California Democrats and Republicans award delegates in each congressional district.

“So you’re gonna essentially have 53 small campaigns around the state,” says Paul Mitchell, who runs one of California’s most respected political data companies. For example, he says, coastal Democrats don’t vote like inland Democrats. And in some districts, more people vote early by mail.

“Those kind of mechanical differences are gonna be extremely important when you’re talking about potentially somebody’s entire presidential campaign resting on being able to eke out a dozen delegates here, a dozen delegates there, going into the conventions.”

And another twist: Republican delegates are winner-take-all in each district; Democrats award delegates proportionally based on how well each candidate does. Both parties also award extra delegates based on the statewide vote.


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Budtender Andrew Urbina pulls strains from a shelf for a patient at Kushmart, one of the largest medical marijuana dispensaries in downtown Los Angeles, on Monday afternoon, Feb. 29, 2016. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Right now it’s not hard to buy pot legally in California: $40 and a trip to the doctor, and you have yourself a prescription for medical marijuana, which you can use to treat things like back pain and anxiety.

But a campaign is underway to make pot legal for recreational use. Supporters are gathering signatures now to put an initiative on the November ballot, asking California voters if pot should be fully legal, like it is in Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

Those signatures are for the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). It’s likely going to be the initiative that makes it to California’s ballot, according to Beau Kilmer, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. So far it has more traction than the other marijuana-related initiatives being circulated. It’s been endorsed by notable marijuana advocacy groups like NORML and has received significant financial support from Napster’s Sean Parker, who donated $1 million to the campaign.

So, what’ll actually change if it comes to pass? Here’s what you need to know:

Would I be able to buy pot in a supermarket?

“If adult legalization passes in California in November, you’re not going to be able to walk into a supermarket in December and buy a joint,” said Kilmer. People 21 and older would be able to walk into licensed retailers and buy marijuana without a prescription. When those retailers could open up is unclear.

But where you could buy marijuana would still depend on what city you’re in. Currently, individual cities can decide whether or not they allow medical dispensaries to set up and sell pot. Some do, and some don’t. The ones that don’t — for example, Pasadena — can continue to outlaw marijuana shops, even if recreational weed becomes legal statewide. People living in cities where pot shops are not allowed could still have it delivered to their door, or they could simply travel to another city to buy it.

Pot could remain a cash business, as it has been, said Kilmer, because marijuana is illegal under federal law, and banks are federally-regulated. In order for that to change, there would have to be changes at the federal level. In other states that have fully-legalized marijuana, pot shops continue to be mostly cash businesses.

Would there a limit on how much marijuana I can possess?

Yes, 28.5 grams, or a little over an ounce of marijuana, in plant form. If it’s in the form of a concentrate, the limit is 8 grams. Since people can legally cultivate up to six plants on their property, they could end up with more than 28.5 grams of harvestable marijuana. In that case, no more than the maximum possession amount can leave the property at one time.

Would everyone be smoking in public?

Not legally. The same restrictions (and then some) would apply to marijuana that apply to tobacco. There would be no consumption allowed in public spaces, in schools or in businesses, unless the businesses are licensed to allow that type of activity. It’ll also continue to be illegal to operate motor vehicles under the influence.

How could legal marijuana be different than what’s currently out there?

It would be much more regulated, as the entire infrastructure would be tracked from seed to sale. Consumers would know where their product came from, what products were used to grow it and how much THC (the psychoactive chemical in pot) exists in what they buy. All of that information would have to be included in an ingredient list on the pot product. Manufacturers would also have to include whether the product was made in a facility that also processes nuts.

There would also be a required legal warning on marijuana packaging, as there is on cigarette packs. The state would know who’s producing, selling and manufacturing marijuana and marijuana products, as licenses are going to be issued.

How could things change for companies that are already manufacturing marijuana products?

Some believe that legalization could bring more legitimacy to their line of work, and that as a result, they’d sell more of their product.

Michael Lewis co-owns a company called Sprig, which manufactures THC-infused soda and sells it in medical dispensaries in California. He said that the increased regulation would be good for his business, and for the industry as a whole.

“It’ll improve the products. It’ll make things safer… and it’ll make it more of a legitimate industry,” Lewis said.

It’s the legitimacy that he’s after. He’s already manufacturing his soda in a large-scale bottling plant and designing the can so to look like any other that you’d find in a grocery store. It looks professional.

Currently, no matter how hard he tries, he said, he can’t get away from certain legal grey areas. For instance, he has to procure THC syrup from his “guy” in Northern California.

“He does operate a pretty clandestine business… There are some people in the state that have poked their head out of the fox hole. It’s generally not a good idea in my opinion.”

