Capitol Alert

Will cap-and-trade deal cost Chad Mayes his Assembly Republican leadership?

Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes, left, speaks with Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Dublin, Assemblyman Heath Flora, R-Ripon, and Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R- Templeton, during the vote on key climate change legislation on July 17, 2017.
Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes, left, speaks with Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Dublin, Assemblyman Heath Flora, R-Ripon, and Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R- Templeton, during the vote on key climate change legislation on July 17, 2017. hamezcua@sacbee.com

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The bipartisan deal to renew cap-and-trade was supposed to be a major accomplishment in Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes’ bid to remake the California Republican Party and its relevance within the state Legislature. But a wave of conservative backlash since the vote two weeks ago has put the Yucca Valley assemblyman on the defensive and could ultimately cost him his post as head of the lower house’s 25-member GOP caucus.

Mayes spent months expressing interest in negotiating with Gov. Jerry Brown and other Democrats on an extension of cap-and-trade, the market-based system for reducing industrial greenhouse gas emissions that is the state’s signature climate change program. After helping to secure a number of amendments that would make the law more amenable to the industries most directly affected by its regulations, and possibly give Republicans more of a say in how revenues are spent, he delivered seven critical votes that pushed it over a necessary two-thirds threshold in the Assembly.

Conservative outcry, both external and from lawmakers in his own caucus, was fierce. A controversial nationalist activist from Southern California surfaced allegations of an affair to hit Mayes politically, while one of Mayes’ deputies resigned in protest over his “dereliction of duty.”

So far, he has survived the onslaught. During an impromptu Republican caucus three days after the cap-and-trade vote, held to quell tensions on the final morning before the Legislature broke for summer recess, no one moved to replace Mayes. “It’s all good. We had good conversation,” he told reporters as he emerged from the 80-minute meeting. “I’m the leader.”

But opponents – furious over Mayes’ support for a program they believe is simply a tax increase by another name, and worried about the implications for next year’s legislative elections – are not relenting. Republican officials, from state party board members to the chairmen of the Orange and San Diego county parties, have called on Mayes to resign. The Southern California activist is organizing protests outside fundraisers and other GOP events.

It’s not apparent anyone is waiting in the wings to succeed Mayes. If outside pressure continues to ramp up in the coming weeks, though, Assembly Republicans may no longer feel they can stand behind him when the Legislature reconvenes in August for the final month of session.

In the meantime, Mayes is laying low on cap-and-trade. He skipped a glitzy bill-signing with Brown and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on San Francisco’s Treasure Island last Tuesday.

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Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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