisan bills, and I have to ask my constituents what they want me to do. We had the late-school-start bill last year—and party politics don’t come into play there—and went and asked (constituents), ‘What do you want me to do?’ For everybody who has kids, this is going to affect you. So, I think I’ve been most effective and best represented the people, because I do that. You know, when you win your re-election (races) for the state Assembly by large margins with (backing) from Republican, Democrat and Independent voters, that means they like when their representatives listen to them and come talk with them.

Do you believe that the California “top-two” primary format is fair for candidates? Fair to the public interest?

I get a lot of complaints about the “top-two” (primary format), and I have to remind people that the Legislature did not do that; the voters of California actually did that. I think (the voters at the time) were convinced that it would bring forward candidates who were more in the center (of political ideology) rather than on the fringes. But I have not seen that happen, actually, so I don’t know that it worked. But I know that people are really irritated when they look at their ballot, and if they’re a Democrat and they only see two Republicans, or if they’re Republican and they only see two Democrats—they don’t like it. They want choices. So has it served the public? I don’t think so. I don’t think it changed anything, to be honest with you, other than frustrating the voters.

From your perspective as a candidate, does it matter?

I think it does. I mean, if you have to make a choice, you’re making a choice ideally between two different things. But when you have two people in the same party, then it becomes (a question of), “How different are they, really?” Maybe those candidates aren’t really different, and it just comes down to who has more money. And, who has more special interests backing them. I don’t think that’s fair to the voters. They want clear and distinct choices, and that’s very hard to get when you have two people in the same party on your ballot. I mean, imagine how left out you feel as a voter if you’re in one particular party, and nobody from your party is on the ballot for you to choose from. When you talk about voter apathy, that could have something to do with it, because people say, “You know what? Someone I would prefer to support isn’t even on the ballot. So, why bother?” It has an effect on every (race) down ballot, too. If you don’t go in to vote for your state Assembly member or your state senator (for instance), because somebody from your party is not on there, that means maybe you’re not voting for ballot initiatives, either. And your vote could be very important (in terms of) determining whether or not something passes.

What else would you like voters to know about you and your campaign?

I do want to point out that I have the endorsement of the (Riverside) County sheriff, of the county district attorney and of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. I think that should let people know that I take public safety very seriously, and I take protecting their tax dollars very seriously, too—considering the fact that we’re going to have a ballot initiative in November that is going to tinker with Prop 13 and how property taxes are assessed.

I want people to know that I didn’t get into politics by design. Politics is not exactly where I expected that I would be. I got into because, after leaving the Navy, it’s just kind of a way of life. You go serve. You don’t just take care of yourself; you go serve everybody in your community. So, that’s how I look at it, and public service is pretty much all I’ve done for my entire adult life. I hope (the voters) see that in the work that I’ve done, and in the ways that I’ve communicated with my constituents, the outreach that we’ve engaged in. When I get emails from my constituents, I answer every single one of them myself personally. I don’t do it by email; I hand-write my response, and I like doing that better. Frankly, all we ever get in the mail now is bills and junk mail, and, it’s nice to have someone actually write something to you. So, I answer them all by hand, and I hope (constituents) recognize that I do that because I think that’s what (each constituent) deserves, and they deserve someone who respects them regardless of whether or not we agree on a particular issue.


John Schwab

U.S. Marine veteran; owner and operator of a residential facility for developmentally disabled adults; real estate broker/mortgage broker

Republican, 43

What specific steps would you recommend to stop the erosion and evaporation of the Salton Sea, and to mitigate the negative effects of the multiple health threats already evidenced in the eastern Coachella Valley, such as increased asthma and respiratory illness?

Ever since I was stationed at the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base, they’ve been talking about cleaning up the Salton Sea forever—and they just haven’t done anything. So we really need to take care of it, because it’s just become more of a problem with all the respiratory infections out there.

I’m willing to work on coming up with a solution to help start cleaning it up. I’ve come up with some ideas that can help the area out there, because they just keep kicking the can down the road. Nothing’s getting done, and it’s just getting worse

Any specific thoughts you have on how to attack the problem?