If recreational pot is legalized, Lewis thinks he’ll be in a good position to take advantage of the new market. Getting pot syrup would be in a little bit less of a grey area and some companies that have been uncomfortable working with him might change their mind.

He anticipates his company’s sales will jump from about 15,000 cans a month to 75,000 as more shops open and pot use becomes more socially acceptable.

Would this whole thing make California any money?

In 2014, dispensaries in California brought in about $570 million, which resulted in about $49.5 million in taxable income. A state report estimates that if recreational marijuana is legalized, it could bring in more than $1 billion in taxes statewide. That money could be used to study the impact of marijuana use, drug use prevention and social welfare programs.

Oregon, Colorado and Washington have all seen an increase in tax revenue as a result of legalization.

California Counts is a collaboration of KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio to report on the 2016 election. The coverage focuses on major issues and solicits diverse voices on what’s important to the future of California.

Copyright 2015 KPCC. To see more election coverage, visit http://www.kpcc.org/.

Jacob Margolis

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Just hours after news that a ballot measure to raise California’s minimum wage to $15 is now eligible for the statewide ballot in November, business leaders across the state vowed to fight it. But they left the door open for a  compromise on the issue in the Legislature that would cost them less.

Theresa Harvey, the president and CEO of the North Orange County Chamber of Commerce, said she knew the measure was coming and has been preparing to fight it.

“It’s going to force more and more businesses out of California,” she said. “It’s going to be impossible for employers to keep within the law and it’s going to drive more people to hire fewer employees.”

Harvey said her group has an article in the quarterly newsletter set to go out soon telling members why they should oppose the measure. The chamber also has social media and email outreach plans in place to try and build support to vote it down.

Due to a recent law change, the ballot measure’s proponents have until June 30 to withdraw the initiative from the November ballot. That could happen if the state legislature were to pass a minimum wage bill before then. Senate bill 3, which would raise California’s minimum wage to $13, has been making its way through the state legislature.

Harvey said although her group opposes the ballot measure, it might be open to a less rapid fire approach from state lawmakers.

“Were the legislature to consider a more gradual step-up as they did from the seven to eight, and then the eight to nine and ten we could certainly look at it,” she said, referring to previous minimum wage increases. “I think the devil is in the details.”

There’s also a competing ballot initiative that’s still trying to qualify for the November ballot that includes increased sick time.

Betty Jo Toccoli, president of the California Small Business Association, hopes the minimum wage issue will be resolved in the legislature. She gave the current Senate bill a 50/50 chance of passing.

“I think there are those legislators that think the easy way out is to just let the initiative go through and then they won’t be blamed for it and then I think there are also legislators that recognize that they need to work on it,” she said.

Toccoli says California businesses would like to see lawmakers carve out exemptions for students so they can work for lower wages. They also want to see exemptions for restaurant servers so they can still get tips.

One of the biggest irritants in the ballot initiative for businesses is a provision for annual cost of living increases once the $15-an-hour mark has been reached.

Hortencia Armendariz, director of healthcare outreach at SEIU-United Healthcare Workers, left room for the possibility that the sponsors could remove the ballot initiative if the legislature were to act, but said they wouldn’t do so for anything less than what their ballot initiative proposes. Their measure includes cost of living increases.

“Where we stand is nothing less than $15 as an increase,” she said. “Right now we’re very happy that it qualified.”

Nicholas Adcock, vice president and governmental affairs manager for Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce, said his group has yet to take an official position on the ballot measure but it has deep concerns about minimum wage increases.

“Economies are different from city to city,” he said, pointing out that well over half of the businesses in Riverside have fewer than 10 employees. “We’re not talking very big profit models with huge profit margins.”

Riverside, according to Adcock, doesn’t have the resources of larger cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. He fears a minimum wage increase could stifle small business growth, which is still in recovery after the housing crisis that hit the area hard during the Great Recession.

“It’s going to force them to make some very tough decisions,” he said, speaking of small business owners. “We want more jobs to be created.”

Mary Plummer

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With California’s June primary looking more consequential every day, a new PPIC poll shows Donald Trump with a commanding lead among the remaining Republicans running for president.

Trump is preferred by 38 percent of likely voters, followed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz with 19 percent. The poll was finished just before Florida Sen. Marco Rubio exited the race, and both he and Ohio Gov. John Kasich registered 12 percent in the poll.

Without Rubio in the race and his supporters’ second-choice votes added in, Trump remains at 38 percent, while Cruz gains 8 percentage points for a total of 27 percent. Kasich wins 14 percent without Rubio included.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton maintains a 48 to 41 percent lead over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

And in the U.S. Senate race, Attorney General Kamala Harris is preferred by 26 percent of likely voters, followed by Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez with 17 percent. Republicans Tom Del Becarro and Duf Sundheim are in single digits (9 and 6 percent respectively), with 31 percent of respondents saying they’re still undecided.  Republican Ron Unz entered the race after the poll was conducted.

