Sweeney: A Golden State guide for the presidential candidates




A note to Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump:

Welcome. After six weeks and about three dozen primaries and caucuses around the country, it’s increasingly clear that the Republican presidential nomination won’t be decided before California votes on June 7. The Democratic contest might not end any sooner.

California is the nation’s largest state, and hundreds of convention delegates are at stake in both parties, but we’re not accustomed to having any influence on the nominations.

So you may not be familiar with us either. Don’t worry. I’m here to help.

Sure, you know that this is the Golden State. But, please, don’t be embarrassed if you have the idea that our nickname comes from all the prospecting that political candidates do here. Did you know that Californians have forked over more than $207 million so far in the 2015-16 election cycle? Tops in the nation.

OK, that’s one thing you probably don’t need to be told about California.

You obviously know your way around Malibu and Beverly Hills, Hillsborough and Woodside.

Most of you have met Silicon Valley venture capitalists or sipped estate cabernets in St. Helena before jetting off to an early primary state that can’t match California’s donor base. Even Bernie. He recently dined at the Hollywood home of a high-end real estate broker (and collected some checks considerably larger than the $27 average donation he prefers talking about).

But there’s more to our state than mega-mansion fundraisers and charter terminals.

Most of you are promising to spend a lot of time in California before the primary — and you should — but try to get out of LA and the metropolitan Bay Area once in a while. Instead of sitting down with Jimmy Kimmel, consider a trip up the North Coast or to the Inland Empire. Want to pass for a California insider? Candidates for statewide office often make “the raisin run,” a whistle-stop train ride through Bakersfield, Stockton and other ag-centric towns in the Central Valley. For an only-in-California experience, pay a visit to the Emerald Triangle. The once-reclusive pot growers want to go mainstream, and they’re looking for political allies. Inhaling is optional.

Everyone knows about the movie studios (with all their big donors) and the high-tech hubs (ditto). If you get past the checkbooks, you can find emerging green building and technology industries, thriving immigrant neighborhoods and lots of small agricultural operations. There’s a new solar farm east of Riverside capable of powering 160,000 homes. Here in Sonoma County, wine, tourism and specialty foods are booming.

Despite its reputation as a bad place for business, California ranked fourth in the nation in net job creation as well as in job creation by new startups in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available.

But, if you’ll excuse a cliché, all the glitters isn’t gold. Keep looking, and you’ll find the same economic jitters afflicting the rest of the country — and the same disgust with political posturing and partisan gridlock passing for government.

Our roads are crumbling, and housing costs too much for working-class families. Employers want more college-educated workers, but students can’t the classes they need to graduate, and many high school graduates enter the workforce without needed technical skills or understanding what employers expect.

Economic gains in coastal areas are matched by struggles inland. Seven years after the recession ended, unemployment is still above 20 percent in Colusa County and just a tick below in Imperial County. A punishing drought exposed shortcomings in water management systems and renewed conflicts between big growers, environmental groups and fishermen. Thousands of people lost their homes to wildfires last year. Flood damage from king tides is a harbinger of rising sea levels to come.

Washington hasn’t offered a lot of help. And, so far this year, you all have talked a lot more about keeping Iowa corn in the nation’s fuel tanks and the appropriate size of New Hampshire’s moose population than about how you would address our problems. Maybe that’s not surprising. Most political experts thought that the nominations would be decided long before California cast its ballots.

But here we are. And with both parties allocating at least some delegates based on primary results in each congressional district, the California primary is actually 53 mini-elections taking place from Arcata to El Centro and Blythe to Bolinas.

If you want to compete, you best get out there and explore. You should find a receptive audience, because California hasn’t had this sort of influence on the nominations for decades. And there isn’t likely to be much of a contest here in the general election as the Golden State tends to turn deep blue in the fall, and presidential candidates only come here in search of some long green.

Jim Sweeney is assistant editorial director of The Press Democrat. Email him at