I’d like to talk to a lot of people about the environmental impact reports for that area and what needs to be done. We’re talking, in my estimation, about years of cleanup. It’s not going to happen quickly, but it is something that needs to be addressed.

Other than the Salton Sea challenge, what is the single most pressing issue currently facing District 28 constituents, and how do you intend to address it if elected?

My No. 1 priority is traffic. I’ve lived in this state since I was 18 years old, so it’s been 25 years now, and traffic has gotten worse and worse. With more housing and more people, we still have limited space on the freeways and roads. So, I’m willing to work with the California Transportation Commission and the California Department of Transportation to come up with solutions to many of the issues that we have with traffic.

Do you have any particular strategy that you think could help alleviate this serious problem?

These are just some thoughts: scheduled commute times, more (traffic) lanes, maybe some roundabouts in certain areas and on certain roads, and maybe even look at additional roads. In this area, (to travel east-west), you’ve got to take the Interstate 10 freeway, and that’s it. It’s been that way forever, and if something happens on the 10, you’re not moving. I listen to the radio most of the time, to calm me down and soothe me. I even put the classical music on.

What is the one accomplishment of which you are most proud?

It would be my personal life, because I’ve got really good kids. They’re very respectful, and they (reflect) what I grew up with. I’m originally from Richmond, Ind., and my kids are very respectful of their elders and people. They’re polite and well-mannered. When I started this campaign, I was trying to get signatures for the nomination, and you’d be surprised how people treat each other. So, just by raising great kids (who will be) great stewards, that helps make the state, counties and the cities better. That is the future, right?

Given today’s highly partisan political environment, what are the most important personal qualities you possess that will help you succeed, both in terms of winning elections, but also having a legislative impact if elected?

I just look at the facts. I’m not all about fluff. I’m not going to sit here and promise you everything, and not deliver. What I talk about is coming up with solutions and trying to solve problems in the district. I’m not going to cure everything, but I’m going to work hard and diligently, and, it may be behind the scenes. I don’t have to be out here speaking in front of a crowd. I don’t need to be telling (people) what I want to do. I just need to put my nose to the grind, work with professionals who can give (me their) expert opinion, and try to get things done.

Do you believe that the California “top-two” primary format is fair for candidates? Fair to the public interest?

I don’t have a problem with the best two (moving on). The top two vote-getters after the primary going (into the runoff election) is fine with me.

What else would you like voters to know about you and your campaign?

I’m just a regular neighbor, a father and husband; my kids are still in school. I’m just trying to do the best we can for the people in the district. I’m not a career politician. That’s not what I want to do. I’m just trying to stop some of the ridiculous laws, and lessen the tax burden that the state (government) keeps putting on the people of this state. I love California, but a lot of my friends and family are looking at the future, and trying to figure out if California is somewhere they want to stay, because (the state government) is burdening a lot of the people who live and work here. So, I decided to run for those particular reasons specifically.

I’m not an attorney. I don’t have any hidden agenda. My (focus) is on traffic, public safety and lowering fuel prices. I wasn’t a political major in college. I am really for the people, and that’s what I’d really like to share. They’re the ones who sit down and, hopefully, do the research. They look through the fluff and the rhetoric, and then they get to decide for themselves.

Published in Politics

On this week's fresh-and-fruity weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World ponders the craziness of presidential-primary news coverage; Jen Sorensen expresses alarm at the appearance of another alleged billionaire savior; (Th)ink offers a definition of white privilege; Red Meat invites Papa Moai to game night; and Apoca Clips asks the candidate about the behavior of Bernie Bros.

Published in Comics

Jennifer Jennings dons a veritable uniform these days: Whether she’s picking up groceries, cruising through a fast-food drive-thru or headed to the car wash, she’s always sporting Bernie wear—sweatshirts, T-shirts, whatever.

But she doesn’t just wear her support on her sleeves. She’s also been making small online donations—hundreds of them—to the campaign of Bernie Sanders, the progressive senator from Vermont who continually assails the “billionaire class.”