If there was any doubt whether California’s primary would count for something, Kasich removed it the night he won the primary in his home state.

“I’m getting ready to rent a covered wagon,” Kasich told the crowd in Cleveland last week. “We’re gonna have a big sail and blow us to the Rocky Mountains and over the mountains to California.”

Disillusioned Republicans Return to the Party

“It is by far the most fascinating presidential campaign I’ve ever been involved in and seen and witnessed,” said San Francisco attorney Harmeet Dhillon, vice chair of the California Republican Party.

Dhillon says the state’s suddenly relevant primary has Republicans who left the party in disgust returning like the swallows to San Juan Capistrano.

“They’re coming back into the party and they’re seeing that they may be relevant this time,” she said.

California’s GOP primary is closed — only registered Republicans can vote. That could help the most conservative candidate in the race, says Tom Hudson with the group California Republican Assembly.

“Longtime party activists and party volunteers and party donors and a lot of the mainstream of California have lined up behind Ted Cruz,” said Hudson. “The Trump people have hats and bumper stickers and a bunch of names on a piece of paper, but that’s about it.”

Unlike Trump or Kasich, Hudson says, Cruz has an active grassroots operation here lining up delegates for the primary. A few prominent Republicans, like Carly Fiorina, are also supporting him. Hudson and other conservatives worry that Trump would be like Arnold Schwarzenegger, what some conservatives call a RINO, or Republican In Name Only.

Schwarzenegger “was a disaster as governor,” Hudson said. He says he thinks Trump, like “The Governator,” has “no core beliefs and says whatever is popular.”

Conservative GOP activist Jon Fleischman agrees, saying Trump is just playing on voter anger while promising to shake things up.

“It turns out it was a sham, he was an actor who acted mad to get my support,” Fleischman said of Schwarzenegger. “And then he went to Sacramento and really became a political insider.”

But Republican consultant Mike Madrid thinks critics underestimate Trump at their peril.

“I think he’s probably going to be more competitive than we think he is because we’re seeing this tremendous appetite against establishment candidates on both sides of the aisle,” Madrid said.

While Madrid thinks the Trump phenomenon is driving up voter turnout, “only half are pro-Trump, while the other half is turned off.”

Republican consultant Hector Barajas says it’s all great for a party that’s been losing voters — and statewide elections in California — year after year after year.

“It’s gonna mean that our volunteer rolls are going to increase,” Barajas predicts. “You’re going to have a lot more of that excitement, people wanting to get themselves registered, making sure they’re registered. At the same time filling out those volunteer cards. You know increasing those volunteer rolls will be important, especially if we can carry that all the way to November.”

‘Hand-to-Hand Delegate Combat’

California has the most delegates of any state — in fact more than 10 percent of the total number of delegates needed to capture the GOP nomination are available here.

Each of the state’s 53 congressional districts has three delegates, and whichever candidate gets the most votes in each district wins all three. That means there are delegates to be won in every district, whether it’s represented by San Francisco liberal Nancy Pelosi or conservative Kevin McCarthy in Bakersfield.

GOP vice chair Harmeet Dhillon says that kind of competition brings to mind World War II.

“One of the candidates’ top spokespersons told me it’s like going to be like the Battle of Stalingrad — hand-to-hand delegate combat,” Dhillon said. “That means in each of the congressional districts there’s a fight.”

So you might just see Trump, Cruz or Kasich even if you live in liberal Oakland, Santa Monica or San Francisco — anywhere they think they can win delegates. Every Republican I spoke to is hopeful the contentious primary will draw out as much as 30 percent more GOP voters. That, in turn, could improve the fortunes of down-ballot candidates for the U.S. Senate, Congress and the state Legislature.

However California’s primary turns out, it’s unlikely Republicans will leave united. Party vice chair Dhillon is counting on someone else to bring the party together.

“Hillary Clinton is universally loathed and despised in our party,” she says. “So whoever the nominee is, and even if it’s Donald Trump, people will be working to defeat Hillary.”

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When we last visited the Central Valley farm town of Lindsay, Amy Huerta and her brother, Luis, were in the middle of a pretty intense dinnertime conversation about voting.

“I mean, these are things that matter,” says Luis, who can’t vote because he’s undocumented. Amy is 18, and she could be the first in her family to vote, so he’s putting a lot of pressure on her.

“I don’t always take his side,” laughs Amy. “I don’t always do what he tells me to do, because we both have different minds.”

But other potential young voters in Lindsay come from families where politics are not a main course during family dinner.

‘It Doesn’t Matter If I Vote or Not’

Across town from the Huerta household, 22-year-old Cassandra Baca’s daughter, Amoriee, just woke up from a nap.

