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Assemblyman Chad Mayes. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

2020 General Election Preview: 42nd Assembly District

California Globe takes an inside look into the close Assembly race out in the desert

By Evan Symon, October 14, 2020 2:56 pm

Located just East of the Inland Empire, the 42nd District is anchored by Palm Springs and snakes through the Mojave, reaching cities and towns such as Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms, Yucca Valley, as well as the suburbs around Palm Springs.

The district is largely Republican and white, but that has been slowly changing over the years as more people move out here to avoid the high costs of Los Angeles. Republicans still hold firm here, but registered Democrats are close to eclipsing them solely on registered figures.

Desert values are largely at play here, so land use and conservation are always on peoples minds. Joshua Tree National Park probably helps with that. And with the tree getting protected status last month and virtually halting most development in the area, development issues are starting to take front stage here. And, oddly enough for a red district, alternative energy is a big issue thanks to a prevalence, and growth, of wind farms located in the district. It’s a complicated district, and as luck would have it, there are complicated candidates running this year.

Ever since redistricting in 2012, Republicans have always won by at least 55% here, including in the 2018 blue wave election that had swept up most districts. Assemblyman Chad Mayes (I-Yucca Valley) has done well here since taking over for former Assemblyman Brian Nestande in 2014. It doesn’t matter if more and more Los Angelinos are moving here – many important issues require non-normal stances for Republicans to make, and they get a lot of moderate Democrats as a result.

A big bellwether for true party change in districts is the Gubernatorial election, and both previous Republican candidates Neel Kashkari and John Cox had close to the same percentage of votes. Trump won by 4% out here too in 2016, with a large number of votes going third party. That’s the power of the GOP in the 42nd.

But this year is different. It’s not Democrat vs. Republican this year. The Democratic candidate, DeniAntoinette Mazingo, came in third by a margin of around 2,000 votes in March.

Instead it’s Conservative V. Conservative, the only race like it in the state this year. Assemblyman Mayes, a lifelong Republican, switched registration to Independent  last year over a lack of party bipartisanship and skewed focus of GOP leadership. This left Republicans upset and vowing to take back the district, backing Andrew Kotyuk to take him on in November.

The Candidates:

Chad Mayes – Before leaving the party in 2019, Mayes had won several offices as a Republican. He was elected as Town Councilmember of Yucca Valley in 2010, but left the next year to focus on his Chief of Staff duties for the San Bernardino County Supervisor. A few years later he ran for the Assembly and has held the seat ever since.

Mayes has proven to be a reliable right-leaning vote, but also proved to be a largely bipartisan. Conservative and firearm rights groups give him high marks, but so do LGBT organizations. Environmental groups also give him non-zero scores, which is more than most California Republicans can say.

But his bipartisanship has also been a major concern of many GOP lawmakers. His support of state cap and trade policies cost him the Assembly Minority Leader spot a few years back, and his support of many LGBT causes, while winning many centrist Democrat votes, also hurt his position within the party.

This year he’s running a campaign on lowered spending, fiscal responsibility, championing environmental causes, and fighting the homeless problem. It’s a campaign that speaks to middle of the road Republicans down to centrist Democrats, and if his primary performance and fundraising is any indication, it’s working.

Unions, politicians, law enforcement members, and district attorneys across the political spectrum support him, with Mayes even nabbing the influential backing of Palm Springs Mayor Geoff Kors.

Mayes is still mad at current GOP leadership and has used his Independent status as a way to bring together conservatism and bipartisanship. A lot of Democrats and Republicans alike fear him for that – mostly because it’s been working.

San Jacinto Mayor Andrew Kotyuk. (Photo: Youtube)

Andrew Kotyuk – The March primary second place finisher was really more of an indication of which party was angrier at Mayes in the past few years, and the GOP edged the Dems out.

This year the Republicans chose Andrew Kotyuk.

Kotyuk, a Navy veteran, first got into politics ten years ago when he was elected to the San Jacinto City Council. Since then he has founded several businesses, served as the Chairman of both the Southern California Regional Rail Authority Metrolink and the Riverside Transit Authority, and has become Mayor of San Jacinto, being re-elected twice.

Kotyuk has said that Mayes let the Republican Party down in Sacramento and that he wants to bring the district seat back to the GOP. Kotyuk has generally proven to be a more righter-leaning Republican than Mayes, with pro-life groups and pro-gun groups backing him for his Assembly run.

However, his stances have only won him so much support. The Republican party is behind Kotyuk, of course, but many moderate Republicans have stayed with Mayes, including former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. This has somewhat limited Kotyuk in getting out the needed centrist and moderate Republican vote. And with many Democrats backing Mayes, he can’t afford to spurn many of them going into the final weeks.

What does this mean?

The 42nd will be the first major test on how conservatism will survive in California in the coming years. Mayes scares Democrats because he has proven that he can still beat them by a large margin and poach many registered Democrats votes even as the district turns purple. And he’s scaring many Republicans by finding a more moderate route that is proving effective.

Mayes has basically torn a page from the 2006 Governor’s race and focused on moderate conservatism. To many, Kotyuk represents the Trump brand of Republicanism while Mayes is easing his Independent brand to the pre-Reagan Revolution GOP days. If Mayes wins, many predict that there could be many copycats, like how several Reagan-era Republicans and Obama-era Democrats refocused their stances to appeal to disaffected party members

Mayes will probably win this one, as he has name recognition and wide appeal going into it. If he wins and shows the power of moderates in the state, the party could try this strategy out in 2022 in purple and slightly blue Assembly districts.

Both parties are watching this race.

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Evan Symon
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