Capitol Alert

California’s Assembly Republican leader survives vote to oust him – for now

A vote to oust California Assembly Republican leader Chad Mayes failed Monday despite conservative anger over his role in extending the state’s signature climate change policy.

The Assembly Republican Caucus then set up an election next week in which other members plan to compete for his leadership post. The up-or-down vote to oust Mayes failed by three votes in the 25-member caucus.

“He’s still leader at this time and he plans to remain as leader,” said Mayes spokesman Matt Mahon.

Mayes could face several opponents for the job. Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, who publicly butted heads with Mayes over his vote on the climate bill, confirmed she is running. Other members said they would support Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, R-Big Bear Lake, who declined to comment. Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, who was floated early on as a potential replacement for Mayes, could not immediately be reached.

Pressure has been mounting on Mayes, of Yucca Valley, to step down from his leadership post for more than a month, since he and several Republican colleagues helped pass an extension of California’s market-based greenhouse gas emissions reduction program.

The movement against Mayes also was fueled by conservative activist and blogger Joseph Turner, who obtained and made public last month a letter calling for an investigation into whether Mayes and his predecessor as GOP leader, former Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, misused public funds trying to conceal a romantic affair. The letter, initially sent to the Assembly by Olsen’s estranged husband, was subsequently withdrawn.

Mayes spent weeks negotiating with Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic colleagues to secure changes that would make the cap-and-trade system more amenable to the polluting industries most directly affected by its regulations and potentially give Republicans more of a say in how revenues are spent. In the end, he delivered seven critical votes that pushed the bill over a necessary two-thirds threshold in the Assembly.

It was supposed to be a major victory lap for Mayes in his bid to remake the California Republican Party and increase its relevance within the Legislature. But the backlash was immediate: GOP officials and activists complained that Mayes let off the hook two vulnerable Democrats from swing districts who did not vote for the bill, and that renewing cap and trade was merely a tax increase by another name.

Some prominent Republicans, including former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, came to Mayes’ defense. That could not the stop the hemorrhage of support from dozens of local party affiliates, culminating in the California Republican Party board approving a resolution last week calling on Mayes to resign or for the caucus to replace him.


Mayes made a detailed case to the 21-member party board last week that public opinion on climate issues was shifting, citing a poll that indicated 7 percent of California Republicans, or about 353,000 members, are considering leaving the party over its position, according to a copy of his PowerPoint presentation provided to The Bee.

He also argued that supporting the cap-and-trade extension was good politics – an opportunity to kill Brown’s high-speed rail and a path forward in moderate Assembly districts that Republicans have been trying to win back amid long-declining voter registration. He argued that the climate bill he supported contained cuts to fire fees and tax breaks to power companies, and that several Republican leaders and prominent business groups – the California Chamber of Commerce and the Western States Petroleum Association among them – endorsed the package.

“Are we interested in being data-driven, adapting to the California that exists, growing the Party and increasing our relevance,” Mayes wrote on one slide, “or blindly adhering to an unrealistic but comfortable view of California that is costing us registrants, votes and elections? Change is not an option. It is an imperative.”

Harmeet Dhillon, a GOP board member who led the push for the resolution, said she “politely listened” to Mayes on their conference call Friday night, but was unconvinced by “his polling-driven, principle-free analysis.”

The members who supported his ouster, she said, were not only upset by the cap-and-trade bill itself, which she characterized as a betrayal of taxpayers, but also by the political implications. Dhillon criticized Mayes for trying to turn the California Republican Party into “Democrat light,” a strategy that would leave voters with no contrast between them and no reason to support Republicans.

“The minority party does not pick up votes from the majority party’s voters by becoming more like the majority party,” she said, adding, “If we’re going to cave in on this, what’s next?”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff