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Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story

The following article was posted on November 21st, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 38 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 38

Republican push: In the age of Trump, local GOP members and candidates organize in preparation for the 2018 elections

By JOE PAYNE

The crowd buzzed under a long, shady barn in Los Alamos. An old flatbed truck served as an impromptu stage where a performer strummed an acoustic guitar and sang cowboy songs. Attendees sat or stood, eating catered food and sipping drinks, chatting while they waited for the scheduled speakers on the warm August afternoon of Aug. 26.

An American flag hung in one corner. A cardboard cutout of President Donald Trump stood in front of the stars and stripes, giving the double thumbs up. The Santa Barbara County Chapter of Californians for Making America Great Again (CA4MAGA) was holding a forum for Republican gubernatorial candidates. It included talks by Travis Allen and John Cox, who both hope to run for the office currently held by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The no-frills venue was on the historic ranch property of Joe Carrari. The cowboy hat and boot-wearing octogenarian told the Sun that he hosted the event and even paid for the food and drinks, all so CA4MAGA and local Republicans could get together and hear what the candidates had to say.

“We want to get ourselves a governor who’s a Republican, a conservative; we haven’t had one for a long time,” Carrari said. “Any guy that would do like Trump does, and that is take two regulations off for every one he puts on, reduce all this goddam bullshit that we have to put up with. It’s just crazy what they’re doing to us. They’re going to tax us out of business!”

CA4MAGA isn’t affiliated with any campaign, Santa Barbara County Chapter President Russell Sechler explained, because it’s a 501(c)4 nonprofit. Organizers can spend about 40 percent of their time endorsing or phone banking for candidates, he said, but 60 percent of the nonprofit’s time is spent educating people about issues that are important to Trump voters.


COMING TOGETHER
The Santa Barbara County Chapter of Californians for Making America Great Again (CA4MAGA) held a forum for Republican gubernatorial candidates in Los Alamos in August, where John Cox and Travis Allen spoke to a crowd of more than 100 people.
PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

That’s what the gubernatorial forum was about, letting locals know what the Republican candidates stood for, Sechler said. But the event was also good for local Republicans in another way, he explained to the crowd before introducing the candidates.

“The big word here folks is unity, keep that in your mind,” he said. “When you’re unified, you can get anything done. But you have to work together. You have to forget the old vendettas, no matter how bad they were. … That’s the only way we’re going to take back this state—guaranteed.”

But the governor’s mansion isn’t all that’s up for grabs in 2018—locals will decide on two state Assembly seats and the U.S. House of Representatives seat that’s currently occupied by Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara). In Santa Barbara County, with its blue-collar communities and thousands of rural residents, Democratic victories aren’t a guarantee like they often are in other areas of California.

Local GOP organizers and candidates are already working to mobilize volunteers, raise funds, and rally around issues they hope will unify Central Coast residents to vote for Republicans at the ballot box next year. But Donald Trump’s presidency has cast a complicated shadow over the party and the midterm race—many Republicans like Sechler are energized, and hope to ride a wave of enthusiasm into victories in 2018, but some candidates have remained cautious about discussing the president or closely mirroring his platform.

“You’re either going to like the guy or you’re not going to like the guy. The point is, never put anyone on a pedestal,” Sechler told the Sun. “If he’s doing a great job and you’re liking at least 70 percent of what he’s doing, hey, that’s a great thing. But don’t not be involved in a movement like this and then start sitting on the couch complaining. Get out here. Get amongst us people where we can share our thoughts and ideas and we can unify.” 

‘All politics is local’

Tom Widroe, chair of the Santa Barbara County Republican Central Committee, began the Aug. 16 meeting with full-throated support for President Trump, which was met with a round of applause.

Widroe said he was glad the president was “standing up to the media” and had managed to make North Korea “back down.”

“You know, I think the fact that Kim Jong-un would realize that with one bomb we could destroy wherever it is that he lives probably started to resonate home with him,” Widroe said. “So, I’m proud of [Trump] and I just know that right here, all politics is local, and we’re here in Santa Barbara County supporting our president as a Republican Party here, from 3,000 miles away.”

