Democrats are dominant in California, outnumbering GOP voters by a nearly two-to-one margin statewide. But Republicans see a chance to change that in 2022, with candidates in several races arguing the state’s Democratic leaders have fallen short on crime, housing and other issues during a conservative forum Monday in Rancho Mirage.
The forum, which was organized by the Lincoln Club of the Coachella Valley, drew two-dozen candidates from 11 races — almost entirely Republicans, along with a few nonpartisan candidates — to the Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage, with roughly 250 people paying to attend the event.
With ballots heading to voters in California’s primary election this week, the candidates, including a few challenging Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta, consistently hammered state policies and blamed Democrats for their approaches to the state’s most pressing issues.
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In California, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a wide margin, with Democrats making up about 46.7% of the state’s roughly 22 million voters, compared to Republicans comprising 23.9% of the state’s registered voters.
But while a Republican candidate has not won a statewide race in California since 2006, several of the speakers Monday were optimistic that 2022 could be a breakthrough year for GOP supporters in the deep-blue state.
“There’s a time for a Republican to win this state, and it’s this year,” said state Sen. Brian Dahle, a candidate for governor. “The wind is at our back.”
The forum, which was moderated by Nick Meade, president of the Log Cabin Republicans of the Coachella Valley, did not include any Democratic candidates.
Challengers for governor’s seat talk abortion, homelessness
Several candidates running against Newsom, who survived a recall vote in September by a comfortable margin, attended the forum Monday, though none of the main challengers from last year’s recall, such as Republican radio talk show host Larry Elder, entered the race against the governor this year.
Dahle, R-Bieber, who has been endorsed by the California Republican Party, told the crowd he knows “exactly how the place (Sacramento) works,” and would use his experience in the California Legislature to his advantage as governor.
“I’m a farmer,” Dahle said. “I would not put somebody in my farming business at the top of the business who’s never farmed before.”
Dahle also argued California should ramp up its oil production to address high gas prices and allow the state to reduce its oil imports from Russia amid its war with Ukraine.
“We need to open up those permits and let Californians drill here, and it’ll drive the current price of oil down in the state,” Dahle said.
Dahle was joined at the forum by Michael Shellenberger, a Democrat-turned-independent from the Bay Area and author of “San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities,” as well as two other Republican candidates, Anthony Trimino and Major Williams.
Shellenberger, one of the only non-Republican candidates at the forum, touted his endorsements from personalities such as Tucker Carlson and Joe Rogan, and offered a bleak picture of the state’s homeless encampments, saying he would shut them down in a way that prioritizes “psychiatric and addiction care, as well as law and order.”
“The Democrats in this state are not going to be satisfied until there are open drug scenes and supervised drug addiction sites where people will smoke meth and fentanyl in every city in California,” Shellenberger said. “I’m the only person that’s been able to expose that.”
The candidates were also asked to weigh in on abortion rights, following the recent leak of a draft opinion from the Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade. When asked to say “when life begins,” Dahle drew applause from the crowd when he responded: “The word says the Lord knew you before you were in your mother’s womb.”
But the Republican senator also noted Newsom and state lawmakers are looking to place the question of abortion as a constitutional amendment on the November ballot.
“This is a great time for states to have the opportunity to actually weigh in on the issue and not to be done at the federal level,” said Dahle, who was recently the target of an attack ad from Newsom regarding his opposition to abortion.
Williams and Trimino both said life begins at contraception. Shellenberger did not specifically answer the question, but said California “has pretty much made its mind up” on being a pro-abortion rights state.
“I don’t think anybody on stage is going to persuade the people in California to reverse course on our policies, but what I will say is that I would never demonize anyone who holds a different view on this issue,” Shellenberger said.
AG candidates argue California heading the wrong way on crime
With recent polls showing California residents view public safety as an increasingly pressing issue, a trio of Republican and independent candidates for California’s attorney general seat, which is currently held by Bonta, discussed how they would change the state’s approach toward criminal justice during the forum Monday.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, an independent and former Republican, told the crowd she was encouraged to run for the seat by law enforcement groups across California, arguing she would make California a “law-and-order” state.
“I think what’s significant to me is that this law enforcement support is across all party affiliation,” Schubert said. “That’s because they understand who I am as a prosecutor, that I have led this state in law enforcement on a variety of issues, and I am the person in this position that can actually take the state back.”
Former assistant U.S. attorney Nathan Hochman, the candidate with the California Republican Party’s endorsement, said he would pursue conservatives solutions in which “crimes have consequences.”
“(In the last eight years), we had double digit rises in violent crime,” Hochman said. “We have street crime exploding (and) homelessness at an all-time high. Fentanyl poisonings are going to kill thousands of Californians.”
“I’m a proud Republican running on Republican principles from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s that are going to bring that office back, because I believe that Democrats and independents are equally afraid, fed up and scared of what’s going on,” Hochman said.
Hochman and Schubert, considered the two leading candidates to emerge as the challenger to the Democratic incumbent, were joined by attorney Eric Early, who is seeking the position after running in 2018 and argued Bonta is “as far-left as they come” amid “a battle of good versus evil in this country.”
Both Early and Schubert also criticized Proposition 47, a ballot measure passed in 2014 that reduced some theft and drug felonies to misdemeanors. A recent poll found that voters support changing that proposition by a nearly two-to-one margin.
