Contentious Local Congressional Race Heats Up

By Duncan A. Kennedy

With the completion of the 2020 United States Census and distribution of new census data to state, county and municipal government entities, the redistricting fever hit California full-force in late 2021.  With districts redrawn, reshaped and reapportioned for every office between U.S. Congress and town dogcatcher, few places were subjected to such political pushing and pulling as the Lost Sierra, which is now part of a contentious district stretching from Lake Almanor to Mount Whitney.  With this, a contentious congressional race has begun in the area, complete with everything from dirty tricks to oddly similar names – typical of any political race, honestly.

The Democratic side of the aisle has been firmly locked down by Dr. Kermit Jones of Roseville, a Navy veteran and former White House Fellow turned internal medicine physician.  Dr. Jones initially announced in the old CA-04, a district stretching from Truckee to Yosemite represented by conservative elder statesman Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove), but switched his candidacy to the CA-03 race after the district lines were redrawn in December.  McClintock, for in the meantime, switched seats to run in the less competitive CA-05, a redder foothills district running from El Dorado Hills to Fresno.

Kermit Jones, M.D. Image courtesy of the Kermit Jones for Congress campaign.

On the issues, Dr. Jones has principally focused on healthcare access and affordability, aiming to increase government involvement in healthcare insurance to attempt to expand rural healthcare access.  Outside of healthcare, his other main issues are increasing federal funding for rural broadband efforts and highway maintenance, election and educational reforms, and loosening zoning restrictions.  He has a somewhat unorthodox stance on forest fires for a Democratic candidate, proposing increasing funding for firesafe programs and sponsoring the construction of local biomass energy facilities.

Dr. Jones has already gained the endorsement of several prominent Democratic-leaning political organizations and the de facto support of the state party.  He has also been endorsed by prominent elected Democratic officials, including State Treasurer Fiona Ma, Congressmen Ro Khanna, John Garamendi and Ted Lieu, and the former mayors of Folsom, Truckee and South Lake Tahoe.  His only token opposition is Grass Valley-based perennial candidate, universal healthcare activist and technology consultant David Peterson.

Meanwhile, a contentious and divisive race has emerged on the Republican side of the field between State Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) and Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones of Sacramento, a portion of which is included in the new CA-03.  Whereas the Democratic field has been a quiet one-man race without division or mudslinging, the Republican primary has been fraught with political operating and tensions, as the filing period ends and the primary season for this contentious open seat begins.

Kevin Kiley is a native of the Sacramento suburbs who earned a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School.  His professional background is as a teacher and attorney, who eventually served as a Deputy Attorney General in the California Department of Justice under now-Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris.  He was first elected to State Assembly District 5 in 2016, and sought higher office in a 2019 State Senate special election (where he came in second to fellow Assemblyman and now gubernatorial candidate Brian Dahle).  In 2021, Kiley was a principal backer of and candidate in the special recall election to replace incumbent Governor Gavin Newsom; he came in sixth place behind the likes of radio host Larry Elder, YouTuber Kevin Paffrath, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, and 2018 Governor nominee John Cox.

Kiley’s campaign has yet to outline any specific issues in his campaign, but has railed heavily against established Democratic Party incumbents and the power structure they uphold in the state of California, perhaps an odd tone to strike in a campaign for federal office.  His principal focus seems to be on education reform, specifically empowering school choice options for parents and granting extra funding to charter schools.  He has the endorsement of numerous local officials in Placer County, Board of Equalization member Ted Gaines, and retired Congressmen John Doolittle and Doug Ose.

Assemblyman Kevin Kiley. Image courtesy of the California State Assembly.

Scott Jones, meanwhile, is a Southern California native who has spent most of his life living in the Sacramento area.  He joined the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department as a deputy in 1989 and has worked in county law enforcement since then, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice at Sacramento State University and took night classes at Lincoln Law School to earn a Juris Doctor in 1998.  He was first elected County Sheriff in 2010, and was subsequently re-elected by larger margins in 2014 and 2018; he previously ran for Congress against Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove) in CA-07 in 2016 and lost by a margin of just 4,802 votes district-wide.