“It has just become part of my life now. It’s a dollar a day,” said Jennings, a safety manager at the Port of Long Beach. “I live paycheck to paycheck, and somehow, I’m contributing this money, because I’m making that choice, you know? I’m making minimum credit-card payments by their due date, and that’s all I’m willing to do,” she said. But when it comes to Bernie, “I want to do my part. I want to participate.”

A CalMatters analysis of the latest available Federal Election Commission data shows that of the 20 California donors who made the greatest number of small presidential campaign contributions under the same name in 2019, one supports President Donald Trump. The rest are backing Democrats. Fifteen of those sent most or all of their donations to the Sanders campaign.

And those donations are adding up. “In January, our campaign raised an incredible $25 million from more than 648,000 people,” Sanders’ campaign tweeted recently. “Our average donation: just $18.”

The donations the commission reports are “itemized” contributions, which add up to more than $200 a year. (More on that here.) Small donors who give less than $200 a year aren’t listed in the data.

The GOP has set its sights on small donations, too. Trump’s re-election campaign raked in more than $12 million in itemized donations in 2019—more than any other candidate.

The most-frequent Trump small donor—Gary Schneider of Mountain View—didn’t respond to messages seeking comment. Schneider, a Lyft driver who has given more than 200 donations to the president’s campaign, made some of his contributions through the platform WinRed.

WinRed on the right, and ActBlue on the left, have sprung up as ways to streamline the process, making it more convenient and appealing to frequent small donors.

WinRed says it raised more than $100 million in its first 190 days last year.

“WinRed donation pages that include the word ‘impeach’ or ‘impeachment’ raised over 300 percent more than non-impeachment pages,” states a blog post on the organization’s website. “In fact, after the House Democrats formally opened their impeachment inquiry on October 31, WinRed fundraising spiked 176 percent per day on average.”

ActBlue, a platform used by nearly every Democratic presidential candidate, reported breaking records on New Year’s Eve by receiving more than a half-million contributions and raising more than $20 million in a single day. Overall, donors made 35 million contributions through ActBlue last year, according to the organization, which says it processed more than $1 billion in donations.

Some small donors prefer to spread the wealth, or rather their sliver of it.

Jo Postyn, 87, of Palo Alto, has been giving small donations to an array of candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. She said she can’t decide which candidate deserves a larger share of her money.

“I think it’s important to make contributions,” she said, “… because our country is in pretty bad shape.”

Some donors give whenever sporadically, whenever the spirit, or the campaigns, move them.

When Sacramento teacher Mariah Martin, 37, sees a Sanders email about his education policy or another issue she’s passionate about, she donates online.

“I give pretty much whenever I am inspired by something that Bernie says or there’s something else happening where I feel like, ‘Because of this, I should just go donate to Bernie,’ and that will make me feel better about whatever is happening in the news,” she said.

For many of these donors, a small contribution can be a big sacrifice. Barbara Whipperman, an 83-year-old retiree living in Richmond, splits her donations between Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Her donations, she says, are around $5 each.

“Well, I don’t have a lot of money,” she said. “I worry a little about my own long-term income.”

Whipperman, a retired administrative assistant for UC Berkeley, has taken a reverse mortgage on her house and typically spaces out her donations around her pension and Social Security checks. The in-home care she needs is a financial worry for her, and she says her checks don’t really cover the expense.

“I’m kind of worried about how things are going to work out later,” she said. “I will probably stop donating at some point.”

Other small donors don’t necessarily choose their method out of necessity. Bob Bogardus, a 64-year-old self-proclaimed “geeky IT guy” in Carmel, has made more than 400 contributions to Sanders. He doesn’t want to volunteer at a phone bank or knock on doors.

Instead, he set up a daily donation of $2.70—because $27 was the average nationwide donation to Sanders in his 2016 presidential campaign.

“We have resources, and it’s fun,” he said. “We love Bernie, and he makes everything fun, and we’re really proud to participate in that way.”

Last Halloween, Bogardus spent a couple of hours taping labels sporting Sanders’ name to each piece of Halloween candy he gave to the roughly 300 trick-or-treaters that stop by.