The atmosphere was official, but relaxed as old friends shook hands and chatted before Widroe called the meeting to order at a banquet room in the back of the historic Pea Soup Andersen’s Restaurant in Buellton.

During the meeting, members cast their votes over cups of decaf coffee, made jokes, and welcomed visitors.

The committee decided to formally endorse and support Frank Hotchkiss, who was running for mayor of Santa Barbara. Widroe and others were hopeful for Hotchkiss, as several Democrats were running for the office, which was seen as “splitting the vote.”

A new app was introduced to help with phone banking, and attendees discussed strategy on calling Santa Barbara Republicans to help gain votes for Hotchkiss. Someone suggested reaching out to the Santa Barbara News-Press for an endorsement of Hotchkiss.


HERDING ELEPHANTS
The Santa Barbara County Chapter of CA4MAGA’s Event Coordinator Regina Miakinkoff said that it’s important for Republicans to “come together and realize that we are all united, and that we need to be completely united if we’re going to win elections.”
PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

The election ultimately went to Cathy Murillo, a Democrat, on Nov. 7. She had received endorsements from Rep. Carbajal and 37th District Assemblywoman Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara).

While the Central Committee is an official arm of the Republican Party, there are several informal clubs throughout Santa Barbara County. The Santa Maria Valley Republicans meets on the First Friday of every month over tri-tip and Caesar salads in the Santa Maria Inn’s Kent Room, where a white-haired member of the club welcomed the group in September.

“Nice to see a room full of Republicans,” he said. “I don’t know whether you’re an establishment Republican or a Trump Republican, but welcome.”

The speaker continued with updates on the economy, job growth, and unemployment rates, and a prayer. There was a presentation on progressivism by Dale Francisco, a former Santa Barbara City County member and a radio host who was also at the Central Committee meeting and the CA4MAGA event.

The club’s president, Dan Demeter, gave an update about the CA4MAGA event in Los Alamos, which he attended as well.

“For those that couldn’t make it, you really missed out, I think, on a fantastic opportunity to meet somebody that could be our next governor,” Demeter said. “That’s our mission here: In any way that we can, to replace coo-coo Moonbeam and his acolytes and followers in the next election, and we can’t do it without participation.” 

Sectarian Assembly

California Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-Templeton) is seeking re-election in 2018 after his first term serving in California’s 35th Assembly District, which includes a significant portion of northern Santa Barbara County and its voters.

During his time in office, Cunningham said he has pushed for legislation that he sees as important to the Central Coast. He opposed the gas tax, saying that it was an unnecessary financial burden on citizens, penning op-eds on the matter and trying to sway Democrats to vote against it. He voted against the “Sanctuary State” bill, citing his time as a deputy district attorney for San Luis Obispo County as part of his dedication to public safety.

Cunningham agreed to speak with the Sun if President Trump wasn’t part of the discussion—he wanted to stay focused on state issues, according to his senior policy advisor. But the national issue of climate change—which Trump called a “hoax,” before announcing in June plans to pull out of the Paris climate accord—became a sticking point among state Republicans in July of this year.

Eight Assembly Republicans, including Cunningham, voted for the extension of the state’s cap and trade program. The Assembly Minority Leader, Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley), has since stepped down from that position following a backlash from Republicans and conservatives. Assemblyman Marc Steinorth (R-Rancho Cucamonga) saw his office crowded by activists angry at his yes vote, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Cunningham faced criticism from locals in his own party as well. Randall Jordan, chairman of the Republican Party of San Luis Obispo County told The Tribune that he was “very disappointed” in Cunningham’s vote. “It’s an extension of a program that hurts small business with regulations, affects our gas prices and energy crisis all in the name of saving the environment,” he said in the article.

Cunningham said that he voted yes for specific reasons, mostly because the legislation meets a demand that is already state law. SB 32 established a “very ambitious greenhouse gas reduction target,” he said, which was voted on before he was in the Assembly. Part of that legislation said that if the reduction wasn’t met, the California Air Resources Board could do “command and control on the economy,” Cunningham said, including lowering energy production or raising the price of gas. He said the cap and trade bill was favorable to giving more power to “centralized bureaucracy.”