Baca says she hasn’t really thought at all about voting. She’s got enough on her plate as a single mom with a baby. She works as a kitchen assistant in a facility for senior citizens.

“It doesn’t matter if I vote or not. I don’t think it would count. It really doesn’t have anything to do with me,” she says, as she tries to distract the baby by jangling her car keys.

Cassandra’s dad migrated from Mexico to work in the fields. After she got her GED, she picked fruit in the citrus orchards, too, climbing on top of the tall ladders and braving the thorny branches to pick lemons.

As for working in the fields?

“It was hard, but it was a lesson,” she says.

Was the lesson that she didn’t want to do it?

Cassandra Baca, 22, and her baby daughter, Amoriee. Baca says she's too busy as a working single mom to think about voting.
Cassandra Baca, 22, and her baby daughter, Amoriee. Baca says she’s too busy as a working single mom to think about voting. (Sasha Khokha/KQED)

“Yeah, to do something better than working in the fields. It was a good experience to know you can work hard for your money, and that’s not an easy job,” she says. “A lot of Americans just sit around on their desk while immigrants are actually out here, from the dawn to when the sun goes down, working in the fields.”

In fact, the only thing that’s caught her attention this election season has been Donald Trump’s message about immigrants.

“Some of the stuff he’s been saying about Mexicans,” says Baca. “If it wasn’t for the immigrants, we wouldn’t have any fruit or vegetables. So I think it’s pretty cruel for him to be out there doing that.”

Maybe, just maybe, she says, Trump might be enough to drive her to the polls.

But so far, no one has ever encouraged her to register to vote or to cast a ballot.

“I think that makes perfect sense,” says Lindsay’s first Latina mayor, Ramona Villarreal-Padilla. “If you’ve never heard why it’s important to vote, if you’ve never seen Latinos moving forward and being in office, if you’ve never seen or been exposed to that, how would one make that first move?”

Latinos’ Hard-Won Political Power

Latinos make up more than 85 percent of Lindsay’s population. Padilla is in her 50s, and she says when she was growing up here, the town was mostly white, and controlled by white farmers.

She says it’s taken a long time for Latinos to achieve a balance of power in local government. Now three out of the five members on the City Council are Latino.

But she worries that the activism that helped sweep Latinos like her into power in Lindsay could be diminished by a generation of would-be voters who are less politically engaged.

“If everybody thought voting wasn’t important, we wouldn’t be moving forward in the Latino movement, the Latino caucus, or anywhere you see that Latinos make a difference, because we are the majority,” says Padilla.

Padilla says her father marched with Cesar Chavez, and farmworkers were always stopping by their house for advice.

“Even though my dad wasn’t on city council or anything, he was an activist for the people’s voice,” explains Padilla. “I think that’s the ethic and the legacy that I’m taking over from my father, still being a voice for here in the town where I was raised.”

Padilla says her dad, who had only a second-grade education, taught his 14 children the importance of voting.

“I didn’t think it really mattered. But my dad, if he left anything for any of us to know, he says, ‘If you don’t vote, or don’t register to vote, then the government will take your voice away.’”

Lindsay, California is a town of about 12,000 in the heart of the state's citrus farming belt in Tulare County.
Lindsay, California is a town of about 12,000 in the heart of the state’s citrus farming belt in Tulare County. (Kerry Klein/KQED)

Like a lot of mayors from small towns and mid-size cities, Padilla is hardly a fat-cat politician. As mayor, she receives only a $75 stipend each month. Her day job is as a mental health clinician in the schools. She’s also  working toward a Ph.D. in psychology.

Padilla takes me on a tour of the McDermont Field House, a former citrus packinghouse that the city turned into 172,000-square-foot indoor sports complex. It’s got indoor soccer fields, the largest laser tag space in the world and an indoor wave rider where landlocked farm kids can hang ten on a man-made swell.

“This was a project for Lindsay to be a fit city,” explains Padilla. “To improve engagement of youth in Lindsay, to have a place where they can come and not get themselves into trouble.”

But trouble came nonetheless. Not from kids, but through alleged financial mismanagement by previous city leaders that has left Lindsay’s current administration trying to figure out to pay for the sports complex.

Padilla says she’s trying to bring more transparency to the city and to get residents engaged. And that means all residents, including undocumented farmworkers who can’t vote. And their children, who can, but maybe don’t.

Like Amy Huerta. The mayor has a message for her:

“Amy, I get the sense that you’re thinking that it might not make a difference whether you would vote,” Padilla says.

“I’d like to say to you that it does make a difference because I remember from Lindsay City Council, people won by one vote. That (one vote) could be you.”

California Counts is a collaboration of KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio to report on the 2016 election. The coverage focuses on major issues and solicits diverse voices on what’s important to the future of California.

