Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

March 15, 2014
Ashley Swearengin controller campaign managing 'excitement'


BURLINGAME — Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin may be the best hope for California Republicans to reclaim a statewide office in November.

But the 41-year-old rising star of the party and candidate for state controller was taking things slowly here at the state GOP convention this weekend.

"We really want to draw attention to how important this office is for the things that we would like to see in California: Economic competitiveness and managing the state's resources," she said in an interview.

"It's just an often-overlooked position," she added. "As I've talked with people around the convention this weekend, and I start laying out all of the things that are included in the state controller's job description, everyone's eyes are getting big and they are starting to realize this is an important office."

Swearengin is running to succeed Democrat John Chiang, who is termed out and vying for state treasurer. Her primary opponents include Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, both Democrats.

Swearengin was re-elected as mayor in 2012. Tim Clark, her political consultant, told The Bee the campaign has received many unsolicited offers of help from donors and party activists.

"It's just been very exciting trying to manage this excitement," he said.

PHOTO: Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin at the state GOP convention in Burlingame. Christopher Cadelago/The Sacramento Bee

March 15, 2014
Neel Kashkari says he'll help GOP build 'bigger tent'

kashkarireporters.jpgBURLINGAME — Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari dismissed questions Saturday about resistance to his candidacy from the party's most conservative activists, saying scheduling conflicts kept him from addressing a group of conservatives here.

"The Republican Party has a lot of folks inside the tent," he said. "I want to make it a bigger tent, so even more people are welcome. And I've really been pleased how I've been received by a very diverse group of Republican groups here at the convention and around the state."

Kashkari, a moderate Republican, is in a primary election race against Tim Donnelly, the tea party favorite. Kashkari was well received Saturday at meetings of young Republicans, Latinos and the gay GOP group Log Cabin Republicans.

Yet Kashkari is not universally popular at a convention where Republican activists sang "God Bless America" and marched through the hotel Saturday chanting "Taxed Enough Already."

"This is a place that Kashkari doesn't understand," said Mike Spence, president of the Conservative Republicans of California.

He objected to Kashkari's record running the federal bank bailout known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and to his vote for Barack Obama in 2008.

Kashkari told reporters he has been doing "a lot of conservative talk radio in the last couple months" and has been "really pleasantly surprised how well they've embraced me."

He said, "You know what Republicans want? They want their kids to get a good education, and they want a good job. That's the same thing that independents want. That's the same thing that Democrats want. I think we can unite Republicans and unite Californians around these messages."

Donnelly faces his own challenges within the party ranks, with many moderate Republicans viewing the strident conservative as a liability to the party's efforts to attract new voters.

PHOTO: Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari speaks to reporters at the California Republican Party's biannual convention on March 15, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

March 15, 2014
Pete Sessions backs California GOP's path to rebuilding


BURLINGAME - Rep. Pete Sessions, the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, offered his support for the California Republican Party's strategy of focusing on key congressional and legislative seats rather than potentially spreading itself thin with competitive candidates in every statewide race.

"I would say to you that there are a lot of things about giving your team reason to believe that they can make a difference," Sessions, R-Texas, chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, told reporters ahead of his dinner speech at the California Republican Party convention. "I believe, actually, by the (state) party winning seats ... that does make a difference.

"Putting a person in every single race is not an effective way to use your money or your resources," he added. "I think having great candidates with a good message, and going and organizing and talking about the huge success that Barack Obama and the Democrats are having to turn our country into a welfare state, makes a lot of sense to me."

California GOP Chairman Jim Brulte described his party's strategy Friday as putting the icing on -- not actually baking the cakes. The three-pronged approach calls for helping retain Republicans' House majority, working to eliminate the Democratic supermajorities in the Legislature and building a "farm team" of local GOP officials.

Republicans also are targeting a handful of House Democrats including Ami Bera of Elk Grove, Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert, Julia Brownley of Westlake Village and Scott Peters of San Diego.

Critics of the California GOP's approach suggest the lack of marquee statewide candidates could harm candidates in more competitive down-ticket races. But Sessions said Democrats' defense of the health care overhaul speaks to their insistence on following "shrill liberalism and dogma" and will lead to their downfall.

"That is not a way to make life better and the Republican Party will add to our numbers because of that," he said.

PHOTO: Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, speaks Saturday at the California Republican Party convention in Burlingame. Christopher Cadelago/The Sacramento Bee

March 15, 2014
VIDEO: Take Two: Neel Kashkari puts new slogan on Instagram

kashkariscrum.jpgBURLINGAME — Perhaps no candidate for statewide office is more active on social media than Neel Kashkari, whose tweets are voluminous and, more often than not, come off as unscripted.

But this is a gubernatorial campaign, and certain elements are staged. Kashkari is trying out a new, baseball-inspired slogan at the California Republican Party convention this weekend, and on Saturday he attempted to post a video to Instagram.

"I'm running for governor to bench Jerry Brown," Kashkari said, before completing brief remarks and asking the videographer, "Did it take?"

"I think it was on 'photo,'" the aide said.

There were a few groans, and Kashkari said, "One more time."

Take two was a success. Kashkari uploaded it on a cell phone, then turned to a group of reporters and said, "Somebody needs to send this to Gov. Brown."

PHOTO: Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari speaks with reporters at the California Republican Party's biannual convention in Burlingame on March 15, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

March 15, 2014
Condoleezza Rice says U.S. must maintain military strength


BURLINGAME - Condoleezza Rice said by weakening its military muscle abroad the U.S. leaves a vacuum that will be filled by the likes of nationalists in China and terrorists in Iraq.

