Capitol Alert

He wants to save the California GOP with help from Arnold Schwarzenegger

Assemblyman Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley, during session on May 7, 2015.
Assemblyman Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley, during session on May 7, 2015. The Sacramento Bee file

Assemblyman Chad Mayes, R-Yucca Valley, continues his push to move the California Republican Party to the left today with a little help from Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The 40-year-old Mayes has been calling for the California GOP to veer away from a staunch pro-business and anti-government message that resonates in conservative parts of the country but leaves the party out of step with voters in the deep-blue state.

His work cost him the top spot in the 25-member Assembly Republican caucus last year. Mayes delivered seven critical Republican votes to extend the state's cap-and-trade program after securing several pro-business amendments to the legislation. The political backlash against Mayes turned ugly quickly, and he stepped down as Republican leader in August.

Mayes turned his attention to "New Way California," a movement he founded to reshape the party and reverse its dwindling relevance in the state, earlier this year.

The Republican Party is in a tight race with "no party preference" voters for the second-largest voting bloc in the state, according to data released in January. A quarter of California registered voters are Republicans, while Democrats represent nearly 45 percent. Republicans control fewer than one-third of the seats in both houses of the Legislature. The state's growing Latino demographic spells even more trouble for the party as time goes on.

New Way is holding its first summit today in Boyle Heights to begin work to change those staggering statistics. Mayes enlisted a few like-minded big names to add clout to his movement. Schwarzenegger and Ohio Gov. John Kasich will deliver keynote speeches today at the Hollenbeck Youth Center. Doors open at 8 a.m.

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NEW LEADERSHIP: Get ready for a major change in the state Senate.

The upper house of the California Legislature will hold a ceremony at 1 p.m. to usher in a new era of leadership under Sen. Toni Atkins. The San Diego Democrat takes the reins from Sen. Kevin de León, who terms out of the Senate at the end of the year and is in the midst of a political coup effort to unseat veteran US Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Senators praised de León on the floor Monday as a hardworking leader with big ideas inspired by his humble beginnings in San Diego's Barrio Logan. His colleagues gave him credit for landmark laws on climate change, immigration, transportation, gun violence, affordable housing, equal pay, vaccines and other major legislation enacted over the last three and a half years.

Capitol insiders expect Atkins, the first female and LGBT pro tem, to take a more behind-the-scenes approach than her ambitious predecessor. While de León often used the post to antagonize the Trump administration, Atkins, who terms out in 2024, said she expects to be more internally focused. That might not be a bad strategy, considering sexual harassment scandals killed the Democratic supermajority in the statehouse last year and Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, faces a tough recall vote in the June primary.

AG SHOWDOWN: State Attorney General Xavier Becerra is taking heat from his chief Democratic rival in this year's attorney general race for backing out of the first scheduled debate-style event ahead of the June primary.

Organizers said Becerra committed on March 6 to participating in a candidate debate set for noon today, but then canceled, citing his need to be in Washington, D.C. for a U.S. Supreme Court case that could overturn a California law requiring clinics to inform pregnant women about available abortion and health services. Becerra's campaign later suggested moving the debate to Friday, March 23. Organizers were open to the idea, but said Becerra wouldn't firmly commit to the date his campaign suggested, so they kept the original plans.

Becerra's campaign said he never agreed to the debate today, noting he'd be traveling.

"The Press Club offered us three dates, but chose the 21st," campaign spokeswoman Dana Williamson said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. "The attorney general (was) at the Supreme Court (Tuesday) to defend a woman's right to health care and traveling back to California (today). Let's not put politics before doing one's job."

Democratic candidate Dave Jones, the state's insurance commissioner, criticized Becerra, saying in a campaign email that Becerra's scheduled appearance in Washington is a "bogus excuse" because the Supreme Court hearing was Tuesday.

"We've checked the flights — plenty of cheap seats are still available for the 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. flights back," said Jones campaign consultant Parke Skelton in a statement.

The paid event, hosted by The Sacramento Press Club, will be held at the Sacramento Masonic Temple. Tickets are required. In addition to Jones, Republican candidates Steven Bailey, a retired El Dorado County judge, and Eric Early, a Los Angeles-based attorney specializing in business and real estate litigation, are scheduled to participate.

Angela Hart of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.