Another month and more indications of a possible blue wave in the House. This last month, Speaker Paul Ryan announced he would not run again, shortly followed by Dennis Ross of Florida and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania ... adding to the roster of Republicans members of Congress who have announced they are not planning to run this fall. This makes 46 Republicans in the House who have announced they are retiring or have resigned since January 2017, including ten Republican Committee Chairs.
In heavily Republican Arizona, a special Congressional election was held in a district encompassing the suburbs of Phoenix that is typically 13 points more Republican than the national average. No Democrat in this century has reached 40% of the vote in this district. But this time, a modestly financed first-time Democratic candidate, Doctor Tiperneni Hiral, lost to Republican State Senator Debbie Lesko in a tight race 53% to 47%; on the heels of her excellent showing, Dr. Hilal has announced she plans to run again in November.
The next day in New York, Democrats won an Assembly seat that had been represented by Republicans since 1978 and also took two open New York Senate seats. Here in our backyard, more than half of California’s 14 incumbents raised less than their Democratic opponents in the last quarter of 2017, and Republican Congressmen McClintock, Rohrabacher, and Knight were outraised by one of their Democratic challengers in the first quarter of 2018.
The Latest in Trumpworld
The chaos continued to swirl around Trumpworld. The airwaves have been dominated by former FBI head James Comey’s book interviews ... and legal wrangling over the President’s relationship with Stormy Daniels. Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen had his office and home searched and various documents seized. While Trump got his Secretary of State confirmed, his under-vetted nominee for the Department of Veteran's Affairs went down in flames. Trump’s head of the Environmental Protection Agency has faced a very public drubbing for his ethics lapses.
Meanwhile, Republicans on the Congressional Intelligence Committee have shown a lack of interest in pursuing leads that might damage the President; they issued a final Republican report exonerating the President. The following day, in an interview with Richard Engel, Russian lawyer Velenitskaya of Trump Tower fame, acknowledged that she was an informant for the Russian Crown Prosecutor, confirming a closer relationship to Russian officialdom than previously understood.
The Sinclair Broadcast Group and the Federal Communications Commission
The President’s continuous and virtually uncritical loop with Fox News and some other outlets is characteristic of the Trump presidency. During the 2016 election, the Trump campaign also gave regular access to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which broadcast Trump interviews without commentary. Sinclair has been criticized by some for its “must run” political commentary and pre-packaged news segments.
The Sinclair Broadcast Group, already the largest U.S. broadcaster with 191 stations, is now waiting approval to merge with Tribune Media, which would give the new company the ability to reach 72% of homes across the U.S., surpassing the Congressionally mandated maximum reach of 39%. This matter is being considered by the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department.
Last April, Chairman Ajit Pai’s FCC reinstated a rule allowing UHF stations to be counted as having less reach than VHF channels to permit broadcasters more flexible growth options. Currently this rule change is subject to a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals challenge, and 22 Democratic Senators would like the FCC to wait for the Court of Appeals to rule before proceeding. Attorneys General in four states have opposed the merger saying Sinclair would have too much national power and could stifle points of view in local markets.
This is the same FCC, led by Ajit Pai, which reversed the Obama-era regulations on net neutrality for the Internet last December. In this instance, however, a number of states are already fighting back. Washington and Oregon have already enacted net neutrality laws, and Governors in five states – Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Montana, and Vermont - have signed executive orders restoring the principle, and efforts are underway in California. Like EPA Administrator Pruitt, Ajit Pai appears less interested in rules that were intended to protect the consumer, and more interested in creating an environment favorable to the communications industry.
Closer to Home ...
Today, our neighbors went to the polls in Oxnard to vote in a recall election set to cost $500,000. Ironically, the proximate cause of the recall was a utility rate hike to pay for necessary improvements in water treatment. When all is said and done, Oxnard voters will still be heading to the polls again in November for City Council Elections, voting for candidates running for the first time in districts instead of citywide. I am not the first to note that this recall election was a big expense for an election whose results will only apply for six more months until the November election, pushed on Oxnard by people who opposed legislators taking a vote to pay for a wastewater treatment rate increase.
In a triumph for the Club and our friends at CFROG (Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas), we were able to blunt an attempt by Kelly Long and Peter Foy of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to exclude the public's right to appeal zoning clearances based on old land-use entitlements. This would have expedited a zoning clearance to install 79 new oil drilling wells on county land adjoining Camarillo Airport. The original permit for this project was granted in 1955 ... before the incorporation of Camarillo ... before the development of new extraction technologies ... and before environmental reviews. Thanks to Rick Gardner and all of you for contacting the supervisors by email and phone to register your concerns. But the issue is coming up again on the Supervisor's agenda on June 5th, election day. Let’s remain vigilant.
I hope all of you will be joining us for our Pizza Fundraiser in support of our Scholarship Program this Thursday, May 3rd. Our featured speaker will be Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, aka “HBJ” to those of us who heard Kevin de Leon speak at the “Spring Fling.” I hope to see you there.