Three California primaries to watch this election

Every Californian registered to vote will receive a mail-in ballot

By Soumya Karlamangla

New York Times

With a little less than a month until the statewide primary election, Californians will start receiving ballots in the mail this week to cast their votes for governor, senator, secretary of state and more.

Election Day is officially June 7, but since every registered voter is getting a mail-in ballot again this year, voting essentially starts now. Many counties will also allow in-person voting as early as 10 days before the election.

As a refresher: This is a primary, so most contests will not be entirely decided when the vote is over. In the statewide races, the two candidates who earn the most votes will proceed to a runoff in November. (This is not necessarily the case for local races on the ballot — if one candidate for Los Angeles mayor secures more than half the votes, for example, that person would win outright.)

Experts say that the universal mail-in ballot option is expected to amplify turnout, especially among groups that have historically been less likely to vote. That, combined with a hyper-charged political climate, adds a layer of unpredictability to this election, said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at California State University, Los Angeles.

“It doesn’t mean the favored people won’t win, but it’s a volatile time,” Sonenshein told me.

Today I’ll walk you through three key statewide contests. I’ll dive into some more races in the coming weeks.

Governor

Just nine months after he survived a recall vote, Gov. Gavin Newsom is on the ballot yet again.

Newsom faces more than two dozen challengers in June, but he is widely expected to secure a second term regardless.

Republicans had banked on removing Newsom from office last year through the recall process, which can be an easier path to ousting incumbents. But 62% voted for the governor to keep his job, making it nearly impossible for Republicans to position a strong competitor so soon after.

“They took a gamble and the gamble failed,” Sonenshein told me.

Attorney general

The race for California’s top law enforcement official is shaping up to be one of the most consequential on the ballot.

Rob Bonta was appointed by Newsom last spring after Xavier Becerra, the attorney general at the time, left for the Biden cabinet. Bonta, previously a Democratic state legislator from the Bay Area, is a progressive reformer who has pursued increased police accountability and the abolition of for-profit prisons.

But the upcoming election has become tied up in larger questions about the success of criminal justice reforms in California, and whether voters still support them.

Bonta’s most notable opponents — Anne Marie Schubert, the Sacramento County district attorney, who is running as an independent, and Nathan Hochman, a former U.S. attorney and a Republican — argue that Californians are increasingly concerned about crime because Democrats’ incarceration and sentencing policies have allowed it to spike.

“People as I go up and down the state feel more insecure and more afraid than they have in the last two, four, six, eight years,” Hochman told Politico. “This is Republicans’ best shot in a generation to win state attorney general.”

Schubert and Hochman are also trying to link Bonta to other progressive law enforcement officials who are facing backlash. There is an effort underway to recall George Gascón, the Los Angeles County district attorney, although it has not yet made the ballot, and voters in San Francisco will decide in June whether to recall Chesa Boudin, a liberal prosecutor who serves as the city’s district attorney.

Controller

The state controller is effectively California’s chief financial officer, the person who writes the checks to local governments and schools and can audit how state agencies spend their money.

The current controller, Betty Yee, is termed out after eight years. Among the six candidates vying for her seat are Ron Galperin, the Los Angeles city controller; Malia Cohen, a San Francisco Board of Equalization member; and Steve Glazer, a state senator from the Bay Area city of Orinda.

But another candidate, Lanhee Chen, a Republican, earned the endorsement of The Los Angeles Times. Chen is a public policy expert who teaches at Stanford University and says he wants to increase transparency and restore faith in state government.

California has not elected a GOP controller since the 1970s, nor has it elected a Republican to a statewide post since 2006. But the job does tend to allow for people who might not fit the mold of a popular California politician, according to Sonenshein.

“It’s kind of a watchdog role, so mavericks can win,” he told me.

As Chen gains traction, look for California Democrats to press him on whether he supported President Donald Trump in the 2020 election — he has not said — and for his stance on the Supreme Court’s likely reversal of the landmark abortion decision Roe v. Wade. Cohen already attacked him last week on the issue. Chen said that as controller, “I would have neither the power nor inclination to change current California laws regarding abortion or to restrict access to abortion in our state.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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