If voter registration statistics mean anything, California is becoming more Democratic, with the Republican Party falling to third-place status behind "no party preference," the official designation for independent voters. Pre-June primary registration figures showed Democrats with 44.4 percent, independents with 25.5 percent and Republicans with 25.1 percent.
This may help explain why no Republican has been elected to a statewide office since 2006, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor and Steve Poizner was elected insurance commissioner.
Schwarzenegger has returned to making movies. Poizner, who waged an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2010, rather than seeking reelection, has changed his registration to “no party preference,” and now seeks to return to his former job as insurance commissioner.
With limited money invested in statewide campaigns and few prominent Republicans seeking the offices, the GOP is again likely to be shut out of the statewide posts in the November election. In that sense California is very much the opposite of Kern County: Today the state has a dearth of willing or electable Republican candidates, while Kern County suffers from a shortfall of willing or electable Democrats. That reality that will be reflected, to a significant degree, in The Californian's local endorsements to be published in the days ahead.
It is telling that Poizner, who finished first in the June “top two” open primary, stands a good chance of making history as the first independent elected to a partisan California statewide office. He no longer carries the burden of that "R" designation.
The Californian endorses Democrats Gavin Newsom for governor and Eleni Kounalakis for lieutenant governor. Our recommendations for other statewide constitutional offices on the November ballot are:
Attorney General – Incumbent Democrat Xavier Becerra, a former congressman and state legislator, was appointed attorney general by Gov. Jerry Brown to fill the vacancy created by the election of Attorney General Kamala Harris to the U.S. Senate. Voters should give Becerra, who is doing a credible job, a full four-year term. His opponent is Republican Steven Bailey, an El Dorado County judge who is mired in an ethics investigation. The state Commission on Judicial Performance is investigating claims that Bailey began campaigning for the attorney general’s post while still serving as a judge; that he referred DUI defendants to the private school where his son works; and that he accepted gifts allegedly in violation of judicial rules. Bailey claims the charges are politically motivated.
Secretary of State – Incumbent Democrat Alex Padilla is doing a credible job and should be given a second four-year term. His opponent, Republican Mark Meuser, an elections attorney, lacks elected experience. He overwhelmingly lost a bid for state Senate in District 7 in 2012. With the 2020 elections looming and more foreign meddling possible, experience will count heading a department that oversees elections and other important business functions.
Controller – Incumbent Democrat Betty Yee is seeking a second four-year term. She is being challenged by Republican Roditis Konstantinos. Yee is doing a credible job as Controller and should be reelected. Yee especially is commended for helping blow the whistle on the scandal-plagued Board of Equalization. Yee’s challenger, Konstantinos, is an Anaheim businessman with little public service experience. Economists have called his “trickle up taxes” scheme a hare-brained, logistical nightmare. Konstantinos proposes that local governments collect all taxes and set policy for many programs, then pass on to the state government only the money it needs to fulfill its statewide responsibilities. Good luck coordinating that.
Treasurer – Democrat Fiona Ma, a CPA and member of the Board of Equalization, is running for state Treasurer. Her opponent, Greg Conlon, is a CPA and businessman who has unsuccessfully run twice for the Treasurer’s job. He received less that 40 percent of the vote in both efforts. In 2016, he ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate and received only 3 percent of the vote. Ma joined Controller Betty Yee and others in blowing the whistle on corruption within the Board of Equalization and called for the board’s abolition. She will bring her watchdog focus and financial expertise to the important office of Treasurer.
Insurance commissioner: No matter what Poizner's affiliation, or lack thereof, The Californian supports his effort: Voters should elect Poizner to be their insurance commissioner in November. The Silicon Valley executive did a good job as insurance commissioner from 2006 to 2010. California needs Poizner’s experience and competence returned to the office in 2018.
Poizner’s challenger is Democratic state Sen. Richard Lara, who before being elected to the Legislature served as a legislative aide. Lara lacks Poizner’s experience and demonstrated interest in insurance issues.
If elected, Poizner promises, he will focus on combatting insurance fraud, improving insurance coverage for such things as wildfires, and aggressively overseeing companies that provide homeowner’s insurance.
Board of Equalization – Democrat Tom Hallinan, a businessman and elected college trustee, and Ted Gaines, a Republican state senator from El Dorado County, are vying to represent District 1, which includes Kern County. Hallinan has joined many others in calling for voter approval of a constitutional amendment that would abolish the Board of Equalization, which has been mired in accusations of corruption, nepotism and incompetence. They propose shifting the board’s taxing oversight duties to the existing state Franchise Tax Board. As an interim measure, Gov. Jerry Brown stripped the elected Board of Equalization of most of its duties. But looking for a job after his state senate gig ends in 2020, Gaines opposes abolishing the Board of Equalization. Voters should elect Hallinan and wish him luck ridding Californians of the wasteful state board.
Superintendent of Public Instruction – A non-partisan constitutional statewide office, the post of Superintendent of Public Instruction can serve as a bully pulpit to help set California education policies. Two Democrats – Assemblyman Tony Thurmond and education reform advocate Marshall Tuck – are vying for the post. The race is shaping up as a contest between public teachers’ unions and charter school advocates. Because of his long involvement in educational reform efforts, voters should elect Tuck.