California Political Playbook 2024: A Wild and Crazy Year

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Commentary

Next year is going to be a doozy in California politics. The following are not predictions, but parameters.

1. Gov. Gavin Newsom could become the Democratic Party’s nominee for president. Top Democrat strategist David Axelrod in November suggested President Joe Biden ought to end his reelection bid and concentrate on his job as president. That’s obviously what a lot of Democrats are thinking as the president visibly is deteriorating in each public appearance.
With Vice President Kamala Harris not liked within the party for her performance, the logical replacement would be Mr. Newsom. If Mr. Biden drops out early enough, the primaries would be wide open. In October, the Sacramento Bee reported Mr. Newsom had already raised more than $4 million for Mr. Biden’s campaign. That donation spigot easily could be switched to a Newsom for President campaign.

In March, he plunked $10 million into his Campaign for Democracy fund, which helps fellow party members campaign across the country.

The PredictIt betting site currently lists Mr. Biden at 74 cents to be the Democrat Party’s nominee, to 16 cents from Mr. Newsom, 8 cents for Ms. Harris, and 4 cents for Hillary Clinton.

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2. Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis could become governor. If Mr. Newsom does run for president, he likely would resign as governor to devote all his time to campaigning. It’s tough enough doing one big job, let alone two. That would elevate the lieutenant governor to the governor’s chair. But if Mr. Newsom keeps his current office, then wins the presidency in November, Ms. Kounalakis would become governor when Mr. Newsom assumed his new post next Jan. 20.

Although Ms. Kounalakis has not been well known, she made a major political faux pas when she called for California to emulate the Colorado Supreme Court in keeping former President Trump off the 2024 primary ballot, as I mentioned in “California Democrats Attack Democracy Over Trump Eligibility.”
By contrast, the more politically astute Mr. Newsom said, “There is no doubt that Donald Trump is a threat to our liberties and even to our democracy. But in California, we defeat candidates at the polls. Everything else is a political distraction.”

As lieutenant governor himself for eight years under Gov. Jerry Brown, Mr. Newsom learned such nuances.

3. The estimated $68 billion budget deficit, as calculated by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, is going to cause havoc all year. Mr. Newsom will present his budget proposal on Jan. 10 for fiscal year 2024–25, which begins on July 1. The thing to watch for is if he includes tax increases in this already wildly overtaxed state.
Even if he doesn’t run for president this year, 2028 beckons after that. He’s operating on a national stage now, and people in low-tax swing states aren’t going to be happy about a tax-giddy candidate. Starting Jan. 1, the Golden State’s gold-stealing top income tax rate will be 14.1 percent. Here are the top state income tax rates in some of the swing states, all much lower:

  • Arizona 2.50
  • Georgia 5.75
  • Michigan 4.25
  • Nevada 0.00
  • Ohio 3.99
  • North Carolina 4.75
  • Pennsylvania 3.07
  • Wisconsin 7.65

4. Can Republicans end the Democrats’ two-thirds supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature? I was state Sen. John Moorlach’s press secretary in 2018 when the Senate switched from Republicans having more than one-third of votes, meaning they had to be consulted on tax and other issues, to having less than one-third, meaning they were ignored. It was a big difference.

Republicans need 14 of 40 seats in the Senate and 28 of 80 in the Assembly to rise above one-third. Currently, they hold just eight in the Senate, meaning they need six more. And they hold 18 in the Assembly, meaning they need 10 more. Each goal is a tall order. But even gaining several seats would hold promise of gaining more in 2026.
5. Can California Republicans keep their 12 of 52 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives? In 2024, the race again will be tight for which party gains a majority in the House. Right now it’s 221 Republicans to 213 Democrats, with one vacant, that of expelled New York Republican George Santos.
In January, former Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy also is leaving, and is from California. Columnist Dan Walters wrote, “McCarthy’s ouster leaves California’s GOP House delegation politically vulnerable.” He said the four main vulnerable incumbents are David Valadao in the San Joaquin Valley, Mike Garcia in suburban Los Angeles County, and Orange County’s Young Kim and Michelle Steel.
6. Can Republicans even make the ballot for U.S. Senate? As happened in 2016 and 2018, it could be both Democrats who make it to the Nov. 5 runoff under the state’s undemocratic Top Two system, with Republicans left off the ballot.
A Dec. 19 Politico poll showed Rep. Adam Schiff in the lead for the March 5 primary at 26 percent, followed by former baseball player Steve Garvey at 15 percent, Rep. Katie Porter at 14 percent, and Rep. Barbara Lee at 12 percent, with 19 percent undecided. Mr. Garvey is a Republican, the others Democrats. Following them were two more Republicans, businessman James Bradley at 5 percent and lawyer Eric Early at 4 percent.
CalMatters reported Dec. 21, “Steve Garvey starts campaigning for U.S. Senate, sort of.” His website so far shows mainly pictures of him in his Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres baseball uniforms during his playing days. Under “Steve’s Vision” are included only such soporifics as, “In baseball, it’s not about the individual; it’s about the team. Steve believes the same holds true for politics. It’s time we come together, find common ground, and work towards a brighter future.”

It’s easy to see how Mr. Schiff and Ms. Porter win the two primary slots and advance to November, giving Republicans no choice again.

Finally, voters also will face decisions on numerous ballot measures, if they pass court challenges. These include the Taxpayer Protection Act, which would make it harder to raise taxes. Opposing it is an initiative dropping to 55 percent the threshold for passing housing and infrastructure taxes.
Another initiative would raise the minimum wage to $18 from the $16 going into effect on Jan. 1, 2025. Opposing it will be an initiative repealing Assembly Bill 257, which would impose a $22 minimum wage for fast-food employees.

It’s going to be another loud year of campaigning with voters making numerous decisions. Followed by haggling over what the decisions mean.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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