“That’s not for good energy production. That’s not good for agriculture. Energy and ag are the two industries most directly affected by these mandates and cap and trade,” he said. “So cap and trade, to me, preserved a market-based system for achieving the goal.”

There was a long negotiation process with Gov. Jerry Brown, Cunningham said, which resulted in a number of “major concessions.” The fire tax was repealed, he said, and there was the addition of a manufacturing tax credit.

“If you’re worried, like I am, and I think everybody should be, about the erosion of the middle class in California, then we ought to be doing everything we can to help the manufacturing base here, because those are good, solid middle-class jobs. And they’re leaving our state at a frightening rate,” he said.

When asked, Cunningham said he doesn’t view human-caused climate change as a hoax, citing his undergrad studies in science and an “empirical, evidence-based approach to policy.” He also said that the debate among Republicans about climate change is business as usual for his political party.

“We’ve got different infighting on the Republican side, sure. That’s always been the case, by the way,” he said. “But I wouldn’t trade the infighting, if you want to call it that, that the Republicans are doing right now. I think it’s at a much smaller degree than the infighting going on right now on the Democratic side in California.” 

Sights on Salud

There are currently two Central Coast Republicans hoping to claim the major Congressional seat currently held by Democratic Rep. Salud Carbajal.

On Oct. 21, Justin Fareed made appearances in Santa Barbara and Paso Robles to announce he was running once again for California’s 24th Congressional District seat in the House of Representatives. The 29-year-old ran against Carbajal for the seat in 2016, and earned more than 74,000 votes from Santa Barbara County voters, whereas Carbajal won more than 98,000 from county residents.

Fareed said he decided to run for Congress again at the behest of Central Coast residents and business leaders. Before the first funding quarter of 2017 had ended on Sept. 30, Fareed had already raised more than $200,000 in individual contributions, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Fareed has plenty of criticism for the incumbent candidate, Rep. Carbajal, whom he said has displayed a “lack of leadership” while in Congress.

He pointed to Carbajal’s vote against the Gaining Responsibility on Water Act of 2017 in July, which he said was an important move for California’s infrastructure and water availability. Fareed also took issue with Carbajal’s vote against Kate’s Law in Congress. The bill is named after Cal Poly graduate Kathryn Steinle, who was allegedly killed by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant with several felony convictions who had re-entered the U.S. after being deported. The legislation, passed by House Republicans in June, would increase penalties for undocumented immigrants who re-enter the U.S. after deportation, and more so for those convicted of violent crimes.

Fareed also placed blame on Carbajal and congressional Democrats in Congress as those responsible for “job-killing regulations” that he said are stunting industry on the Central Coast.

“It’s a shame that many of us are born here, grow up here, go to school here, and can’t afford to live here or raise a family here,” he said. “And as the next congressman, I’d put forth solutions to grow our economy and create jobs.”

But before Fareed can face Carbajal, he has to win the primary on June 5 of next year. There’s currently another Republican vying for the chance to unseat Carbajal as well.

Michael Erin Woody is a professional civil engineer and contractor who served on the Fresno City Council in the 1990s at the age of 26. Woody moved to Morro Bay a few years ago, but has strong roots on the Central Coast, he said. His mother grew up in Santa Barbara and Morro Bay, and he’s a member of the Salinan Indian Tribe.

Woody was inspired to run for the 24th Congressional District because of “an overall, general frustration that I’ve seen over the years in politics and representation in America and particularly along the coast of California.” He worked as a policy advisor for Republicans Chris Mitchum—who ran against Lois Capps for the 24th District seat in 2012 and 2014—and for former 35th District State Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian.

His campaign so far has operated on a shoestring budget, relying on a loan of more than $10,000 and $700 of individual donations between April and September of 2017. He pointed to the massive amount of fundraising that politicians and candidates need to do as a problem with America’s political system, and used Carbajal as an example.