Riverside County candidates criticize state policies
Although the forum largely featured Republicans in state and federal races, several candidates running in nonpartisan races for county-level positions — which could be decided in the June 7 election — also discussed their campaigns Monday night.
The forum featured a pair of county incumbents — Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin and Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco — seeking re-election.
Hestrin, who faces two challengers in his race, said he decided to run for a third term to address the “disaster” caused by Democrats’ criminal justice policies at the state level.
He also touted the county’s use of collaborative courts as a way to fight back against recidivism, and defended the contributions he’s received from law enforcement unions, a topic recently covered by The Desert Sun.
Bianco, who was first elected in 2018, quipped about why he was seeking re-election — “When I realized how easy it was to hurt the governor’s feelings, I said I have to do this over and over again” — before touching on several issues, such as California’s sanctuary state law, which he criticized as “asinine.”
“We cannot have any type of interaction with Border Patrol … Without that routine interaction between our agency and theirs, I don’t want to say our hands are tied, but both of us are swimming upstream, when together we can manage it,” Bianco said. “It makes no sense that that was even passed in the first place.”
Bianco, who is running against former Riverside County Sheriff’s Department captain Michael Lujan in this year’s race, also discussed his department’s use of de-escalation training, which he said his officers need when engaging with people who are homeless.
“The problem when we’re dealing with homelessness is, you all know that we’re dealing with mentally unstable, usually drug-induced psychosis individuals that law enforcement is coming into contact with,” Bianco said.
“We want to engage with them, because not all of them are like that, but while we’re talking to them, we quickly realize whether or not this is going to go sideways or whether it’s going to go peacefully,” he added.
The pair of incumbent were joined by a few other candidates for county-level office, including Ben Benoit, who is challenging incumbent Paul Angulo for the county’s auditor-controller position.
Four candidates for local Riverside County judge positions — Jay Kiel, Kristi Kirk, Natalie Lough and Jason Stone — also spoke during the forum. All four of the judge candidates work in the DA’s office and have been endorsed by Hestrin and several local law enforcement groups.
Candidates for Congress, Senate look to challenge Democrat incumbents
A handful of candidates running for federal office, including three people — San Jacinto Councilmember Brian Hawkins, physician Brian Tyson and former “Jeopardy!” champion Burt Shakur — vying to unseat Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz in California’s newly drawn 25th district, also spoke at the forum.
Hawkins, who has been endorsed by the California Republican Party in the race, pointed to his work on the San Jacinto City Council, passing resolutions supporting election integrity and pro-life stances, as evidence of what he would push for if elected to Congress.
“The stuff that I’m doing on a local level, I’ve already done it as an elected official, which means that you can trust it,” Hawkins said.
Tyson, a doctor from El Centro who has promoted COVID-19 treatments unauthorized by the FDA, said he entered the race in response to the “medical tyranny” that he saw during the pandemic.
“They use the virus as an excuse to mask us, to lock us down, to close our businesses, to tell me I couldn’t treat sick people in my clinic,” Tyson said.
Thakur said he wanted to enter the race after the U.S. exit from Afghanistan in August, and that he was running a campaign “about solutions, not whining.”
“It’s about time that we change political discourse into debating the efficacy of the issue, instead of the morality of the issue,” Thakur said.
Incumbent Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, who is running for re-election in a district that includes Palm Springs and several other Coachella Valley cities, also spoke during the forum, arguing the this year’s race is “probably the most important election” he’s been a part of.
“We have inflation out of control. We have the border out of control. We have crime out of control,” said Calvert, who has several challengers in this year’s race. “We have to change (things) in this next election. We have to elect a Republican Congress and Republican Senate to get back to electing a Republican president to take back this country.”
Two candidates running to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla — Mark Meuser and Cordie Williams — also spoke at the forum. Meuser, who has the California Republican Party’s endorsement, said he wanted to run because he’s “sick and tired of unelected bureaucrats depriving us of our right of self-governance.”
Meuser, who unsuccessfully challenged Padilla in California’s Secretary of State race in 2018, indicated he would put California on a different course when it comes to reproductive rights, calling Roe v. Wade “a terrible decision.”
“All this (draft Supreme Court) decision, as we’re reading it, appears to do is return us back to proper constitutional balance of returning the power to the state, where the power belongs to begin with,” Meuser said.
A pair of legislative candidates — Greg Wallis, a staff member for Chad Mayes who is running in a district that includes Palm Springs and other valley cities, and Ian Weeks, a Hemet resident running against Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia in a district that includes Indio and Coachella — also discussed their desire to boost Republican representation in the Legislature, which has a Democratic supermajority.
Lanhee Chen, a Republican candidate for California’s controller position who was recently endorsed by the Los Angeles Times, argued that a candidate from outside the Democratic Party would be the best watchdog for the state’s finances, while Randy Economy, a candidate running for the state Board of Equalization’s fourth district seat, said he would provide better tax implementation oversight.
The primary election is June 7, with the top two finishers in state and federal races advancing to the general election Nov. 8. Voters have until May 23 to register to vote in the June election. In Riverside County races, a November run-off will only be held if the top candidate does not finish with a majority of the vote in the June election.
Tom Coulter covers politics and can be reached at email@example.com.