“We put a Bernie banner up. We have one of these large life-sized cardboard cutouts of Bernie, so people took selfies with it,” he said. So beyond donating, “we’re doing a little bit in other areas too.”

Elections reporter Ben Christopher contributed to this report. Here’s a look at the race for presidential campaign cash in California, in six data visualizations. For complete state election information, check out CalMatters’ voter guide here. CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

On this week's overwhelmingly acquitted, yet guilty-looking Independent comics page: (Th)ink spies something, yet again, on Trump's shoe; This Modern World ponders the GOP excuses for acquittal; Jen Sorensen wonders who is going to save us; Red Meat pens a Valentine's Day poem; and Apoca Clips wants to know whether or not that creature saw his shadow.

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Kathy Garcia is not your typical Republican candidate for the California Senate.

For one thing, she only just joined the GOP. A lifelong Democrat, she won election as a Stockton school board member with the backing of the county Democratic party. She changed her affiliation to Republican in June 2019, six months before the deadline to enter the Senate race.

She said the idea to run—under the banner of a party she’d opposed most of her adult life—was suggested to her by a Stockton lawyer and powerbroker who, records show, has helped fund the campaign of another candidate in the race. And that candidate, a moderate Democrat, incidentally stands a better chance if the Republican vote is divided.

The 80-year-old Garcia, asked by CalMatters why she’s running under the GOP label, gave a series of distinctly un-Republican explanations.

“I just decided I was going to try something new. And not because I like Trump,” she said, before making a retching noise. As for the Republicans that are running, she said, “I want to just put them under the bus.”

Garcia might get her wish.

That’s thanks to California’s unique “top two” election system, in which all candidates—regardless of party affiliation—are listed together on the same ballot in the first round “primary.” Only the first- and second-place winners on March 3 move on to the general election Nov. 3, also regardless of party affiliation. The race for state Senate in this Central Valley district is the latest oddball illustration of how the state’s decade-old electoral attempt at reform can distort the typical logic of campaigning, confuse voters and lead to mind-bending results.

Under the top two system, Garcia’s unlikely candidacy as a Republican is—paradoxically—most likely to benefit moderate Democrat and Modesto Councilman Mani Grewal. By running as a Republican along with another long-shot GOP candidate, Jim Ridenour, Garcia could split the local GOP vote three ways. If so, that could very well leave the two Democratic contenders—Grewal and Assemblywoman Susan Eggman—with the top two winning spots.

And it would leave the most viable Republican candidate running, Stockton Councilman Jesús Andrade, who has been endorsed by the state party, flattened under that proverbial bus. 

Asked if her motivation was to undermine Andrade, Garcia demurred: “I can’t come out and say that.”

Both she and Grewal say they aren’t working together. The Andrade campaign isn’t buying it.

“It’s shameful that Democrat Mani Grewal would plant a Bernie Sanders-supporting, fake Republican like Kathy Garcia in this Senate race to split the Republican vote,” said Andrade consultant Steve Presson. “Republican Jim Ridenour is also a Grewal plant whose candidacy is solely to help Grewal make the top two general election run-off. These Nixonian dirty tricks are just deplorable. Central Valley voters deserve better.”

Grewal called that a “ridiculous accusation.”

The top two system was intended to strip political parties of their influence over the candidate-selection process, making California elections less prone to backroom dealing and polarization. The jury is still out as to whether the system actually has pushed state politics toward the ideological center, as promised. But 10 years into California’s experiment with electoral “reform,” an unintended side effect has emerged: Political insiders have figured out how to game the top two—or, at the very least, how to accuse other campaigns of doing so to muddy the political waters.

But the mere fact that any of this is in doubt is an artifact of the state’s peculiar election system, said Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data, Inc., and frequent critic of the top-two system.

“Nobody would have questioned (Garcia’s candidacy) under the old system,” he said. The top two, he said, “encourages not only this manipulative strategy, but it also makes the public question a manipulative strategy where maybe there isn’t one.”

