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Has Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. returned to far-right roots?

Most California election cycles find the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA) in the news opposing another statewide ballot effort to roll back some part of Proposition 13. This is the landmark 1978 ballot measure that the group’s namesake founder helped pass to severely limit property tax increases.

This past 2019-20 cycle was no different with the HJTA fighting two such ballot initiatives. This included one (Prop 19) intriguingly backed by the group’s former legislative director turned political consultant. HJTA also received indirect attention thanks to the new documentary “The First Angry Man” about their irascible, voluble founder Howard Jarvis. (Watch film here.)

Written and directed by Jason Cohn, the biography shows Howard Jarvis as more than just an anti-tax folk hero. He began his California political career as a staunch John Birch Society member filled with far-right conspiratorial views. Many centered on Communism and the United Nations. This included a belief that even moderate Republicans were agents of a Communist conspiracy.

Even when Jarvis came to focus on tax-reform and the 1978 Prop 13 ballot measure, his farther out ideas still popped up. But with time, this part of Jarvis’ history has faded. He passed away in 1986, and his surviving organization has largely focused on its anti-tax mission. So agree or disagree with Prop 13, the conservative nonprofit has played a useful public-interest role by supporting greater voter say in tax increases and as a watch dog.

However in this last election cycle, the HJTA has shown distressing signs of a slide back toward its founder’s far-right roots. This includes the social media posts of the group’s current president Jon Coupal and endorsements of at least seven Congressional candidates on the Nov. 3 ballot who had either far-right views or associations. Here are the seven:

  • Ted Howze (CA10-Modesto) lost his state GOP endorsement after his many inflammatory online posts came to light against Muslims, comparing DACA Dreamers to pedophiles, mocking a young Parkland, Florida survivor, and accusing Democrats of murder.

  • Mike Cargile (CA35-Los Angeles) is an avowed supporter of the far-right QAnon conspiracy movement. He also lost his state GOP endorsement after Los Angeles Magazine and other outlets found his social media accounts to include “racist diatribes and offensive memes targeted at Black people, immigrants, Muslims, and LGBTQ people.”

  • Buzz Patterson (CA7-Sacramento) used a former national strategist with a large U.S. hate group to train campaign volunteers and staff. He also co-organized an Aug. 1 far-right rally on the state capitol steps that included references to Holocaust furnaces, one call for death to Democrats, and a featured speaker associated with a white militia group. *

  • As a featured speaker at Patterson’s Aug. 1 rally, Eric Early (CA28-Los Angeles) called Democrats communists possessed by evil and roared to great applause, “We are not white supremacists. We are American.”

  • Alison Hayden (CA15-Alameda) supports QAnon, most recently defending it in this Sacramento Bee article

  • Chris Bish (CA6-Sacramento) co-hosted with Patterson the campaign training led by the former hate-group strategist. She was also a featured speaker at Patterson’s far-right Aug. 1 rally.

  • Tamika Hamilton (CA3-Dixon) was a featured speaker at the Aug. 1 rally.

The HJTA can be somewhat forgiven for not knowing all details about these candidates. Each was originally endorsed by the state GOP, and the HJTA endorsement questionnaire only asks about a candidate’s support for HJTA tax positions. However, when Howze lost his state endorsement, this received national coverage but did not prompt the HJTA to rescind its support.

What is known is that these seven candidates were part of a very large slate of endorsed candidates this cycle. In 2018, the HJTA endorsed just eight Congressional candidates, but this expanded to 22 for the 2019-20 cycle.

The 2018 endorsement class wasn’t free from blemishes, but not close to the 2020 class. In 2018, a TV ad of Steven Knight – who would lose to Katie Hill in the CA-25 – was found to feature a supporter who regularly posted racist, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic comments online, and the Knight campaign took the ad down.

More concerning was Diane Harkey who ran to fill retiring Congressman Darrell Issa’s seat in the CA-49. A court had ruled her family business was a Ponzi scheme and required it to pay $14 million in restitution to 89 mostly elderly investors. But this did not disqualify her for a HTJA endorsement, though Democrat Mike Levin won by more than 12 points.

The HTJA would not answer questions about its endorsement process, but from Coupal’s Twitter feed we see a similar far rightward drift in his public pronouncements. This includes labeling Gov. Gavin Newsom a fascist using the nickname “Newsomlini.” Last month, Coupal tweeted agreement with an article that suggested the fight against the pandemic to be part of a Blue-state conspiracy dubbed the “Lab coat tyranny.” This somewhat echoes President Trump’s slander of doctors on the front lines.

Coupal also regularly refers to California as a rapidly depopulating Third World state. However this runs counter to California having the 5th largest economy in the world and a state population that keeps growing not contracting. It is currently at 40 million and rising – to the distress of many concerned by ever-growing road congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.

But this exaggerated binary world view is one the late Howard Jarvis would have approved. In the documentary, Jarvis is seen saying, “The basis of a free country is that government must be limited. And now we have unlimited government. That brings unlimited taxation. That either brings you into bankruptcy or dictatorship.”

Of course in a democracy, it must always fall to citizens to ensure its government serves the taxpayer and not the reverse. When the HTJA has stuck to this mission, it has played a constructive role. But when it endorses without concern such dubious candidates like an owner of Ponzi schemes, supporters of QAnon conspiracy theories, and those associated with far-right hate groups, then its commitment to the public interest becomes tenuous.

Other articles in The Shame of Our Campaign series:

* founder and editor Jeff Burdick ran in the March 3rd Congressional primary as a first-time candidate against Bera, Patterson and two other candidates. Burdick is a trained journalist, and six months after the primary election, he returned to this vocation by starting The Sacto Politico.

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