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One of the most intense episodes of the U.S.-Iraq conflict is the subject of a new opera premiering in Long Beach, California.

“Fallujah ” takes its name and its premise from the Iraqi city where over a hundred Marines and thousands of Iraqis lost their lives in two military campaigns in 2004. It was the worst house-to-house fight for the Marine Corps since Hue City in Vietnam, and it left its mark on those who lived through it.

Christian Ellis, who fought in Fallujah as a machine gunner, collaborated with playwright Heather Raffo , who wrote the libretto for Fallujah . Tobin Stokes wrote the music.

The opera, based partially on Ellis’ experiences, delves inside the brain of a young Marine, Philip, who’s hospitalized in a Veterans Affairs facility after his third suicide attempt.

In a day-dream like state, he’s visited by thoughts and memories of people from the battlefield.

Raffo said moviegoers have plenty of experience with the sounds of war — guns, bombs, shouts — but the noise inside a war survivor’s head is something best replicated on the stage.

“It’s relentless. You’re supposed to be never let off the hook,” she said.

For Raffo , it was important to tell the stories of the Iraqi civilians caught between the U.S. military and the insurgents.

Heather Raffo’s father was born in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul , and in recent decades her family members have largely fled Iraq and emigrated elsewhere. Raffo says she only has four cousins remaining in Iraq. As Chaldean Christians, they sought safety in Baghdad because Mosul is occupied by the Islamic State.

“The tragedy I’ve seen in my own family is ceasing to be Iraqi anymore, the ceasing to identify with the country as a home,” she said. “The country has changed so dramatically, rejected them, or crumbled.”

The Iraqi story plays out through a teenage boy and his mother. Back in Fallujah , their lives collided with Philip’s in a split second of combat.

While the boy grapples with his wartime Iraqi identity, Philip struggles with his own as he returns home.

“War ultimately destroys you as a human,” Ellis said. “If you are actively involved in trying to kill [the enemy], it’s ‘us versus them,’ you lose that, and you lose your identity.”

An aspiring singer before he joined the Marines at age 19, Ellis began to write about his experiences after coming home from the war. His work came to Raffo’s attention and “Fallujah ” came soon after.

Ellis said there were lots of different reasons why insurgents wanted to fight his Marines. Some were ideological, but others fought only because they were forced to. Insurgent leaders kidnapped their families and forced the sons to fight.

Ellis says the Battle of Fallujah showed him the worst in humanity.

“It’s war in every way imaginable,” he said. “The good and the bad.”

Once Marines like Ellis came home, he said, people didn’t want to know what he’d done, and he didn’t want to tell them.

“And that’s Fallujah .”

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The campaign for a November ballot measure to raise California’s tobacco tax is criticizing reported threats it says came from industry lobbyists. The targets are six anti-tobacco bills passed by the Legislature last week.

The threats are provocative. But they’re also legal.

If the anti-tobacco bills become law, the tobacco industry has reportedly warned it will use California’s referendum process to overturn at least some of them: most likely, the measure that would raise the tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21; and the bill that would allow counties to ask voters to impose local tobacco taxes.

That’s a common reaction from well-funded opponents of bills that become law in California. What’s noteworthy is the tactic the tobacco industry says it would use once the referenda are cleared for signature gathering: paying $10 for every voter signature.

That would drive up the cost to qualify every other ballot measure gathering signatures – including the tobacco tax increase, and Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed overhaul of California’s criminal justice sentencing system. The signature-gathering market is already quite expensive and has forced backers of at least one initiative to abandon their campaign. The proponent of a second initiative announced on Monday that he’s pulling the plug.

“This is an industry that will stoop to anything to continue its business model to try to addict kids to a lifelong nicotine habit,” says Jim Knox with the American Cancer Society, which supports the tobacco tax.

Neither the lobbyist accused of making a threat nor his client, the tobacco company Altria, responded to requests for comment. But three experts we spoke with say the threats appear to be perfectly legal.

“Yes, it may sound nasty and they’re fighting, but that doesn’t make it a federal criminal case,” says retired FBI agent James Wedick, who used to investigate corrupt California lawmakers. “It’s one thing if you’re threatening violence, or something else against the law. But as far as politics go, if one side threatens to do something politically to make it difficult for the other side, that’s not against the law.“

“I don’t think it rises to the level of extortion under the California penal code,” says Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson. “I think it’s frankly a really explicit version of what happens a lot in Sacramento and in state capitols and city halls throughout the country, which is lobbyists essentially very strongly flexing their muscle and saying, ’Look, if you don’t vote with me on this, here are what the consequences will be.’“

“Although some may find that type of influencing distasteful, it really doesn’t violate the Political Reform Act or any other ethics law,” says Gary Winuk, the former chief of enforcement for California’s Fair Political Practices Commission. He adds there are freedom of speech implications: “You can tell someone, hey, if you don’t vote this way, then I’m gonna put it on the ballot. You have to always balance ethical behavior with still the ability of people to express their opinion.“

In what could be a political countermove, the Legislature still hasn’t sent the bills to the governor – even though they won final approval last week. That means Brown’s 12-day decision period hasn’t begun.

