Editor’s Note: See Jan. 28 follow-up to this article here.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — To start the year, state Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) declared his candidacy in California’s 3rd Congressional District and last week announced an initial $300,000 fundraising haul. But in a far-ranging interview this weekend, his Democratic opponent Dr. Kermit Jones said Kiley should explain his “radical associations,” including those connected to QAnon and an extremist who had called for Americans to arm for civil war.
With Democrats holding a slim majority in the U.S. House, the CA-3 open seat will be among a few dozen competitive districts across the nation that will determine post-midterm control. Navy veteran Jones is running as a moderate Democrat, while Kiley has so far emphasized the need for voters to send him to D.C. “to build our movement for change in California.”
“I served in Iraq and served in the military for five years because I believe in the best of our country,” Jones said. “What I did not serve was to see elected officials at the state or federal level raise their hands in support with people that are advocating for civil war. I think [Kiley] does need to answer for that.”
The recently redrawn CA-3 centers on Placer County and the Sacramento suburb of Folsom, but also ranges from Plumas County in the north to about 250 miles south to Inyo County.
POST-JAN. 6 CALL TO ARMS
Concerns about Kiley’s associations include those SactoPolitico.com reported last year involving a March 7 recall rally in front of the California state capitol. Kiley was advertised as a featured speaker and signed copies of his book in a tent next to the stage. But the event was co-organized by Cordie Williams, a controversial chiropractor from Carlsbad, Calif., who the investigative unit of San Diego’s NBC affiliate reported posted a video and other social media posts after the Jan. 6 D.C. insurrection calling for Americans to arm for civil war.
Two months later at the March recall rally, Kiley spoke immediately after Williams. California GOP chair Jessica Patterson also spoke at the rally. In the days ahead of the rally, SactoPolitico notified the offices of both Kiley and Patterson about the radical backgrounds of Williams and other speakers and asked for comment, but neither responded to multiple requests.
“I deployed to Iraq with a Marine helicopter squadron twice [in 2007 and 2008]. I took an oath and deployed there to defend our constitution and our democracy,” said Jones, who also said he has served 20,000 patients. “Voters will have to ask themselves do you want someone who has [my] record of service? Or do you want someone like [Kiley] who, quite honestly, stood beside people who are QAnon supporters and people who are focused on crumbling our democracy versus building it back up?”
HATE GROUP, MILITIA & QANON TIES
Williams has spoken at California’s state capitol multiple times over the last two years. This included an August 2020 rally at which he claimed Democrats were leading Americans toward an Auschwitz-style furnace. At the time, the homepage for his 1776 Forever Free group featured flags and other symbols associated with the Three Percenters militia, which carried AR-15s in 2017 in Charlottesville, Va., to protect white supremacist marchers. Those images have since been removed.
Also speaking at the March recall rally was Scott Presler. From 2017 to 2018, he served as national strategist for ACT for America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has called an “extremist hate group” and the Anti-Defamation League labeled “the largest anti-Muslim group in the United States.” National Public Radio reported that for ACT Presler organized a series of nationwide rallies, including approving an avowed white supremacist to oversee one of them. This individual in turn encouraged white nationalists to attend while fully armed.
Another recall rally speaker was GOP-endorsed 2020 Congressional candidate Buzz Patterson, who used Presler to train more than a hundred of his campaign staff and volunteers. During the campaign, Patterson was involved in multiple racially provocative online episodes and confirmed on Twitter his support for QAnon, which after media inquiries he later deleted and denied any knowledge of QAnon.
Another QAnon supporter, Krystal Tini, was listed as a featured speaker at the recall rally but was unable to attend. She co-hosted a podcast with Williams and in 2020 posted long online videos supporting QAnon conspiracy theories.
For the past week, the SactoPolitico has requested an interview with Kiley or a campaign spokesperson to discuss the Congressional race and top issues, but none of the requests were returned. Requests this weekend to respond to Jones’ comments have also received no response.
In 2020, its estimated voters in the future CA-3 would have gone for Trump by just 1.9%, which Jones’ team noted would have been California’s second-most competitive district at the Presidential level in 2020. The Cook Political Report puts the new district at +4 for Republicans.
