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Sacramento Report: Motor Voter Law’s Creators Not Ready to Freeze the Program

Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez are split on whether the program is troubled enough to warrant a temporary freeze.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and Secretary of State Alex Padilla / Photos by Sam Hodgson and Jesse Melgar

This post has been updated.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez are close allies who worked together to create the Motor Voter program, the 2016 law that allows Californians to automatically register to vote through the DMV. They both agree the latest problem with the program to come to light – the revelation that non-citizens might have been mistakenly registered to vote – is unacceptable.

They’re not certain the program is troubled enough to warrant a temporary freeze.

Padilla said Tuesday that a freeze is “certainly on the table,” according to the Sacramento Bee:

“We’re doing the homework as we speak of what does that mean and what it would take,” Padilla said. “These mistakes from the DMV are absolutely unacceptable.”

I asked Gonzalez whether she’d support such a move, and she said in a statement that she did not.

“The Motor Voter Law was created to automatically register eligible Californians. The law was intended to reduce human error, not increase it, and we are very disappointed in the implementation of this program. We encourage Secretary of State Alex Padilla to verify all changes that were made through the Department of Motor Vehicles in September and will be asking for a full audit of both the DMV and the Department of Technology when the Legislature gets back in session. Still, the Motor Voter Law created a valuable program that improves our democracy and allows more Californians to have their voices heard. There should not be a freeze on the program. We should always strive for increasing voter participation, while keeping the integrity behind the process. I look forward to continuing to fight for voters’ rights.”

On top of the latest revelations, a major problem was discovered just ahead of the June primary: “potentially thousands of cases where two voter registration forms were created for one person,” as the Los Angeles Times reported.

At the time, Padilla minimized the errors.

His spokesman sent me a statement in June that declared “The new California Motor Voter program is working,” and said the problems identified had been fixed. “Like any major IT project, we identified some issues that required back-end administrative adjustments with the Department of Motor Vehicles, California Department of Technology, and county elections officials. The issues have been addressed, the administrative adjustments did not result in duplicate registrations, and, equally important, they did not affect any voter’s ability to vote in the June 5, 2018 Statewide Direct Primary Election,” the statement said.

Padilla and Gonzalez have enormous incentive to show they’re taking the problems seriously: Padilla is currently running for re-election, Republicans have made various problems within the DMV a major campaign issue and Gonzalez told me in July she’ll likely jump into the race for secretary of state in 2022.

Update: After this post published, Gonzalez responded on Twitter that her and Padilla are on the same page when it comes to a freeze: “I’m not calling for a freeze because the SOS has not. We trust his perspective on this. I would support one if he called for one. There is no disagreement between us, we are in lock step on all of this,” she wrote.

Rocky Chavez Has a Theory on Why Issa Endorsed Someone Else

Assemblyman Rocky Chavez sits down with CALmatters Senior Editor Dan Morain for an exit interview. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

In their own ways, Democrats and Republicans came together this year to stop Assemblyman Rocky Chavez.

The moderate conservative from Oceanside — a Latino and a former Marine — was an early favorite and viewed as someone who could bridge the racial and social divides in the mostly coastal 49th Congressional District. Plus, he occasionally breaks with the majority of Republicans in the Assembly.

All that made him a threat to both parties, he told an audience at VOSD’s Politifest Saturday, reflecting on his time in the Assembly and his failed run for Congress earlier this year.

Chavez offered more details on what occurred behind the scenes of the congressional primary and gave a fuller sense of who he believes abandoned him and why. He aimed most of his criticism at fellow Republicans.

The seat had been held since 2000 by Rep. Darrell Issa, a Trump supporter who barely won the 2016 election. After that, Chavez said, Issa presented congressional leaders in D.C. with a way to keep GOP control of the 49th District; in exchange, he wanted an appointment within the Trump administration.

The two men sat down to talk and, Chavez recalled, Issa said, “I know you’re the only one who can hold that seat” and offered an endorsement.

In the meantime, progressive activists started rallying outside Issa’s office.

In late 2017, Chavez’s staff polled residents in the district and found that he was significantly better positioned than the leading Democratic challenger at the time, Doug Applegate, Chavez said, and he shared that polling with Issa.

Weeks later, Issa announced he would not seek re-election — but instead of endorsing Chavez, he threw his support to Diane Harkey, a Republican from Orange County. Why?

“Because Darrell Issa knew that … if a Republican won this race, it would show that Darrell Issa was the problem,” Chavez said. “If there’s one thing I know about Darrell, Darrell has a huge ego.”

Neither Issa’s office nor a political consultant for Harkey returned a request for comment Monday.

A significant portion of Chavez’s exit interview, conducted by CALmatters’ Dan Morain, focused on his vote to extend California’s cap-and-trade program in 2017, which continues to haunt him.

But during private discussions, Chavez said, somewhere between 12 and 15 Republicans seemed to be on board with the climate program, even if it was being carried by a Democratic governor. The program had originally been a Republican idea — a way to use markets to curb greenhouse gas emissions rather than bureaucratic mandates.

That support faded, however, when a letter arrived from Rep. Kevin McCarthy — the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives and a power-broker in California — urging a no vote, Chavez said. Only seven Assembly Republicans wound up voting for cap-and-trade.

The subsequent fury from the party’s activist base caused Assemblyman Chad Mayes, then leader of the Assembly Republicans, to resign his leadership post.

Chavez was hurt in the process too, but the greatest damage to his political ambitions came from a claim on the right that Chavez had voted in favor of raising the state’s gas tax. He hadn’t. But they conflated his vote for cap-and-trade with the separate vote to raise the gas tax, now the subject of a repeal effort on the November ballot.

Chavez said people he’d known for years began to back away. Combined with his opposition to Trump’s border wall, word began to spread that conservatives couldn’t trust him.

Jesse Marx

Three Lawmakers on California’s Biggest Challenges

From left: Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and Assemblyman Chad Mayes participate in a Politifest panel. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

Also at Politifest, Ry Rivard and I hosted a panel discussion on some of the biggest issues facing California – climate change, safety and schools – with Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and Assemblyman Chad Mayes.

We’ll have video of the discussion available soon, but I wanted to run down a few of the most notable revelations from the panel:

Gonzalez, in discussing the housing crisis, said that downtown San Diego is filled with empty condos owned by Chinese investors, and that she’d be open to exploring some sort of vacancy tax to incentivize owners to let people live in existing condos.

We brought up Ashly McGlone’s ongoing investigation into sexual misconduct by public school employees and how difficult it can be to fire problem employees. When we asked the lawmakers whether they thought there was any appetite for making changes at the state level, Mayes and Weber, a former school board member, offered a bleak assessment: Teachers unions simply hold too much sway, and legislators often put their own political futures ahead of making changes that might anger potential supporters, like unions, they said.

There seemed to be some appetite, among both Mayes and Gonzalez, for the state to do more land use planning. Right now, land use planning is typically done by local governments, but the Legislature seems increasingly interested in encouraging building in some places and discouraging it in others. Because of local opposition, it’s hard to get projects built in urban areas. Some homes that are being built in rural areas, meanwhile, face wildfire risks. Mayes said he’s seen opposition to local projects from Republicans in his hometown of Yucca Valley and from Democrats in San Francisco. Gonzalez said she was interested in some ideas that make it easier to build along transit corridors.

Golden State News

Ry Rivard contributed to this report.

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