Grewal said allegations of coordination between his campaign and any other candidate in the race are “conspiracy theories” and “a cry for some free media” by the Andrade campaign.

“The first time I met Kathy Garcia was at The Modesto Bee forum” on Jan. 14, he said. “I know Jim Ridenour, and the last time, he endorsed me in my campaign. I would have liked his endorsement this time.”

In a follow up conversation, Garcia, who supported New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker for president, insisted that her choice to run was not motivated by her antipathy towards the Republicans, despite her earlier comments.

“Look at the people running as a Democrat,” she said. “Everybody is either an incumbent or has a big following or something. So here I am.”

She added that the idea to change parties and run for office as a Republican first came from Stockton lawyer and political operative N. Allen Sawyer, whom she described as “kind of my campaign manager.”

In an email, Sawyer explained that he encouraged Garcia to run as a Republican, because the “San Joaquin County Democratic Party is rigged and controlled by insiders. … I think as a moderate, she has a better chance of being treated fairly as a Republican.”

Last year, prior to Garcia’s entry into the race, Sawyer donated $3,000 to Grewal’s campaign.

“I support financially a wide range of candidates who run for office,” he said.

Grewal acknowledged the early financial support from Sawyer, whom he said he has known for some time. “And about his relationship with Kathy, I’m not aware of that stuff.”

Sawyer isn’t the only financial backer of Grewal’s campaign with connections to the two outsider Republicans, Garcia and Ridenour.

Rex Dhatt, a used-car dealer and president of the American Punjabi Chamber of Commerce, has donated at least $2,000 to Grewal. He’s also contributed to Garcia. (The exact value will be disclosed after the next campaign-finance-filing deadline at the end of January.)

Bill Lyons, a farmer, rancher and land developer in Modesto who serves as Gov. Newsom’s agriculture liaison and was state secretary of food and agriculture under Gov. Gray Davis, donated $1,953 to the Grewal campaign. Since 2017, Lyons, his firms and members of his family have given $26,891 to Grewal’s various electoral efforts.

But this year, four companies owned by Lyons have also been the sole contributors to Ridenour, one of the Republicans in the race, giving a total of $4,000 as of the end of 2019.

Dhatt said he wasn’t involved in either campaign directly. “I know them personally from before,” he said of the two candidates when reached by phone. “They came for a check, so I gave them a check. End of story.”

Neither Lyons nor Ridenour responded to requests for comment. 

While Grewal insists that none of the various connections between his campaign and those of Garcia and Ridenour amount to much more than a coincidence—common enough in moderately sized towns like Modesto and Stockton—his campaign has recognized that the presence of three Republicans in the race works to his benefit.

“With three credible Republican candidates—a former mayor of Modesto, a Stockton school board member, and a Stockton City Council member—those votes will be split,” reads a memo his campaign sent out to supporters last November. “None of the three Republicans will get more than 20 percent of the March vote.”

Given the moderate lean of the district as a whole, the memo continues: “Grewal’s support from law enforcement and business will result in the majority of Republicans supporting him.” Combined with a large share of the district’s Democrats, that will “give him a comfortable November margin.”

This isn’t the first time in California’s top-two history that an outside candidate has been labeled a spoiler. Take the case of Scott Baugh.

In 2018, the former Orange County Republican Chair entered a congressional race against then-incumbent Dana Rohrabacher. Baugh, who also happened to be Rohrabacher’s former campaign director, claimed to have suffered a falling out with his old boss. But with eight Democrats in the race, some political observers called his last-minute entry into the race “suspicious,” suggesting it was an attempt to insert a second well-known Republican in the race to nab the second place spot. As CalMatters’ columnist Dan Walters put it, the state GOP could have been “pulling off one of history’s most audacious political coups.”

Baugh and Rohrabacher’s mutual history didn’t help allay those suspicions. In 1995, Baugh won an Assembly race after Baugh’s campaign manager and Rohrabacher’s wife convinced a friend of Baugh’s to run as a “decoy” Democratic candidate, siphoning off votes from Baugh’s main opponent.

In 2018, Baugh came in fourth, and Rohrabacher lost in the general. The plan—if there was one—didn’t work.

