Sacramento Oil Candidates Elected to California Legislature

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Several moderate Democrats and Republicans, beneficiaries of millions in oil contributions, are headed to the California Senate and Assembly this week.

The industry was spending heavily in the primary and general elections to boost business-friendly Republicans and moderate Democrats. One oil-funded political action committee — the Coalition to Restore California’s Middle Class, Including Energy Companies That Produce Gas, Oil, Jobs and Taxpayers — has spent more than $8 million in 2022 supporting candidates it believes will could be useful to fend off a possible surprise fine.

In addition to PAC spending, individual campaigns also gave directly to some candidates.

There is no guarantee that the winning candidates who receive the spending will ultimately follow through on the oil proposals. Television ads and mailings funded by PACs are usually organized at independent expense, meaning that the companies can neither accept nor decline support.

The first signs may appear Lawmakers are meeting Monday in a special session called by Gov. Gavin Newsom to address the supposed increase in prices in the oil industry amid record profits and high gas prices.

Here’s who won, who lost, and what it could mean for oil and environmental interests in the California Legislature.

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In June 2022, Sacramento resident Jay Lohr pumps gas at a Shell station on Del Paso Road in Natomas, where regular gas was $6.59 a gallon. Oil companies have spent heavily in the 2022 election to support candidates they believe are pro-business. Hector Amezcua hamezcua@sacbee.com

Which oil PAC candidates won?

There was a lot of oil money in California, but the Recovery Coalition arose in October-November as one of the biggest players in the statewide race. The PAC has endorsed eight legislative candidates — four Republicans and four moderate Democrats — in the last month before the Nov. 8 election. Five won and three lost.

In the Sacramento area, Senate candidate Angelique Ashby and Assembly candidate Stephanie Nguyen won Democrat-to-Democrat races against opponents who are considered more progressive. The PAC has poured more money into that region than any other region in the state. He spent more than $1.6 million endorsing Ashby and more than $900,000 endorsing Nguyen.

Elsewhere in the Central Valley, Republican Juan Alanis won a Modesto-area Assembly race against Democrat Jessica Self after the Coalition to Restore contributed over $400,000. The PAC lost in Kern County after spending more than $500,000 to support Assembly candidate Leticia Perez, who lost to fellow Democrat Jasmit Baynes.

In Southern California, The Recovery Coalition has backed Republican Janet Nguyen with more than $200,000 in her successful Orange County Senate race against Democrat Kim Carr. The PAC spent more than $140,000 supporting Democratic Assembly candidate Juan Carrillo in the Palmdale district, where he defeated Republican Paul Andre Marsh.

The Restoration Coalition lost the Assembly election in Santa Clarita after Democrat Pilar Schiavo defeated Republican Suzette Valladares to flip the blue seat. The PAC has spent nearly $500,000 supporting incumbent Valladares.

The PKK has had its share worst loss in San Diego, where Democratic Senate candidate Kathryn Blakespear defeated Republican Matt Gunderson. The Recovery Coalition spent more than $1.2 million opposing Blackspear and north of $600,000 supporting Gunderson.

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A postcard from Assembly candidate Eric Gehry attacks his opponent, Stephanie Nguyen, for receiving support from an oil-funded PAC in the form of independent spending ads. Lindsay Holden lholden@sacbee.com

What do oil and moderate Democrats say?

The oil industry is largely silent on the criteria it uses to evaluate candidates.

Coalition to Restore does not comment on its selection process, said Megan Gamble, vice president of Wilson Public Affairs, who manages the PAC’s communications.

“The Coalition to Restore the Middle Class in California supports leaders who protect jobs and the middle class in California and share our commitment to policies that help businesses thrive and fight to keep the cost of living from rising,” the PAC said in a statement.

David Townsend runs Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy, a PAC that supports pro-business moderate Democrats through a combination of direct donations and independent ad campaigns. The PAC receives some funding from oil companies and supports some of the same candidates as the Recovery Coalition, though Townsend made it clear that Californians for Jobs and the oil industry group are not completely aligned.

Townsend’s PAC strongly supported Ashby and opposed Jones and supported Nguyen and Carrillo.

He said his group was sensitive to the political philosophies of Gerry and Jones, and they chose candidates who better aligned with their moderate ideology.

“It’s not that kind of game, or maybe if we really talk to him, we can get him to be more like us,” Townsend said. “People only support those who are already like us.”

Andrew Acosta, a consultant with Nguyen, said he doesn’t think non-oil costs or any other factor led to her victory. As for Newsom’s proposal, Acosta said backing legislation before knowing all the details is always a bad idea.

The Elk Grove-South Sacramento candidate did not take a strong position on environmental issues because her strengths overlapped with other issues, Acosta said.

For example, Nguyen runs the nonprofit Asian Resources Inc. in addition to serving on the Elk Grove City Council. Acosta said they decided to focus on working with the immigrant community, rather than topics she hadn’t necessarily covered during her local political career.

“I don’t think you know where the members are until they start voting,” Acosta said.

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Mike Young of California Environmental Voters speaks at a rally in Sacramento, criticizing Senate candidate Angelique Ashby for receiving support from an oil-funded PAC in the form of an independent spending ad. The California Alliance, a coalition of consumer advocates, environmentalists and food and commercial workers that supports Ashby’s opponent, Dave Jones, held an event outside a Chevron gas station in the 1800 block of Broadway. Lindsay Holden lholden@sacbee.com

What do environmentalists say?

Although a group of oil-backed candidates will be sworn into the Legislature on Monday, one environmental advocate doesn’t think the industry has been entirely successful in the 2022 election, based on how much money it has spent on racing.

Mike Young, policy and organizing director for Environmental Voters of California, said the industry has influenced races — especially in the Sacramento area — simply because of “a lot of dollars.”

The industry still played in races where the PAC didn’t target independent spending, including the incredibly tight election in the Palm Springs area between Democrat Christy Holstage and Republican Greg Wallis. The Coalition to Restore has donated $500,000 to the Republican Party, which has spent heavily on the race.

And individual oil companies — including Chevron, Valero and Marathon Petroleum — have also donated directly to Wallis’ campaign.

Young said the industry chose races in which it saw favorable candidates and passed on those in which it knew it could not be competitive. While oil company candidates won some races, they spent big on some elections that didn’t go in their favor.

Young cited Perez’s loss in Kern County and Gunderson’s loss in San Diego as examples. He also said some of their best races were closer than the industry would have liked given the amount of money spent. And the fact that candidates are being attacked for any possible connection to petrodollars, Young sees as a sign of progress.

“Everybody’s going to say they’ve got wins, but really, I’d still say oil had a pretty bad night,” Young said. “With the amount of dollars they have, they should be winning a lot more than they are. And they’re going to be entering a legislature that’s going to be a lot less friendly to them than it was last cycle.”

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Lindsay Holden covers the California Legislature for The Sacramento Bee. She previously reported on housing and local government for The Tribune of San Luis Obispo. Lindsey began her career at the Rockford Register Star in Illinois. A native Californian, she grew up in the Midwest, where she earned degrees from De Paul University and Northwestern University.

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