Jones has marketed himself in the past as a fiscally conservative, socially moderate Reagan Republican.  He touts his fiscal record as Sheriff heavily on his website, noting that in addition to hiring record numbers of women, minorities and veterans within the Department, he also ran well under budget during his tenure and frequently returned budget surpluses to Sacramento County.  His main issues in this campaign are “Law and Order”, pushing back against anti-law enforcement sentiments, illegal immigration and human and drug trafficking, and for parental rights in education.  He is endorsed by incumbent Congressmen Tom McClintock and Doug LaMalfa, who currently represent almost the entirety of the new CA-03.

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones. Image courtesy of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office.

Unlike the Democratic side, the Republican primary has seen much political gamesmanship and treachery used to gain an edge in the race to be the conservative figurehead in the CA-03 race.  Thanks to a source inside the California Republican Party who has declined to be named, the Mountain Messenger has been able to reveal a glimpse of what has been going on behind the scenes of this contentious political battle.

Kevin Kiley’s story began in late December, after the redrawn lines were finalized, when he issued a statement announcing that, in anticipation of McClintock moving from CA-03 to CA-05, Kiley would be running for Congress in CA-03.  This announcement came on the heels of the passing of McClintock’s wife Lori and included a message of condolences for the Congressman’s loss as an aside.

McClintock seemed to have taken that announcement as a slight against him, and rumor spread for the next several weeks that he was talking to “a popular Sheriff” in the district to convince him to run as McClintock’s chosen successor against Kiley.  These rumors proved to be grounded in truth when Sheriff Jones announced his candidacy in late January, along with the endorsements of retired and elected Sheriffs across the district’s 10 counties, including Lost Sierra local notables Greg Hagwood, Mike Fisher and Todd Johns.

In early February, Kiley gained the endorsements of county-level GOP affiliates in Yuba, Placer, Nevada and El Dorado counties. The Placer County endorsement was most notable, as it was by a large enough margin to qualify him for the California Republican Party’s state-level endorsement in March; this may have been thanks to the effort of a higher-up in Kiley’s campaign who is also a leading member of the Placer GOP.

Towards the end of February, however, Sheriff Jones responded by announcing endorsements from Congressmen Doug LaMalfa and Tom McClintock, giving credence to the rumors of him being McClintock’s “chosen successor”.  McClintock is quoted on Sheriff Jones’s website as saying the following:

With 33 years in law enforcement, and 12 years as the “Law and Order” Sheriff of Sacramento County, Scott Jones has proven himself to be the real conservative in the 3rd Congressional District. Sheriff Jones is the only candidate that I trust to stand up to the radical Left who wants to “Defund the Police”. He knows first-hand the cost of unchecked illegal immigration on our communities, I can count on Sheriff Jones to be along my side as we secure the border and stop the flow of illegal drugs into our country. He has my full support”

The filing period has now ended, and Kiley’s momentum has been somewhat hampered by these endorsements.  National figures such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) and former President Donald Trump have yet to weigh in on the race, but any move they make is likely to shift the balance of power in this contentious primary.  One other man is a candidate on this side of the aisle – perennial candidate Omar Navarro, who has carpetbagged from the Los Angeles suburbs to run in this district, but his presence is ultimately unlikely to make a difference.

The newly drawn CA-03 is an open seat district that contains Plumas, Sierra, Nevada, Placer, Alpine, Mono and Inyo counties in their entirety, and portions of Yuba (Camptonville, Challenge, Oregon House), Sacramento (Folsom) and El Dorado (Pollock Pines, South Lake Tahoe) counties.  The Republican Party holds an eight-point voter registration advantage in the district, but Donald Trump only won it by two points in November of 2020.  The primary election will be held on June 7th, and the top two vote-getters – regardless of party – will advance to the general election on November 8th.  The Mountain Messenger looks forward to covering this contentious race for the rest of this election season.

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