That might be thanks to a bit of electoral shenanigans on the Democratic side: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads hammering Baugh and boosting a little-known Republican candidate named John Gabbard, hoping to lift up the latter at the expense of the former.

Running political advertising to back a weaker candidate is yet another convoluted strategy enabled by the top-two system.

Last year, supporters of both Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Gov. Gavin Newsom ran advertisements that subtly(or maybe not so subtly) boosted the conservative bona fides of their Republican opponents.

Why? In a traditional partisan primary system, a Democrat in California would be forced to face off against a Republican, no matter what. But in California, where a Republican hasn’t won statewide since 2006, ensuring a GOP candidate gets into the top two rather than a fellow party member is a winning strategy for any Democratic candidate.

Newsom said as much when asked which candidate he’d like to run against during a pre-primary debate last May: “A Republican would be ideal.”

These strategies aren’t illegal. It’s not clear they’re even unethical, said Mitchell, who offered the electoral equivalent of the adage “don’t hate the player.”

“You can decry the people who would do those kinds of things, but you could also point to the system,” he said.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

Anthony Rendon arrived feeling a little punchy. At 51, the speaker of the California Assembly is adjusting to life as a new dad—and his 3-month-old baby hadn’t slept well the night before.

“She was up at 1:30, 3, 4:30. And then once she woke up at 4:30, she didn’t fall asleep until 6,” Rendon said. “So that’s my life.”

The Los Angeles politician—sporting a black hoodie and Converse high tops as he sat for an interview in his district office—assumed one of California’s most-powerful roles in the spring of 2016. As the Assembly’s Democratic leader, he’s negotiated $200 billion state budgets with two Senate leaders and two governors. He’s overseen a political operation that resulted in Democrats winning a historically huge majority of more than 75 percent.

And yet around the Capitol, he’s probably best known for his low profile, rarely calling press conferences and opting not to author any bills so his members can share the spotlight. His style—at turns cerebral and self-deprecating—is unusual in a statehouse that attracts its share of showboats.

So it was with a certain understatement, as well as exhaustion, that Rendon, clutching a cup of coffee, shared his expectations for 2020—in the Capitol, at the ballot and for his family. Here are condensed highlights from our December interview.

So who gives a better baby present, Gavin Newsom or Jerry Brown?

I like Jerry Brown very much. And I’m not asking that he send a present, but he didn’t. Gavin Newsom and his wife sent a very nice gift. … It was a onesie. … It says “One California” or something. Get it? It’s a play on words. It’s a onesie. It’s very cute. And I meant to take a picture of her in it and send it to him, but I haven’t done that. I’m glad you reminded me.

You’re the first speaker in a while to have a young family. Recent legislative leaders either didn’t have children or had much older children. Do you think having a baby is going to impact your ability to do such a demanding job?

It impacts all aspects of my life. I think I’ll have to make adjustments, for sure. … Being speaker is a demanding job. And I’m sure being a parent is a demanding job as well. So something will have to give.

March of 2020 will mark four years that you’ve been assembly speaker. And if you remain speaker until the end of the legislative session—

That’s ominous.

… You’ll become the longest-serving speaker since Willie Brown. So, any fears of restless colleagues who might mount a challenge?

It’s not something that’s on my mind right now. I haven’t heard any rumblings. 

Your caucus grew a lot in 2018 because of the seats you successfully flipped. Then it got even bigger when GOP Assemblyman Brian Maienschein switched parties. What was that like to have a Republican in your caucus? Is it as easy as just switching jerseys and joining your team, or is there any awkwardness in having a former opponent as a colleague?

It probably sounds ludicrous … but I was amazed how seamless it was. When Brian announced that he was switching, I had a meeting with the caucus and said, “Hey, this is what he wants to do, and how do you guys feel about it?” And I almost felt like I was overpreparing them, because they were all like, “Cool.” (Even as a Republican) Brian voted with us so often.

More recently, local Assemblyman Chad Mayes left the Republican Party as well. He’s now registered with no party preference. But if he wanted to caucus with the Democrats, would you allow it?

