On Oct. 1, then-Assembly Republican leader Martin Garrick, R-Carlsbad, made a $3,900 donation to Kristin Olsen, the Republican candidate in the 25th Assembly District. Olsen was the only candidate on the ballot. She had no opponent.
One role of a party leader in either house is to raise funds and hand them out to candidates from his or her own party.
But often there is another purpose for this largess – to assure support for a leadership bid. Caucuses typically elect new leaders right after elections, and the Assembly Republicans have been particularly apt to replace their leaders in recent years.
On that same day, Garrick made $3,900 donations — the maximum allowed under state law — to seven other Republican Assembly candidates. All are now incoming freshmen. This group also includes Linda Halderman (AD 29), Shannon Grove (AD 32), Katcho Achadjian (AD 33), Jeff Gorell (AD 37), Mike Morrell (AD 63), Don Wagner (AD 70), and Brian Jones (AD 77).
All had registration advantages in their districts, and all won on Election Day by at least 16 percentage points. Grove, Halderman and Jones all won by at least 30 points.
All told, Garrick gave $3,900 maximum donations to 14 Assembly Republicans candidates. But Assemblywoman Connie Conway, R-Visalia, gave to 17 such candidates. In each case, she maxed out in either the primary or general election, if not both. Garrick gave to all 11 freshman Republican Assembly members elected this year, while Conway donated to seven of them.
On Thursday, Conway replaced Garrick as Assembly Republican leader. The Caucus reported that the change came in a unanimous vote by members, and that Garrick stepped down voluntarily. But Conway had been gunning for the job for weeks, and had mounted at least one other serious attempt at forcing a leadership vote.
In August, Garrick made $3,900 donations to two other Assembly Republican freshmen who won in walkovers: David Valadao (AD 30) and Tim Donnelly (AD 59). They went on to win by 20 and 24 points, respectively, though Valadao did it against a registration disadvantage of nearly 10 points.
Conway had her own October spending spree, giving to nine candidates in the month right before the general election. All but one of these candidates had already received money from Garrick. Five of them are now incoming freshmen in the Assembly GOP Caucus.
Spokesmen for both members denied there was any connection between these donations and the ongoing leadership fight between the pair.
“It actually has no relevance to the way she wrote the checks,” said Conway aide Dillon Gibbons. “She gave it to the people who asked for money. That was it.”
Gibbons added, “There is literally no connection” to a leadership fight. He noted that Conway spread money around in Senate and statewide races as well. She also gave her party $30,000 in July.
“Any leader will tell you that it is important to support the entire caucus,” said Mike Zimmerman, who is Garrick’s chief of staff, also speaking in a political role on a non-state phone.
He added, “What he did is no different from what leaders on either side of the aisle have done for years. Mr. Garrick donated a substantial amount of money from his committee to the [California Republican] Party. I’m not really sure where the issue is here, to be honest.”
When asked about giving money to candidates who were not facing close races, Zimmerman said that in some cases it was so those candidates would have funds to donate in close races in their areas. And Garrick gave big to his party, putting in $161,800 to the California Republican Party (CRP) this year alone.
But Garrick’s giving was different from the man on the other side of the aisle. Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, gave to only four Democratic Assembly candidates this year: Alyson Huber (8.5 point winner in AD 10), Joan Buchanan (4.6 point winner in AD 15), Marty Block (17 point winner in AD 78) and Manuel Perez (15 point winner in AD 80). Speaker Perez also gave $32,400 to the California Democratic Party and $25,000 to the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.
Over in the Senate, Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, R-Sacramento, gave to only four Democratic Senate candidates this year: John Laird (five point loser to Blakeslee in the SD 15 special election in August), Michael Rubio (17 point winner in SD 16), Lou Correa (27 point winner SD 34) and Mary Salas (defeated in SD 40 Democratic primary). He gave the maximum to Anna Caballero (five point loser in SD 12) on the last day of last year.
Steinberg also gave $32,400 to his party, contributed $200,000 for a voter turnout effort, and put in $10,000 to the legal defense fund of Sen. Rod Wright, D-Los Angeles, who is facing voting fraud and other charges. Both Steinberg and Perez were considered fairly secure in their leadership positions.
Over in the Senate Republican caucus, there was an agreement reached in January to have Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Inland Empire, replace Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta. Dutton finally took the reins on Oct. 12.
Hollingsworth gave to only three Republican Senate candidates. He maxed out to Anthony Cannella (SD 12 winner) and Tim Thiesen (SD 16 loser) in the primary. In the general, he gave to these two and Lucille Kring (SD 34 loser).
Dutton gave to Canella, Thiesen, Kring, Blakeslee and Joel Anderson (30 point winner in SD 36).
The stories about Garrick’s ouster focused on how in the
midst of a big Republican year nationwide, his caucus lost a seat — the 5th Assembly District, where Democrat Richard Pan beat out Republican Andrew Pugno in a bid to replace termed-out Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Fair Oaks. Worse, this came in a midterm election, where likely voters trend older, whiter and more conservative than in a presidential year.
Democrats now hold 52 seats in the Assembly — the most they’ve had since 1974, the year Jerry Brown was elected Governor the first time. This puts them two votes away from the two-thirds majority they would need to raise taxes. Pending a special election to replace Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, who died last month, Steinberg will have the same situation in the Senate. Democrats hold a 23 point registration advantage in Oropeza’s SD 28.
Two other names came up in the race for Assembly Republican leader. But Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, or Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Diamond Bar, were never thought to be pursuing the job as hard as Conway.
Each donated to a half dozen Assembly GOP candidates. Hagman made three of these donations in July or later, while Nielsen only made one.