As advantages for Kiley, his campaign communications note he already represents two-thirds of the district in the State Assembly. On Friday, Kiley also reported raising $300,000 in his first week. Meanwhile Jones’ end-of-2021 total from less than two quarters of fundraising was $675,000. Jones added that with final redistricting having turned the CA-3 into a competitive district, he expects donations to ramp up significantly.
“It is going to be a lot easier to fundraise. We were fundraising in quarters that were some of the hardest to fundraise in. It is hard to fundraise in August, and we raised a couple hundred thousand dollars in a couple weeks. It is tough to raise in December competing with the holiday season, and we raised over $360,000 last quarter. So we have a pretty robust fundraising mechanism in place and should continue to get bigger as we go forward,” Jones said.
He added he has been running long before Kiley entered the race, having declared his candidacy on September 14 last year. On the issues, Jones has released what he calls the most detailed plan to improve healthcare of any Congressional candidate in the nation. This includes federal assistance to improve health care access in rural areas, and other top issues for him are addressing local wildfires on public lands, helping repair wildfire destruction of private property, and fighting rising costs for all Americans.
MOST KILEY ENDORSERS QUIET
Prior to Jones’ call for Kiley to explain his far-right associations, SactoPolitico attempted to reach 10 of Kiley’s recently announced endorsers. However, only one responded to share why they are backing Kiley. This was Roseville Mayor Krista Bernasconi. She was not familiar with Kiley’s attendance at the March recall rally, but said she has always found Kiley to be a smart, critical-thinking state representative, whose Assembly district includes Roseville.
“I am endorsing him as someone who has been very responsive to our community,” Bernasconi said. “Since my time on the Roseville City Council, Kevin has met with myself and our department heads once a year, and he understands the issues at the local level. He has always demonstrated an ability to absorb the nuances of an issue.”
“He also understands cities want to have local control. He is business-friendly, a former teacher and has a legal degree. I am glad he is running.”
CHANGE OF HEART IN FOLSOM
Another Kiley constituent is a data engineer Vijay Jonnalagadda, a Folsom resident of 20 years. Although he is the recent past president of the Folsom Area Democratic Club, he said Kiley initially impressed him when first elected to the State Assembly in 2016. He even approached Kiley with an idea for improving vocational education, and Kiley added Jonnalagadda to an education advisory committee.
But since then, Jonnalagadda said, “Kiley has become very right. The way he was suing the governor [Gavin Newsom] for frivolous reasons and ran against the governor in the recall, I think he ruined his reputation with the independents.”
About Kiley speaking at the March recall rally, Jonnalagadda said, “I am not surprised. Kiley can sometimes change his tune and talk softly, but other times, he is also a very strong Trumpian conservative. There seems to be two sets of conservatives. One is traditional conservativism, but the other is this Trumpian conservatism, and they don’t look at the facts like the rest of the country.”
“Kiley seems to be able to project whatever set of conservatism works for his audience. He may be basically a traditional conservative, but definitely he is also saying whatever works. But Folsom is a very educated area, and I think [voters] will see that,” said Jonnalagadda, who added he likes what he’s seen from the moderate Jones so far.
RUNNING AGAINST CALIFORNIA?
Kiley and his team did not make anyone available to discuss their top issues in the campaign, but from Kiley’s opening campaign communications, he isn’t emphasizing any legislative issues specific to the CA-3. His website also doesn’t have the typical “issues” section.
Instead, his campaign announcements have talked about wanting to be a “Congressman for California” who will “keep our movement growing.” Last weekend on Sacramento’s Fox 40, he talked about using the Congressional seat “to bring more attention to the problems in California and bring change here at the state level as well.”
Jones found this an unusual agenda for an elected official.
“[Kiley] would be the first politician I have ever seen who instead of going to Washington to try to advocate for his district or state, will go to Washington to say how horrible his state is. That makes absolutely no sense to me,” he said.
During his SactoPolitico interview, Jones also shared that Friday he signed a lease on a home in Roseville. Since last summer, he has been leasing in Placerville, but when Placerville was not included in the redrawn district, he decided to move.
The only other declared candidate in the CA-3 race so far is Los Angeles-area Republican Omar Navarro. He has run several times against U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, raising $1.8 million the last two cycles. He also brands himself as far to the right of Kiley, who Navarro calls a RINO (Republican In Name Only). Attempts to reach him were not successful.