This is the fifth installment in a series of Capital Public Radio interviews with the prominent candidates for California governor. You can find all the interviews here.
The Trump administration has suggested it may try to prosecute elected officials who help enact or enforce state or local immigration measures that conflict with federal law.
Travis Allen thinks the feds should arrest the man he hopes to replace as California governor.
The Republican assemblyman from Orange County, one of three GOP candidates to succeed termed-out Gov. Jerry Brown, says the Democrat should face consequences for signing a bill last year that limits state and local law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.
“Absolutely, absolutely,” Allen said when asked whether Brown should be arrested in a recent interview with Capital Public Radio.
“This whole ‘sanctuary state’ — it's an illegal concept, and it is very clear that immigration is the specific duty of the federal government. Jerry Brown is breaking federal law by instituting this illegal sanctuary state,“ Allen said. “There is a federal immigration law and it must be followed by California.”
That drew a sharp response from Brown’s office. “Given this individual’s day job, one would expect him to be a bit more familiar with the law and how it works,” press secretary Evan Westrup wrote in an email. “Hopefully he’ll consider doing a little homework — and thinking — before saying such an absurd thing aloud next time.”
The measure, Senate Bill 54, easily passed the Legislature last fall after Brown and the bill’s author, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, negotiated amendments that addressed some concerns among law enforcement groups.
Westrup also pointed to a passage in Brown’s SB 54 signing message: “It is important to note what the bill does not do,” Brown wrote last fall. “This bill does not prevent or prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the Department of Homeland Security from doing their own work in any way. They are free to use their own considerable resources to enforce federal immigration law in California.”
After his interview was broadcast and this article was published, the assemblyman reached out to say he realized his answer needed clarification.
“To be more precise, the Justice Department should arrest Jerry Brown if he takes any action to enforce SB 54 that interferes with Federal Immigration authorities doing their constitutional duty,” Allen wrote in an email. “A good example is [California Attorney General] Xavier Becerra threatening California employers if they cooperate with [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement].”
Still, Allen is convinced California voters are on his side of the argument. He says the new law “is sheltering people in this state who are here illegally and committing crimes while they are here with taxpayer dollars.”
If elected governor, he’s pledged to reverse the “sanctuary state” law in his first 100 days in office by calling a special election and placing a ballot initiative before voters.
Allen is quick to throw punches at the governor on issues well beyond immigration. He said Brown “lied” by signing a transportation funding bill last year that included fuel tax and vehicle fee increases after promising “no new taxes without voter approval” during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign. And, referring to several side deals reached to ensure the gas tax bill’s passage by funding transportation projects in four lawmakers’ districts, he said Brown “was able to bribe four legislators a billion dollars.”
Asked to name something the governor has done right, Allen declared Brown’s governorship “a legacy of failures.” He pointed to the embattled Delta tunnels and high-speed rail projects.
“Jerry Brown is a lot of talk, and he always has been a lot of talk,” he said.
A Tea Party Stalwart, But Not An Immediate Trump Supporter
Allen is in his sixth year in the Assembly, representing an Orange County district that includes his hometown of Huntington Beach. He’s run an investment advising business since 2001, but grew frustrated watching clients, family and friends move out of California because of the state’s high taxes and cost of living. So he decided to run for office.
“I don’t think we should have career politicians in California,” he said. “I think our politicians should be forced to live in the real world and pay real taxes and live under all those crazy laws that they are putting out there.”
Since his election in 2012, Allen has carved out a voting record and speaking style of an unabashed conservative, the Tea Party, and, he says, President Donald Trump. But he was not an immediate Trump supporter in the 2016 presidential campaign. He first backed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (“I thought he had a great chance against Hillary Clinton”), then Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (“I like the fact that Ted was not afraid to take on the entire establishment”).
But Allen rallied behind Trump as soon as he became the presumptive GOP nominee, writing an op-ed in May 2016 headlined “It’s time for Republicans to unify behind Trump.”
For anyone who “believes in common sense and economic prosperity and the Republican values,” Allen said in our interview, “it was very clear there was only one choice: You're either going to vote for Donald Trump, or anything else you do will support Hillary Clinton.”
In contrast, Allen noted, one of his rival GOP gubernatorial candidates, San Diego businessman John Cox, voted for libertarian Gary Johnson. “I'm the only person in the governor's race, up until just lately, that actually openly supported the president,” Allen said. (Cox recently told Capital Public Radio that his vote was a mistake, and that he now backs President Trump.)
The other Republican in the governor’s race, former Sacramento-area Rep. Doug Ose, endorsed Trump even earlier than Allen did and played a leading role in the president’s California campaign.
Allen has nothing but praise for Trump’s record as president, and vows to bring the same leadership style to California.
“We need somebody that is not afraid of taking on the establishment on either side, to actually implement policies that are for the best of our state,” he said. “And I have to tell ya, this is exactly what I think our president's done for our country.”
Allen voiced support for the federal tax overhaul that Trump and congressional Republicans passed late last year. The new law caps the state and local income and property tax deduction at $10,000, which is expected to increase federal taxes owed by wealthy Californians.
“In extra-high tax states like California, taking away that state and local deduction against federal taxes — it's gonna hurt some people, and that's very true,” Allen said. “But on balance, the benefit of the federal tax reform is going to be massive for all the states, including California.”
He rejected a bill by De León to deduct state income taxes as charitable contributions.
“The real answer is not some fancy trick proposed by the Sacramento Democrats,” Allen said, calling instead for lowering state income tax rates. “When you lower taxes across the board in California, you will unleash an economic engine the likes of which the state has not seen since the Gold Rush.”
Allen’s first challenge is to finish in the top two, out of the seven current gubernatorial candidates, in the June primary to advance to the November general election. Three reputable polls released in recent months show him ranging from third place to fifth, no closer than six points to second place.
To catch up, he’ll need to rely on his conservative base to turn out voters; his latest fundraising report filed Wednesday shows his campaign is under water: Allen raised nearly $450,000 last year but ended 2017 with $135,535 cash on hand and $342,850 in debt. That’s well behind Cox, who has contributed several million dollars of his own money. (Ose has just started raising money in the last couple of weeks.)
It’s possible two Democrats will advance to the runoff. But Allen believes he will make it, along with former San Francisco mayor and current Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who’s led in polls throughout the campaign. If so, Allen is convinced he’ll have a good shot at winning it all.
“I think the labels are gonna be very clear,” he said. “Gavin Newsom is the Bay Area progressive that's to the left of [Vermont Sen.] Bernie Sanders, and Travis Allen is the common-sense Californian that just wants California to once again be the greatest state in the nation.”
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to add a clarification from Asm. Allen about the circumstances under which he thinks Gov. Brown should be arrested for violating federal immigration law.