Harnessing Ronald Reagan's "peace through strength," the former U.S. Secretary of State said America must lead to lessen the world influence of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Vladimir Putin in Russia.

"I know that people are tired. I know that after more than 10 years of war and terrorism and engagement abroad it sometimes doesn't look like there's a light at the end of the tunnel," Rice told a lunchtime gathering of the California Republican Party on Saturday. "We can think 'Oh, let someone else do it.' But nobody else will."

"In sustaining our role abroad we will be safer and more secure here, too," she added.

On Sunday, Crimean residents are set to weigh in on a referendum that could lead to their joining Russia from Ukraine, or becoming independent.

Rice, a professor at Stanford University in Palo Alto, told the audience that California, too, is in need of a rebuilding of sorts. She called for the state to embrace the principles of individual responsibility and liberty, private sector-led growth and a private space that is respected by, and in which people "respect the choices of each other."

Said Rice: "California has always had a certain sheen, a kind of exceptionalism of its own."

PHOTO: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks to the delegation at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, on Aug. 29, 2012. (Lionel Hahn/Abaca Press/ MCT)

March 15, 2014
VIDEO: Tim Donnelly wants candidates who 'stick to their guns'

donnellyscrum.jpgBURLINGAME - Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly said Saturday that the California Republican Party needs to "reconnect with the church," rallying conservative activists in his primary contest with Neel Kashkari.

"Elections are not just about connecting with people," Donnelly, a Twin Peaks assemblyman, told a meeting of conservatives at the California Republican Party's biannual convention. "I believe we need to reconnect with the church."

For Donnelly, no audience is more sympathetic. The Legislature's most outspoken gun rights and anti-illegal immigration advocate is a tea party favorite and has the endorsement of the conservative California Republican Assembly in the GOP's longshot bid to unseat Gov. Jerry Brown.

Neel Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official, is preferred by many members of the party's donor and professional class for his more moderate social views.

Donnelly, facing ongoing controversy surrounding his own gun use, including pleading no contest to two misdemeanors after carrying a loaded gun into Ontario International Airport in 2012, remained unperturbed.

"If you know that there's a group that has not been voting because they're not inspired, and because we don't have candidates who are willing to at least stick to their guns," he told the conservative group, pausing. "Oh, did I just say that?"

The room erupted in laughter and applause.

"It's all right," Donnelly said. "You can clap."

PHOTO: Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly speaks with reporters at the California Republican Party's biannual convention in Burlingame on March 15, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

March 15, 2014
Ron Nehring rips Gavin Newsom for supporting pot legalization


BURLINGAME - Republican Ron Nehring, a candidate for for lieutenant governor, issued a forceful rebuke of marijuana legalization on Saturday, saying advocates of decriminalizing the drug are putting children in harm's way.

"Anyone who thinks that this is only going to be limited to adults needs to put the crack pipe down because that is simply not reality," Nehring said at the California Republican Party's biannual convention in Burlingame.

Colorado and Washington thrust the issue onto the national stage when the states legalized marijuana.

At the convention, Nehring, the former state GOP chairman, stood beside a poster quoting Gov. Jerry Brown from a recent appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press." In that interview, the Democratic governor questioned how California could be expected to prosper while people get stoned.

"I think Jerry Brown is exactly spot on," Nehring said. He called for a debate on pot with Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who favors legalizing the drug.

"If Gavin Newsom is not willing to debate me, then perhaps he would be willing to debate Gov. Brown," Nehring said. "And maybe they can have a debate on high-speed rail while they're at it."

Despite Nehring's concerns about the "social costs," of increased drug use, Californians appear to be turning a corner on marijuana. The Field Poll from December -- for the first time ever -- found clear majority support for legalization. Eight percent of voters supported allowing anyone to purchase cannabis and 47 percent said it should be available with the types of controls that govern alcohol sales.

PHOTO: Republican Ron Nehring speaks at the California Republican Party Convention in Burlingame. Christopher Cadelago/The Sacramento Bee

March 15, 2014
VIDEO: Tim Donnelly, Neel Kashkari make pitches to Latino Republicans

kashkariblount.jpgBURLINGAME - Neel Kashkari told Latino Republicans on Saturday that he is making Spanish-language media a priority in his campaign for governor, while his GOP rival, Tim Donnelly, said "we have to stop pandering" to different segments of the electorate.

The candidates' remarks, to the California Republican National Hispanic Assembly, came as Kashkari and Donnelly sprinted from caucus to caucus, lobbying delegates at the California Republican Party's biannual convention. The Hispanic group is significant to a party attempting to overcome years of failure appealing to Latino voters.

"The first TV interview that I did was on Univision, and it ran statewide," Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official, said. "And they asked me, they said, 'Why are you coming to Univision first?' I said, 'Because I want your viewers to know they're not an afterthought, they're my first thought.'"

Donnelly, a Twin Peaks assemblyman and tea party favorite, took the floor immediately after Kashkari.

"I think we have to stop pandering, thinking that there's a different message because of someone's skin color, because the colors of freedom are red, white and blue," he said. "What I believe people want is they want to live free, and they want to get the government out of their way, so that we can all enjoy the bounties of liberty."

PHOTO: Republican gubernatorial candidates Neel Kashkari, left, and Andrew Blount at a dinner at the California Republican Party's biannual convention in Burlingame on March 14, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders


Capitol Alert Staff

Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @DanielSnowSmith

Jim Miller Jim Miller covers California policy and politics and edits Capitol Alert. Twitter: @jimmiller2

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. Twitter: @davidsiders

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. Twitter: @ccadelago

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. Twitter: @capitolalert

Koseff Alexei Koseff edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. Twitter: @akoseff

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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