Brent J. Meyer
PORAC Vice President
Election Day in California is always very exciting for me, and the June 5 primary proved to be no exception. After the votes are cast, all you can do is wait with bated breath to see if your chosen candidates get to move on to the big November election. As much as I wanted to go to bed on Tuesday evening and just check the results in the morning, I couldn’t; I refreshed election tallies well into the night, feeding a need that only another political junkie could relate to.
As you know, PORAC was invested in all the statewide races, as well as dozens of local ones throughout the state. There were so many important contests to watch, and it was great to see that PORAC predicted the majority of the winners in the races where we endorsed. However, there were a few developments and surprises I found interesting in the primary that I wanted to share with you.
Statewide, I was surprised that the PORAC-supported gubernatorial candidate, Antonio Villaraigosa, failed to place among the top two vote-getters. The former mayor of Los Angeles finished with only 13% of the votes, falling behind Republican John Cox, who secured a second-place finish (26%). To add insult to injury, the Democratic rival, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, not only finished first (36%) but also came out on top in L.A. County, beating Villaraigosa in his hometown. While we’re upset by this loss, we now have to regroup and reconcile whether either of the top two candidates aligns, if at all, with our interests.
An unprecedented 11 candidates vied for the position of lieutenant governor. Many pulled out all the stops to stand out and attract voters, making this one of the most expensive races in the primary. Money certainly talked for first-place winner Eleni Kounalakis, a late entry into the race who narrowly took first with 24% of the votes. PORAC’s candidate, State Senator Ed Hernandez, came in second with 21%. Kounalakis received millions in endorsements, including $300,000 from pharmaceutical companies. It would seem that Big Pharma is backing her because of Hernandez’s challenge to the industry with SB 17, his drug-pricing transparency law that passed last year. While money seems to be no object for Kounalakis, I think it will take more than that to secure the top spot in November.
Perhaps one of the most curious race results was the ouster of State Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), a PORAC-endorsed candidate and the first state lawmaker to be recalled in 23 years! He was recalled by almost 60% of the voters in his district, and former Assembly Member Ling Ling Chang (R-Diamond Bar) was elected to replace him. This loss means that Democrats in the Senate will not have the two-thirds supermajority for the remainder of the year.
Constituents recalled Newman because of his support of SB 1 (Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017), otherwise known as the gas tax. Surprisingly, the gas tax has become a powerful issue for the California Republican Party, which led the campaign for Newman’s recall. Gubernatorial candidate Cox, among other Republicans, voiced his opposition to SB 1 on election night and vowed to repeal it if he gains office. Newman’s recall may see more conservative voters heading to the polls in November.
Locally, despite pouring in millions of dollars to back left-leaning candidates, New York billionaire George Soros failed to influence voters in three district attorney races. The victors — Sacramento DA Anne Marie Schubert (64%), San Diego DA Summer Stephan (64%) and Alameda County DA Nancy O’Malley (59%) — handily mopped the floor with Soros-backed candidates in their respective races. Soros and his network of wealthy donors and activist groups have been attempting to reshape the criminal justice system nationwide; however, they seemed to underestimate how strong the support for law enforcement is in California.
In a surprising turn of events, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith was finally forced into a November runoff. Smith, who is the county’s longest-serving sheriff and running for her sixth term, is facing John Hirokawa, her former undersheriff, after failing to achieve 50% of the vote. Many are calling this runoff the most heated race in the county. Smith’s tenure has been filled with mounting controversies, including an incident in 2016, where she is alleged to have tampered with an internal affairs investigation, of which she was the target. This election will certainly be one to watch.
There were also a number of current and former association leaders and PORAC members challenging sitting incumbent sheriffs in five counties: Monterey, Sacramento, Shasta, San Joaquin and Stanislaus. Notably, in the San Joaquin race, the Valley Chapter’s very own Pat Withrow beat Steve Moore with 58% of votes to become the new sheriff-elect, despite Moore being the president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association. We were extremely proud to see PORAC members take on these challenges.
Though we were not victorious in all the campaigns we supported, there isn’t a cause for anxiety. The PORAC Board of Directors is now assessing our next plan of action for November, deciding what’s in the best interest of our membership and considering the changes to the political landscape ahead. We still believe in those that we’ve endorsed, and will be working hard to get them elected. While this is much easier said than done, PORAC recognizes that not everyone gets what they want at times. At the end of the day, though, it’s all part of a bigger political process we engage in on your behalf in Sacramento, and we’re always trying to win for you. That said, we definitely want to know what you think, so sound off at your July and August chapter meetings and let us know. (Chapter meeting dates and locations can be found at PORAC.org/calendar.) Our Board will be meeting in August and likely will make decisions about our endorsements then.
Thank you for your membership, have fun and stay safe!