The longer this drag on, the longer it’ll be before the tobacco industry can start paying for signatures – presuming, of course, that Brown signs the bills – which is not guaranteed.

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California congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who is running for U.S. Senate, sits inside Tlaquepaque Restaurant in Placentia on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. Sanchez has been visiting the restaurant, which used to be a bakery, since she was a child. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

It’s been two and a half decades since California voters last filled a U.S. Senate vacancy, but with veteran lawmaker Barbara Boxer set to step down this year, voters have a chance to pick from four major candidates competing to fill her seat.

U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez is one of two Democrats in the running. After 20 years in House of Representatives, the Orange County congresswoman aims to move up to the Senate.

She has been trailing a fellow Democrat and the front-runner in the race, state Attorney General Kamala Harris. In a January survey, The Field Poll showed among likely voters who stated a preference, Harris led by 27 percent to Sanchez’ 15 percent.

Two Republicans, Tom Del Beccaro and Duf Sundheim, trailed behind them at 3 percent each. A third Republican, Rocky Chavez, drew support from 7 percent of the respondents, but he has since withdrawn from the race.

Significantly, a large segment of those polled, 44 percent, were undecided. It’s the voters in that group who Sanchez hopes to sway to her side. Even if she comes in second in California’s June 7 primary election, she can survive to the general election under the state’s open primary contest in which the top two vote-getters move on to the November ballot regardless of their party affiliation.

The Senate race is the biggest political competition since California adopted top-two primary in 2011, and it likely will force a faceoff between the two well-known Democrats.

On the campaign trail

During a February evening in the city of Pico Rivera in Los Angeles County, music played in one room of a Mexican restaurant that also doubles as a nightclub.

In another room, a campaign event was about to get underway for Loretta Sanchez. The congresswoman sat down to explain why she thinks California voters should elect her to the Senate.

“I know how to work with Democrats and with Republicans. So I think I will take that knowledge over to the Senate with me,” she said.

She has been a member of the House since 1996, when she narrowly beat Orange County Republican Bob Dornan.

Her rankings among special interest and labor groups as compiled by the elections site VoterSmart.org are aligned with her politics as a moderate Democrat: high among groups like Planned Parenthood and lower as rated by the National Rifle Association.

Sanchez points out that she is the only candidate running who has a track record in Congress. She is proud of her role in the passage of revised sexual assault provisions in the military justice code and sits on the House armed services and homeland security committees.

When asked how she differs from Harris, Sanchez turned not to the issues that separate them, but to her upbringing.

“My parents are Mexican immigrants, came here with nothing, settled in Anaheim, had seven children,” she said.

If Sanchez wins, she would be the first Latina senator. Should Harris prevail, her win would also be notable. Harris’ mother is from India and her father grew up in Jamaica.

Loretta Sanchez’ younger sister, Linda Sanchez, is also a congresswoman, representing the 38th district covering Montebello, Pico Rivera, Norwalk and Artesia. At her sister’s political event, Linda Sanchez rallied the audience.

“She’s the number two Democrat on both the homeland security committee and the armed services committee and, let me tell you, she knows her s—,” Linda Sanchez said, drawing laughter and applause from the crowd.

Trailing in support

More than 20 Los Angeles County officials at the event endorsed Loretta Sanchez for the Senate race. But Sanchez found less enthusiasm at the California Democrats State Convention in February, landing the endorsement of just 19 percent of the delegates to Harris’ 78 percent.

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who is running for U.S. Senate, sits inside Tlaquepaque Restaurant in Placentia on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. Sanchez has been going to the restaurant since she was a child.
Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who is running for U.S. Senate, sits inside Tlaquepaque Restaurant in Placentia on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. Sanchez has been going to the restaurant since she was a child. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

When it comes to issues like immigration, job creation and the environment, Sanchez and Harris are not far apart. One difference between them has emerged on the issue of Apple Inc.’s resistance to the FBI’s request to crack into an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists: Sanchez is backing Apple and Harris is not taking sides.

Sanchez speaks of banning gun shows and limiting gun magazines to 10-round capacities. She’s endorsed a ballot measure that would raise the minimum wage in California to $15 an hour and backs healthcare coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

Los Angeles County Congresswoman Janice Hahn, who is running for a Los Angeles County supervisor seat, is among those who is supporting Sanchez.