Woody said that Carbajal—who raised more than $1.3 million between January and September of this year—represents a “previous generation” of politicians backed by big donors.


BARN BURNER
The CA4MAGA forum included speakers, catered food and drinks, and live music at Joe Cararri’s ranch in Los Alamos, where candidates like John Cox (pictured, far right) spoke to locals about their platforms under the shade of a long barn.
PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

“In reality, there’s no real representation to all of this,” he said. “I think his style of politics is a style that is collapsing across this country.”

On his website, Woody has a 40-page book available to read that lays out his platform: He’s worried about infrastructure, wants to protect Social Security, doesn’t want to see offshore oil drilling expand, is pro-choice, and details human-caused climate change, but he’s also for strong borders, tax reform, business growth, and protecting the Second Amendment.

Woody said he wanted to “rewrite the rules on how to run a campaign,” and rather than raise massive amounts of money, take stances on issues and discuss his platform with voters.

“I decided I’m not going to insult voters anymore with the standard quick sound bites and clips to get elected,” he said. “I’m actually going to talk to voters about issues and say, ‘Here’s what I believe in and here’s what I stand for.’”

He cast doubt on Fareed’s campaign, saying it was more akin to politicians like Carbajal.

“Justin represents that same dying previous generation of high-dollar special interest politics,” he said. “Watching Fareed and Carbajal is like watching Bush and Clinton all over again.”

When asked about Woody and the primary, Fareed didn’t express much concern about a challenger running for the Republican ticket.

“I think it’s great that individuals want to be part of the discussion and run for office,” Fareed said. “But what I can tell you is, as a candidate here on the Central Coast, I’m going to work day and night to fight and be a workhorse in Congress, to fight for our Central Coast values, and to be a strong leader and voice on the issues that matter to us most.” 

The Trump effect

In this year’s Nov. 7 election, Democrats swept several state offices, governorships, and mayor’s offices, including Murillo’s victory over Hotchkiss in Santa Barbara.

Opinion pieces in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and others called the election a “rejection of Trumpism,” a backlash to the president’s policies illustrating public disillusion with the Trump administration amid historically low approval ratings.

However, enthusiasm for the president was brimming at the August CA4MAGA event in Los Alamos, and there was plenty of harsh condemnation for critics in the “mainstream media.”

The most conservative speaker at the CA4MAGA event in Los Alamos was former California Assemblymember Tim Donnelly, who declared his candidacy for California’s 8th Congressional District in October, challenging current Rep. Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley).

Donnelly said MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News were “fake news,” “fraudulent,” and “a hoax,” responsible for “ranting and raving against the president.” He gloated about writing for Breitbart, and getting hired by Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist and executive chairman of the conservative online outlet.

“There is an incredible opportunity in the state of California in the year 2018 to seize the governorship. I don’t think I’ve yet seen the candidate who can do it,” Donnelly said. “We need somebody Trump-like, somebody who can tell it like it is, somebody who will punch the media in the face and make them bleed, somebody who will push back and fight the political establishment and tear them to the ground, because this state is the greatest state in the union, and it is about damn time we make California golden again.”

But some local GOP candidates aren’t rushing to appear more “Trump-like.”

Woody called the election results a “shellacking,” and was candid about how many Americans view Trump’s presidency and how that could affect the midterms.

“The Republican brand is not exactly at its peak, nor has it been at its peak for quite some time,” he said. “Will that affect somebody like me come next year? Among some voters, absolutely it will, because there are some voters that will never vote for a Republican, no matter who you are, they won’t even listen to you. … And likewise there are Republican voters who do the same thing to Democrats.”

When the Sun asked Fareed if he thought Trump could hurt his chances come 2018, he turned the discussion toward Carbajal.

“What’s on the ballot in this election in 2018 are my opponent and his failed policies in Washington, D.C., and ineffective leadership,” Fareed said. “That’s what’s going to be most important in this election, and that’s what we’re going to be discussing in this election.” 

Contact Managing Editor Joe Payne at jpayne@santamariasun.com.










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