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With control of the U.S. Senate at stake this year, Californians face a choice between an incumbent representing the values of most residents, a Trump backer who still questions the 2020 presidential election outcome, and a one-issue billionaire.
It’s an easy decision: Voters should keep U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla in the upper house of Congress. They should cast two votes for him — to continue serving the remainder of Kamala Harris’ term and for a new six-year stint starting next year.
Gov. Gavin Newsom picked Padilla, a Democrat, to replace Harris after she was elected vice president. Padilla, the son of immigrants from Mexico and an engineering graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had served on the Los Angeles City Council and in the state Senate before first winning election in 2014 as California’s secretary of state.
During his tenure as elections chief, the state significantly boosted voter registration and moved to its current near-universal mail balloting. Padilla was arguably California’s best secretary of state in more than 40 years.
His election experience and vote when he arrived in Washington to impeach Donald Trump for fomenting the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection stand in sharp contrast to his two leading primary opponents in the field of 23 candidates: Mark Meuser, a Republican Party attorney still trying to litigate 2020 presidential election irregularities, and billionaire Dan O’Dowd, who didn’t bother to vote in half the 12 statewide elections since 2010.
Padilla vs. Meuser
The differences between Padilla and Meuser, who also faced off in the 2018 secretary of state election, go much further. For example:
• Abortion: Padilla defends a woman’s right to choose. Meuser supports the U.S. Supreme Court’s anticipated reversal of Roe v. Wade and argues for also overturning decisions supporting contraception access and protecting same-sex marriage. Meuser would leave those issues to state discretion.
• Climate change: Padilla supports accelerating the U.S. push to reduce carbon emissions. Meuser says he’s uncertain whether man-made climate change is real and wants California and the nation to increase oil extraction.
• COVID: Padilla has been vaccinated and boosted and supports necessary public health mandates to stem the spread of deadly viruses. Meuser won’t say whether he’s been vaccinated and opposes government public health mandates.
• Guns: Padilla supports strong gun-purchase background checks and renewal of the federal assault-weapon ban. Meuser opposes the ban and could not name any gun rules he would support.
This is a choice between two diametrically opposite candidates. And in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2-1, the outcome of this race would usually be a foregone conclusion.
But there’s O’Dowd, the founder of Green Hills Software, which serves firms such as Lockheed, HP, Boeing, General Motors, BMW and Toyota. O’Dowd says his share of his Santa Barbara-based company is worth more than $1 billion and that his coin collection adds $300 million to his personal fortune.
O’Dowd is crusading against Tesla, which he says produces unsafe self-driving cars, and to close hacking vulnerabilities in software used to run the nation’s power grid, hospitals and millions of cars. Hackers, he says, can kill more people than an intercontinental nuclear bomber.
He has spent $2 million on campaign ads that thus far target Tesla rather than tout his candidacy, and says he plans to spend more. California is littered with wealthy candidates with little or no political experience who have flamed out in statewide elections. Just ask Al Checchi, Michael Huffington and Meg Whitman. But, as Arnold Schwarzenegger demonstrated, the right combination can lead to success.
What makes O’Dowd different is the magnitude of his wealth and his monomaniacal focus on one issue. Besides the security threat from hackers, he won’t answer questions about any other policy topic.
He’s a registered Democrat — although it’s unclear why — who finished last in a three-way party primary for U.S. Senate in 1994 in which, he says, he solely focused on his opposition to Hillary Clinton’s health care plan. Beyond that, voters know little about his values.
He apparently isn’t very interested in using his wealth to help others less fortunate. Asked about his philanthropy, the billionaire could recall only one contribution his wife made of about $500,000-$1 million to help children of soldiers killed in Iraq.
Californians should be insulted by his candidacy. With the Senate evenly divided, there’s too much at stake in this election to let some rich guy toy with the democratic process to advance his singular agenda while refusing to discuss other key issues.
Voters will likely see a lot of O’Dowd’s television ads, but they shouldn’t be fooled. The clear choice in the June 7 election is Padilla. Vote for him — twice.
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