“I think she’s effective in a way of communicating to the American people some of the issues, particularly as it relates to homeland security,” Hahn said.

Sanchez’ communication style has landed Sanchez in trouble in the past. She has taken heat for making a Native American war cry gesture after a mixup in referring to a person from India and a Native American. She apologized for the gaffe, but it continues to haunt her politically.

Then she drew criticism for stating on Larry King’s show that up to 20 percent of Muslims want an Islamic caliphate. In that case, she did not apologize, but stood by her statement.

“I have spoken to those comments and the reality is that there’s no one who has done more for the Muslim American community than I have, ” she told KPCC.

Bill Whalen of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution said there’s a clear difference in the way Sanchez and Harris speak.

“Harris is quiet, reserved,” he said. “Loretta Sanchez is a little more earthy, and a little more out there. And she has shall we say a checkered record when it comes to comments she has made that are sometimes politically incorrect and then sometimes just some tone-deaf political judgments,” he said.

Whalen points to one moment in 2000 when Sanchez tried to organize a political fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion during the Democratic National Convention. Under political pressure, she later relocated it to Universal Studios CityWalk.

Asked what she learned from the reaction to her fundraiser, Sanchez suggested sexism was behind the kerfuffle.

“I learned that people are harder on women than men,” she said. Sanchez maintains that male politicians have held fundraisers at the Playboy Mansion and did not receive the flak she attracted.

Theresa Hennessey, Playboy Enterprises spokeswoman, said fundraisers have been held at the mansion for politicians like former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and ex-Chicago Mayor Harold Washington.

Bradley served from 1973 to 1993 while Washington held office in the 1980s.

Voter turnout may be key

Sanchez met up with KPCC recently in Orange County in the city of Placentia, about a mile north from where she grew up. In high school, she worked cleaning houses with her mom on weekends and scooped ice cream at a local Save On.

During the visit, Sanchez ducked inside a shop called Mexico Supermarket, where pinatas hung from the ceiling. In the back, a cook chopped beef for carne asada tacos.

While Sanchez visited the store, Placentia resident Brian Richards grabbed her attention.

“I wish we had more like you,” Richards said, assuring Sanchez that he’d vote for her.

But Sanchez also met someone who may represent her biggest challenge: people who see no reason to vote.

Recent college grad Taylor Chun, the store manager, worked behind the cash register. She told Sanchez she hoped someday to become a wedding planner.

After the congresswoman left, Chun said she does not plan to vote. She would like to see things change in her neighborhood, such as more jobs. But Chun said she doesn’t think a new senator will make a difference.

“I feel like nobody really is going to help us,” the young cashier said. “They get the votes, they win and then after that, it’s like nothing is really changing.”

Therein lies a problem: voter turnout could have a major impact on Sanchez’ campaign.

Although Southern California has a larger population, voters in Northern California where Harris has her base cast their ballots at higher rates.

Political analysts point out Sanchez will need Southern Californians like Chun to vote if the congresswoman is to have a better chance at defeating Harris. Also key to her success are Latino voters, a group that historically records low voter turnout rates.

“If you’re Sanchez … you have to do two things right now,” Whalen said. Appeal to “Latino voters, primarily in Southern California, and then secondly, Southern California Democrats writ large.”

Copyright 2016 KPCC. To see more election coverage, visit http://www.kpcc.org.

Series: California Counts

California Counts is a collaboration of KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio to report on the 2016 election. The coverage focuses on major issues and solicits diverse voices on what’s important to the future of California.

Read more in this series and let us know your thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag #CACounts.

Mary Plummer
Read More →


Poll clerk Barbara Rotelli helps look up voter information at Canyon Springs School’s library on Tuesday evening, June 3, 2015, in Santa Clarita during a Los Angeles County primary election. Santa Clarita is one of the only about 15 cities in Los Angeles County with more registered Republicans than Democrats. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

California is dismissed or embraced across the country as a liberal stronghold, but in Los Angeles County, Republicans outnumber Democrats in several locations, among them: Santa Clarita.

Increasingly, though, Santa Clarita is transforming into a blue city as population growth and its annexation of unincorporated areas change the character of this majority white, well-off community.

For some residents, like those in Santa Clarita Republican Women Federated, the largest GOP women’s club in the city, these days of transition come with worries.

At a recent monthly meeting in a Marie Callender’s restaurant outside the city’s Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park, some club members recently discussed their top concerns — growing homelessness, more liberal gun laws and a loss of traditional American values.

“All we can do as an individual is do our best and then turn the rest over to God. Let him do the rest of the work,” said Maggie Aquaro, 73, a Santa Clarita resident for over a decade.

Located about 35 miles north of Los Angeles, the city is one of about 15 out of 88 in Los Angeles County with more registered Republicans than Democrats.

