Capitol Alert

Alleged affair between California Assembly Republican leaders fuels political attack

Assemblyman Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley, talks with then-Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen on Sept. 1, 2015.
Assemblyman Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley, talks with then-Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen on Sept. 1, 2015. The Associated Press

Incensed that Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes supported a Democratic plan to renew a key climate change policy, California conservative activists are calling for his resignation and raising allegations of an affair with his predecessor.

​“He is a terrible leader, and he does not represent Republican values and principles,” said Joseph Turner, who published a post about Mayes on his website, American Children First, over the weekend. “I think he should do the honorable thing and resign.”

The post included a letter that the estranged husband of former Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, of Riverbank, sent to the Assembly in April, seeking an investigation into whether any state resources were used to conceal a relationship between Olsen and Mayes. The matter was referred to the Assembly ethics committee.

Rod Olsen ​subsequently retracted his request. But it surfaced Sunday on Turner’s blog, a day before Mayes and six ​of his Assembly Republican colleagues joined Democrats to extend California’s cap-and-trade program through 2030.

Through a spokesman, Mayes, of Yucca Valley, declined to comment on the allegations. Olsen said, in a text message, “It’s a private matter, and I need to respect my family’s privacy.”

Elected to lead the Assembly Republican Caucus in July 2014, Olsen served in the position for 14 months, before handing off the role to Mayes. Termed out of the Legislature, she ran unopposed last year for the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors and won the seat in June. Five months later, she was appointed vice chair of the California Republican Party.

Amid the professional advancement, her marriage was falling apart. Olsen petitioned to legally separate from Rod Olsen in April 2016, according to filings with the Stanislaus County Superior Court. The case continues, with a settlement conference scheduled for September.

On April 24, Rod Olsen sent a letter to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, asking for an Assembly Ethics Committee investigation into a relationship between his wife and Mayes.

“Specifically, I believe that Sergeants, staff, travel within the state, lodging, per diem, etc. were used at times by Assembly Member Mayes to foster and conceal this relationship from the public,” he wrote. “As you know, it is the obligation of every legislative member to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars, and I believe the committee will uncover that Mayes misused these funds, and acted unethically and in a manner unbecoming of a member of the California State Assembly.”

Rod Olsen confirmed that he sent the letter and that he withdrew it the same day, but he declined to further discuss his allegations.

“I submitted the request in April after just learning of my wife’s activities. It was in a moment of anger. I quickly realized that was the wrong course of action to take,” he said. “I’ve been advised by both my attorney and my pastor not to comment about Kristin and Chad’s activities and relationship.”

Mayes filed for divorce from his wife in San Bernardino County Superior Court last month.

Turner is a controversial activist who most recently launched a campaign to punish cities that adopt “sanctuary” policies for undocumented immigrants by targeting their tax bases. American Children First, the organization he founded, describes itself as a group of “proud, unapologetic nationalists” aiming to protect the country from the danger of globalism and illegal immigration.

Turner said he decided to publish Rod Olsen’s letter because he hopes the resulting notoriety will lead to Mayes losing his leadership post. Turner said he knew Mayes, the son of a pastor who attended Liberty University, from when they both worked for members of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors. Mayes “always tried to present himself as this true-blue conservative warrior,” Turner said, but sold out his supporters to gain power once he got to Sacramento.

Monday night’s vote to extend the cap-and-trade program through 2030 – a deal that Mayes played a large role in negotiating and for which he later appeared at a celebratory press conference with Gov. Jerry Brown – infuriated Turner. He suggested that Rendon could have used the affair allegation to pressure Mayes into supporting the bill. The two Assembly leaders have long touted their close working relationship, which they have dubbed a “bromance.”

“Did they throw that over Chad’s head for his vote?” Turner said. “How come they haven’t investigated this? How come they haven’t pursued this?”

Rendon spokesman Kevin Liao said the Assembly received Rod Olsen’s letter in April and referred it to the ethics committee. Under Assembly rules, all ethics committee records are confidential, Liao added, so he could not confirm or deny any inquiry into the allegations. He did not address Turner’s speculations of coercion.

In an interview Monday night, Mayes downplayed the ramifications of the cap-and-trade vote: “I don’t think it’s risky. That’s a political question. The question for our members when they came up here is, ‘Is it the right thing to do?’ 

There have been rumblings of dissatisfaction for months among the more conservative Assembly Republicans over his collaboration with Democrats.

Assemblyman Vince Fong of Bakersfield, an ally and former staffer of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, has been floated as a potential replacement. Fong’s chief of staff, Sam Chung, said his boss was not pursuing the job but “just listening” to other members who have inquired.

Harmeet Dhillon, one of California’s members on the Republican National Committee, declined to speculate on the impact of Turner’s blog post. But she said anger over Mayes’ actions on the climate change bill – which less than a third of his caucus ultimately voted for – is already widespread across the party and the state.

“As a Republican Party leader for many years, I am deeply disappointed and disturbed, as are many other California Republican Party board members, at the vote yesterday to support the governor’s cap-and-trade legislation,” she said. “It’s particularly disappointing that Assembly leadership supported the governor’s bill to the extent of asking several Republicans to vote for the bill, thereby enabling several Democrats to not have to vote for the bill. This was not only bad policy, but also bad politics.”

Gov. Jerry Brown celebrated the passage of a bill Monday night to extend California's cap-and-trade program through 2030.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff. Kevin Valine of The Modesto Bee contributed to this report.

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