Roundup: Calif.’s Far Right flares up in U.S. Senate, House, Sacto Co. Sheriff races
Perhaps given how strongly blue California is, most media outlets give light, if any, coverage to how radicalized a large part of the remaining CAGOP is. Last cycle, this media passivity allowed one Republican-endorsed Congressional candidate to get 42% of the general election vote with little local coverage of his QAnon connections, training his campaign using a former strategist from a large national hate group, and failing to report $300,000 in campaign donations. More recently, few voters are aware of the January 2021 FBI arrests of two far-right extremists who planned to blow up the California Democratic Party building. (See KQED’s recent overview.)
So as we reach the halfway point of the mail-in voting period for the June 7 primary, here’s a roundup of some of the more extreme primary happenings that have flown beneath most radars, but not ours.
CORDIE WILLIAMS SENATE SUCCESS
Perhaps the clearest indication how large the once-fringe elements of the California Republican Party (CAGOP) have become is the U.S. Senate race. Main Street Republican Mark Meuser secured the party endorsement in April to oppose the Democratic incumbent Alex Padilla. However, it took two ballots. On the first ballot, Carlsbad chiropractor and extremist orator Cordie Williams received more than a third of the delegate votes.
This was significant as immediately after the Jan. 6, 2021, D.C. insurrection, Williams issued a video urging Americans to arm for civil war. He has also participated in and organized rallies featuring other radical speakers. At these events, Williams has expressed his belief Democrats are possessed by demons and that Democrats are leading Americans toward an Auschwitz-style furnace. At one time, the web site for his 1776 Forever Free group also featured images and symbols (right) associated with the Three Percenter militia movement, which used assault rifles to guard white nationalists at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
Yet through the end of Q1 this year, his U.S. Senate campaign raised roughly the same $300,000 as Meuser, which tied them for third behind Padilla and tech billionaire Dan O’Dowd. In addition, Williams is endorsed by the California Republican Assembly (CRA) and two current state senators – former Senate minority leader Shannon Grove of Bakersfield and San Diego-area Brian Jones.
Last month at a conservative gathering, the first-time candidate did some crude chest thumping about his surprisingly deep support. “We got Axiom Consulting. We got 18 major endorsements. The Tea Party Caucus of California. The CRA.” Williams concluded, “Let’s save our kids and get the pedophiles and dick-pans out. God bless you and semper fi.”
SACRAMENTO SHERIFF’S RACE
Williams’ reference to pedophilia is part of a more than six-year effort by the Far Right to falsely smear Democrats – and even moderate Republicans – of involvement in vast, secret sex trafficking rings and tolerating pedophiliac crimes. (This despite Donald Trump being a longtime fried of Jeffrey Epstein who was convicted of running a secret international sex trafficking ring.) A foundational element of QAnon conspiracy theories, this regularly debunked smear reared its head in cases ranging from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign to multiple Republican U.S. Senators raising the charge against Ketanji Brown Jackson during her U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
Use of the smear has accelerated in the last year, including in California. In Sacramento County, this most recently included the stealth smearing of moderate Democratic sheriff candidate Jim Cooper. For the past few weeks, some of his campaign signs in the county have been defaced with large stickers claiming Cooper “helps child molesters” and listing a website. (See photo top of this article.)
Cooper is a former captain in the sheriff’s department and current member of the State Assembly. If you go to the website listed on the stickers, the charge centers on Cooper voting in 2020 to change automatic California sentencing laws to allow judges limited discretion in sentencing non-forcible sex cases involving a minor as long as the defendant was close in age and it was the only such offense. This passed overwhelmingly in the Senate and Assembly.
This smear is particularly weak given Cooper’s longtime opposition to Prop 57 especially in cases that allowed for the early release of individuals convicted of non-violent sex crimes including against minors. The anti-Cooper website is registered anonymously, and the Cooper campaign quickly removed the stickers. But this is likely not the last time we hear this ugly smear in California.
CRT CATCHUP IN CALIFORNIA
Ridiculous accusations involving pedophilia are a subset of the larger GOP-manufactured culture war claiming Democrats to be anti-parent and anti-children. This attack has been more effective outside California than within but not for lack of trying. In last year’s first recall debate, national conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt tried introducing the Critical Race Theory (CRT) boogeyman into the election by directly asking the Republican candidates about CRT, only for the four candidates to demonstrate how little they knew about it.
But the state Republican Party has been trying to educate more candidates and activists about the electoral value of the issue. At the CAGOP’s April convention in Anaheim, special workshops focused on parents’ rights and ferreting out the “teaching of principles rooted in critical race theory” and “gender-affirming literature.” So it shouldn’t surprise that more Republican office seekers like attorney general candidate Eric Early and gubernatorial candidate Shawn Collins are now featuring the issue prominently in current campaigns.
The GOP goal elsewhere has also been to leverage the issue to take over school boards. In the case of the 2021 Virginia governor race, it proved pivotal in electing Glenn Youngkin. This was boosted when former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe made that fatal debate gaffe saying, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
KILEY’S FAR-RIGHT PROM CONTINUES
Bringing this roundup full circle in several ways, we conclude with Asm. Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin). He is currently running for Congress in the open CA-3 seat. Over the past six years, he’s gone from a clean-and-sober supporter of John Kasich 2016 presidential primary campaign to making a J.D. Vance-style 180° twirl to dance cheek-to-cheek with the GOP’s radicalized far-right.
This includes Kiley’s connection to Cordie Williams. Despite being alerted of Williams’ – and many of the other speakers’ – radical history, Kiley spoke at the March 2021 rally co-organized by Williams. Kiley even followed Williams as speaker and stayed to sign books in his own merch tent.
Since then, Kiley has avoided all questions (with one exception) about the rally, Williams and the other radical speakers. This included Kiley avoiding three primary debates/forums with his opponents where odds were high the topic would come up. These were the Placer County Business Alliance candidate forum on April 25, the League of Women Voters forum in Nevada County on April 28, and a Sacramento Bee Editorial Board discussion on April 18.
Like most candidates, Kiley would have preferred no Republican competition in the primary. Unfortunate for him, he got it in the form of pro-Trump tough-on-crime Republican Sheriff Scott Jones. Even though Kiley’s internal polling showed him quite ahead of Sheriff Jones 49%-21%, Kiley correctly surmised the sheriff’s one chance to catch up was getting a late Trump endorsement. So Kiley strategically cut that off by pushing for and getting Trump’s endorsement last weekend.
But time will tell whether this was a battle won, but war lost for Kiley. The district went for Trump by just 1.9% in 2020. But this was before the Jan. 6 insurrection and the increasingly radicalized GOP brand. With 28% of the CA-3 registered as No Party Preference or Third Party, Kiley’s need to go full MAGA with the Trump endorsement may cost him dearly with those voters in the fall runoff. Such is the same box many Trump-endorsed candidates in close races across the nation may find themselves this fall.