But there’s a political shift underway as the area’s population expands. Santa Clarita has been in a growth spurt since the city’s 1987 incorporation. With the unincorporated areas it absorbed in recent decades, Santa Clarita has a population of about 213,000, nearly double the city’s size in 1990.

“We’ve watched the community really expand, kind of in two ways,” said Lena Smyth, a political science professor at Santa Clarita’s College of the Canyons and a longtime resident.

“We have people who are moving here with their families who want, you know, the more affordable house, the better schools. And then you also have just the city itself has grown and has expanded its borders and annexed other unincorporated areas of L.A. County.”

Lena Smyth is a political science professor at College of the Canyons and a longtime resident of Santa Clarita.
Lena Smyth is a political science professor at College of the Canyons and a longtime resident of Santa Clarita. Mary Plummer/KPCC

As the city has grown, so too have the ranks of Democrats.

Republicans here outnumber Democrats 43,774 to 37,273, according to a recent Secretary of State report on voter registrations released last week. But the Democrats’ general election registrations are up 52 percent between 2000 and 2014, well over the 21 percent growth for the Republican Party for the same period.

If the trend holds, registered Democrats could soon overtake Republicans in their size.

And here’s another change that could pose a challenge to both parties: a growing number of registered voters are declaring that they have no party preference.

About 25,000 fall into this category in Santa Clarita based on the latest voter registration report, and that is more than triple the number two decades ago.

Voters voice concerns

Lilian Bonilla, a community college student who lives and goes to school in Santa Clarita, said she’s definitely voting for president. She’s just doesn’t know who that will be yet, or even if it’ll be a Democrat or Republican.

Her family bounced around Los Angeles County looking for an ideal place to live before they landed here after moving from Palmdale about eight years ago. They now reside in a gated community.

“You vote for somebody because they’re either going to help, you know, the category you’re in, or they’re gonna better you,” she said. “I’m just listening to see what everybody has to offer.”

Education is one of her top issues in this year’s election. She’d like to see K-12 schools in the area improved.

“I feel like I would vote for whoever is meeting my needs,” she said.

We hear a different story when we meet April Young outside Santa Clarita Lanes bowling alley, where she had just finished up a game and pizza with her grandkids.

The economy and jobs are the issues that Young said are concerning her the most. By that she means “being able to get a job that pays enough to pay the rent or pay the house payment or get the car insurance or whatever, feed your family,” she said.

Young is also a Republican and an active voter. But unlike many of the GOP women in the Republican club, Young is still working. She’s an aide at a local school district, and said Santa Clarita isn’t producing enough well-paying jobs.

“You can work at Foster’s Freeze or you can work at the bowling alley, but that’s obviously not enough to survive on,” she said.

The median household income here is about $81,500, far higher than California’s average. Still, earnings haven’t recovered enough to reach pre-recession levels.

That’s a particular concern for young people just entering the job market, but also for Santa Clarita’s growing minority population, a majority of them Latinos.

Lawsuit brings key change

This November, when Santa Clarita voters participate in the presidential election, they’ll also have other key choices to make.

Santa Clarita voters will get to vote on City Council races in November as a result of a Voter Rights Act lawsuit settlement.
Santa Clarita voters will get to vote on City Council races in November as a result of a Voter Rights Act lawsuit settlement. Mary Plummer/KPCC

Due to a recent Voting Rights Act lawsuit claiming the votes of Latinos were being diluted in the city’s election, a legal settlement in the case is moving Santa Clarita’s City Council balloting from April to November.

The change is expected to drastically impact the dynamics of the City Council race by drawing in many more voters. In the general presidential election in November 2012, the turnout was 78 percent. During the most recent city election in April 2014, just 14 percent of registered voters cast a ballot.

Smyth said the date change will diminish the power of a small group of city voters who have been active in City Hall elections. Even her husband, a former Santa Clarita mayor and councilman, is considering a run for council again.

“You’re going to have a massive increase in voter turnout for a local election, which we’ve never seen in Santa Clarita before,” she said.  “Typically a City Council member has been able to get elected with anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 votes. So now we have a whole different ballgame.”

Series: California Counts

California Counts is a collaboration of KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio to report on the 2016 election. The coverage focuses on major issues and solicits diverse voices on what’s important to the future of California.

Read more in this series and let us know your thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag #CACounts.

This story has been updated.

Copyright 2016 KPCC. To see more election coverage, visit http://kpcc.org.

Mary Plummer
Read More →

ValleyPBS marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide with a special production. The stories of the victims of the genocide are told through interviews with survivors’ children and grandchildren. The success of Armenians in the Central Valley and the role faith and family plays in Armenian culture is also explored. Over 20 individuals and organizations are featured in this documentary.

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