I don’t know. I’d probably have to ask the caucus how they felt about it. He doesn’t seem to want to. I saw him (a few days ago). He feels pretty liberated to not be a member of a party. … I don’t think he wants to become a Democrat, and I don’t think he wants to caucus with us. I don’t think he wants to caucus with Republicans (either).

How are you feeling about your Assembly races in 2020? Do you think you can hold your 61-seat mega-majority?

I have mixed feelings about it. The weather forecast is complicated. On the one hand, there’s a lot of very anti-Republican sentiment. … With Donald Trump on the ballot, you have to think that we’re going to do very well. That being said, we also know that there is very much an anti-incumbent tendency out there, and we just have more incumbents than they do. People are very angry around the issue of housing affordability and homelessness. We see that polling everywhere, in every district throughout the state. So I don’t think we can say, “Democrat X is running against Donald Trump” or “running against a Republican.” We have to tell a story about what we’ve done. … Just railing against Donald Trump, I don’t think that’s fair to Californians to do that.

Why?

I’m really impressed with the work that we’ve done … and also because … we have candidates who have incredible qualifications and have had incredible life experiences. You take someone like Thu-Ha Nguyen (challenging GOP Assemblyman Tyler Diep) in Orange County, who’s a cancer researcher, and a mom, and a council member. And I think to reduce all of that to just, “She’s battling Donald Trump,” I think is overly simplistic. And it’s also very—it’s a short horizon. I mean, Donald Trump will be gone someday, and the party needs to stand for something. And we will.

So how do you feel about Gavin Newsom’s approach? He’s been very much framing himself as the leader of the resistance and fighting Trump all the time. How do you feel about that?

That works for him. A lot of what he does is about the resources from the federal government, and that’s a different dynamic. It’s not what I do. It’s not what I’m interested in. But I get why he does it. … Whether it’s high speed rail funds or water—that’s very real for (him).

How do you feel about the landscape for the Democratic presidential nomination?

I haven’t been following it all that closely. … I want to be supportive of a Democrat who could beat Donald Trump.

You were a Kamala Harris supporter early on. So with her out of the race, have you picked a candidate you’re going to endorse?

No … I don’t know if I will. I might. I’ve had Mr. Steyer call me, and the South Bend mayor called me. (Rendon turned to his staff member and asked to be reminded of his name.)

A lot of the policies the Democratic candidates are proposing are things that California is already doing to some degree—like $15 minimum wage, marijuana legalization, carbon pricing and paid family leave. Do you think that the nation wants to be more like California?

The California label is probably not a good thing in a lot of parts of the country for whatever reason. But I think in terms of policy, the state certainly has a story to tell. So I’m not surprised that some of our ideas are being put up there as models to follow. … We’re proud of our economy, and we’re proud of the $15 minimum wage, and all the stuff we’ve done on the environment. And at the same time, how many tens of thousands of people go to sleep every night in this state without a home? And we have long-lasting water problems, quality and supply. We have too many people in prison. So I think it’s important for us as Democrats to be honest. And it is very difficult to do that in election years.

On criminal-justice issues, California has been on a long course of reversing tough-on-crime policies of the past. Do you think the state has gone too far in any way? Or if you think we haven’t gone far enough, what’s left to do?

In our House, we passed the (parolee right to) vote bill. (ACA 6 would allow parolees to vote after they complete their prison sentences, if voters approve.) I’d like to see that get on the ballot and have Californians take a look at that. What we ask for in our society is for people who’ve done bad things to do their time and then become engaged citizens. And as long as you’re not allowing that, then you’re not living up to your principles.

A few months ago, my colleague Dan Morain wrote about the murder your brother-in-law John Lam was an accomplice to 16 years ago. Jerry Brown reduced his sentence, and Gavin Newsom made a final call allowing his release. Have you had any insights on criminal justice issues from this experience in your family?

