Newsletter: Presidential hopefuls face big California ballot deadline



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A key moment in the run-up to California’s March 2 presidential primary arrives on Tuesday, a deadline for candidates to comply with a new state law governing ballot access.

At least a few prominent candidates scrambled to submit information at the last minute. And a newly published state Supreme Court ruling raises the question of whether a still-unknown latecomer could make a dramatic entrance in the race before voters begin casting ballots in February.

ONLY ‘RECOGNIZED CANDIDATES’

The Nov. 26 deadline established under a law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last month requires presidential candidates to prove at least a minimum level of viability before their names are placed on the California ballot.

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In past election cycles, the state’s chief elections officer had broad power to decide who was on and off the ballot, thanks to a 1972 voter-approved constitutional amendment to simply include all “recognized candidates throughout the nation or throughout California.” As I wrote in June, the process was often criticized for being too subjective. Sometimes, the list was too broad. In 2016, Republican hopefuls Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio all petitioned to have their names removed from the Republican primary ballot.

The process called for under newly enacted Senate Bill 505 requires a candidate to prove eligibility for federal election funding, participate in a major debate or qualify for another state’s primary. Or there’s an alternate option on the form that candidates must fill out: a qualified political party can ask for someone’s name to be included. Secretary of State Alex Padilla will announce the list of candidates no later than next Friday with hopefuls then having until Dec. 26 to remove their name from contention.

As of Sunday night, President Trump and most of the well-known Democratic candidates had submitted their paperwork, said a spokesman for Padilla. Those who had not filed yet include New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Representatives of Booker and Gabbard told The Times that documents were being filed shortly; a query to the Yang campaign wasn’t immediately answered.

MAKE WAY FOR BLOOMBERG

Nor is there yet a filing for the California ballot from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The announcement on Sunday of his candidacy added new drama to the Democratic presidential sweepstakes, especially with advisors to the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent-turned-again-Democrat admitting the late start won’t allow him to effectively compete in the first four states holding primaries and caucuses in 2020.

“We cannot afford four more years of President Trump’s reckless and unethical actions,” Bloomberg said Sunday on his campaign website. “He represents an existential threat to our country and our values. If he wins another term in office, we may never recover from the damage.”

NOT JUST TRUMP ON THE GOP SIDE

California elections officials report two unheralded Republicans have submitted paperwork for the March ballot: Manhattan Beach attorney Matthew Matern and New York advertising executive Robert Ardini.

COULD THE CALIFORNIA BALLOT RULE BE UPENDED?

While SB 505 passed with near-unanimous support in the Legislature before being signed by Newsom, it hinges on the power of lawmakers to create a brand-new definition of what is considered a “recognized candidate.”

But the very same constitutional provision that includes that phrase — one that also promises the state’s voters an “open presidential primary” — was the focus of a ruling last week by the California Supreme Court that overturned the California law requiring presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns. The decision was a sharp rebuke to Democratic lawmakers who had hoped to force the hand of Trump into revealing more about his finances or skip the state primary.

The ruling written by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye explicitly sidesteps any evaluation of SB 505. But it goes on to say that the state Constitution provides “a rule of inclusivity for presidential primary elections that the Legislature cannot contravene.”

So then, the question: Might SB 505 “contravene” the state’s broad ballot access rules for a presidential contender? It’s unlikely that anyone will take an 11th-hour challenge of the new law to California’s high court, noted state Sen. Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana), the bill’s author, in an interview with The Times last week. Nevertheless, the sweeping language used by the justices in their ruling on the tax returns law raised at least a few eyebrows around the state Capitol.

And if the presidential race remains unsettled in the weeks before Padilla certifying the list of candidates, there could be an opportunity for a last-minute prominent candidate to force the question in hopes of competing in the nation’s biggest primary.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday fired the Navy’s top official over his handling of a disciplinary case involving a Navy SEAL.

— Newly released State Department documents shed light on why President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani worked to have the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine removed.

— For the past two weeks of historic public impeachment hearings, Tulare Rep. Devin Nunes has played the role of a high-profile inquisitor. Now, Nunes finds himself entangled in the same chain of events the committee has been probing.

— The Supreme Court says Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been released from a Baltimore hospital where she was being treated for a possible infection.

Vice President Mike Pence made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Saturday.

— In a sign that California’s economy might remain at cruising altitude into the new year and beyond, analysts said Wednesday that the state budget could see a record $26 billion in cash reserves by the summer of 2021.

— In the weeks before a California law takes effect to limit rent increases, tenants across the state have been complaining that landlords are increasing their rents and issuing no-fault evictions.

— With the threat of another power outage looming, state lawmakers hammered Pacific Gas & Electric at the state Capitol last week for botching shut-offs that left millions of Californians in the dark.

— Newsom took action last week to stop the approval of new hydraulic fracturing in the state until the permits for those projects can be reviewed by an independent panel of scientists.

— For 2020 presidential candidates, eating tacos is the kissing babies of stumping for Latino votes.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

The Essential Politics newsletter will take a brief hiatus and will be back on Friday, Dec. 6. Here’s wishing you and yours a great Thanksgiving!

LOGISTICS

Essential Politics is written by Sacramento bureau chief John Myers on Mondays and Washington bureau chief David Lauter on Fridays.

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