Republicans in the California Assembly have elected a vocal critic of the state’s Democratic governor as their new leader.
Assemblymember James Gallagher of Yuba City will replace Marie Waldron of Valley Center, the caucus announced Tuesday.
Republicans control 19 of the 80 seats in the state Assembly, making it impossible for them to slow down the Democratic majority. Waldron has been the Republican leader since 2018, but she has not been as visible as some of the party’s other members.
Gallagher, meanwhile, has been one of the most outspoken critics of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration. In 2020, Gallagher and fellow Republican Assemblymember Kevin Kiley sued Newsom over his executive orders during the pandemic — a lawsuit they eventually lost.
Just 24% of Californians are Registered Republican
Term limits mean Waldron can run for re-election one more time in the fall before having to give up her seat. Gallagher won’t be termed out until 2026. The vote to replace Waldron was unanimous, according to a news release from the caucus. Waldron now has a new title: Republican leader emeritus.
“It has been an honor to have led our caucus since 2018,” she said.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Gallagher praised Waldron, saying she “kept us on track” as the party picked up one seat from Democrats during the 2020 election cycle during her time as Republican leader.
“We’re going to continue to do that,” Gallagher said.
But it will be difficult in a state where Republicans make up just over 24% of registered voters compared to 46% for Democrats. Republicans have no statewide elected officers. They haven’t had a majority in the state Legislature since Republicans briefly controlled the state Assembly in 1996.
Gallagher said his goal is to return Republicans to the majority by speaking “directly to Californians who, I think, have had enough of decades of Democrats’ super majority rule.”
“When they look around their neighborhoods they see it’s harder and harder to afford a house or to afford rent; they see crime on the rise and getting worse,” he said. “Look, we have better ideas and we think there is a better path forward.”
GOP Members Have Influenced Some Decisions
While Republicans don’t have the numbers to pass legislation, they have influenced some decisions. Last year, Republicans clamored for a pause in the state gas tax increases amid historic state budget surpluses. This year, Newsom has proposed to halt a scheduled gas tax increase in July — a proposal that has yet to be voted on by the Legislature.
Gallagher, an attorney who is married and has five children, says he see’s one of the party’s roles is to hold the Democrats accountable for things like fraud in the state’s unemployment benefits department and combating and preventing wildfires. Gallagher represents a northern California district that includes the town of Paradise, which was mostly destroyed by a wildfire in 2018.
“We’re very focused on accountability: Accountability when it comes to wildfire dollars and how they are getting spent and ensuring communities are safe so we don’t have another Paradise,” he said. “We’re focused on how we make government better for people.”
Gallagher’s first task will be to lead Republicans through the 2022 elections, which will include five special elections to fill vacancies from Democratic districts before all 80 seats are up for election in November.
“We’re working with our party, working with candidates, so we’re going to take every opportunity where we can speak to the voters and talk about these issues,” he said.