I have. He was released on Oct. 10th. He’s in transitional housing. And you know, my wife and I are very fortunate. We have resources at our disposal. I’ve been on paternity leave. My wife is self-employed, so we have a lot of time that we can spend with him, and we take him out a lot. … When I pick him up, I sometimes look at the other guys at the home and wonder to what extent they don’t have those things, and what that means for them moving forward. So in the past few months, I’ve thought a lot about the things that we do or don’t do after (someone is released from prison) and the hurdles that people have. That is something that I’ve taken away from the experience.

Looking ahead, what are your priorities for 2020?

No surprise to you or anybody, wildfires and housing affordability/homelessness issues are on everyone’s mind—this sort of unresolved, you know, enigma, that is PG&E and where that goes moving forward.

So on wildfire, what can you do?

It’s a very good question. People (in Northern California) are constantly talking about insurance issues. 

What about on homelessness?

A lot of what we want to do is relating to oversight of the money and the opportunities that we’ve given to local governments. … It’s incumbent upon cities to do something, and it’s incumbent upon us to provide oversight.

Do you anticipate the Legislature responding to pressure from initiatives that are in the process of qualifying for the ballot? Like the challenge from Uber and Lyft on AB 5, the new California law that treats more contract workers as employees—would you pass a law to keep that off the ballot?

I don’t believe we would. I felt as though we were doing a tremendous favor to a lot of people by even addressing that. We could have easily just let it go and let the court ruling stand. I have no interest in getting involved in that. I think we’ve been quite good to those people.

A few years ago, there was a push to do a constitutional amendment asking voters to repeal the Proposition 209 ban (from 1996) on affirmative action. Given the 2020 electorate, do you want that to be something the Legislature does, give that to the voters this year?

I’m glad you brought that up. … I would like to see 209 repealed. That being said, if we are going to get something on the ballot, and get it passed in November, from a political standpoint, it almost seems too late. You have to raise a lot of money. You have to have your ducks lined up. And I haven’t seen that from any of the activist groups that have been talking about that. It’s disappointing that people sometimes seem to want to jam things on the ballot. Good intentions, but (they) don’t go through the very simple political steps of raising money and having a proper coalition to get something passed by voters.

What about a repeal of the death penalty? Would you want to see the Legislature put that on the ballot for the people?

I’ve been opposed to the death penalty for a long time. … But as long as it’s not being carried out (because Newsom halted executions by executive order), there doesn’t seem to be a rush.

Anything you hope will go differently this year in working with Gov. Newsom?

There were some bumps in the road with Gavin early on. At the time, it was hard to contextualize. It was just irritating. But when you think about it, yeah, it makes sense: It’s a whole new team, whole new relationships. So I think things will get better. And I don’t know that we necessarily need to tweak any individual thing. I think it’s just learning people’s tendencies and learning how people like to communicate

One last question: How do you feel about having another Anthony Rendon in L.A.? (A Major League Baseball player by the same name recently left the Washington Nationals for the Los Angeles Angels.)

It’s a lot. After my wife and I had a baby, our first date with a baby sitter was the night he hit a big homerun in Game 6 of the World Series. And I got 69 texts … That includes people who sent texts saying, “Oh, aren’t you glad I’m not sending you another Anthony Rendon text?” That’s included in that total. Just for the record.

What were most of the texts saying?

“Oh, you hit a home run tonight! Ha ha ha.” Oh, so clever. I’ve never heard that one before. I’ve literally been following this guy since he was Freshman of the Year at Rice University. I know he exists. I don’t need another freakin’ person to tell me that he exists.

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

On the first weekly Independent comics page of the new Roaring '20s: (Th)ink looks at different possible reactions to presidential elections; This Modern World tries to solve the problem of gun control; Jen Sorensen wants Wall Street types to dress like the radicals they are; Apoca Clips launches Li'l Trumpy's book club; and Red Meat loses sleep over work worries.

Published in Comics

On this week's subpoena-defying weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorensen examines the fear of a female wonk; (Th)ink watches as Trump is backed into a corner; This Modern World listens in as the mob boss talks to his associates; Red Meat breaks up a cat fight; and Apoca Clips listens in as Li'l Trumpy picks OJ's brain.

Published in Comics

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