Capitol Alert

California Republican Party gets even smaller: A GOP lawmaker defects to the Democrats

California Republicans suffered yet another loss Thursday when one of their Assembly members defected to the Democrats.

Democrats celebrated with a victorious news conference Thursday morning, grinning and cheering as Assemblyman Brian Maienschein of San Diego announced his decision.

“As the Republican Party has drifted further right, I and my votes have shifted to the left,” he said. “I can either keep fighting to change the Republican party, or I can fight for my constituents.”

His party switch gives Democrats 61 of 80 seats in the Legislature’s lower chamber.

Maienschein said he disagreed with the GOP’s direction under President Donald Trump, but the lawmaker said the Republican president wasn’t the only reason he decided to leave the party.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” he said when asked about Trump. “His conduct has been very offensive really since the beginning … his conduct was reprehensible, immature, counterproductive to what I believed was best for the country.”

Being the single father of two girls has shaped his values, he said, citing his support for gun control, organized labor and abortion rights.

Assembly Republican leader Marie Waldron called Maienschein a “turncoat” in response.

“While Brian is enjoying the perks of his new status as a member of the Democrat majority in the Legislature, we Republicans will continue to stand for the people of California,” she said in a statement.

California Republicans suffered significant losses in the Legislature and in Congress in the 2018 midterms. They lose seven seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Democrats gained supermajority status in both houses of the Legislature. Maienschein leaving reduces their power even more.

“On behalf of the 61 members of the Democratic caucus, it is my honor to welcome Brian Maienschein to the Democratic party,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, said at the news conference, while his colleagues behind him chuckled.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, a Sacramento Democrat, said he and Maienschein have been close friends for years and that the party switch isn’t a shock.

“We’ve always joked to him, ‘Hey you vote like a Democrat,’” McCarty said. “That’s always been a running joke.”

Maienschein, who has a relatively moderate voting record in the Assembly, was narrowly reelected to his seat last year. He won by less than half a percentage point against his Democratic challenger.

His party switch comes a week after Senate Republicans signaled a shift to the right by selecting Sen. Shannon Grove, an outspoken conservative from Bakersfield, as their new leader. Grove earned a reputation as a staunch conservative when she served in the Assembly, at one point drawing criticism for remarks linking drought to abortion legislation.

Less than a quarter of California voters are registered as Republicans. Democrats make up 43 percent of the electorate, while no party preference voters are 27 percent.