This California Democrat Says He’ll Lower Gas Prices—After Voting for Legislation That Helped Raise Them

Former California assemblyman Rudy Salas (D.) /
June 11, 2024

In his quest to flip one of California’s most competitive congressional seats, Democrat Rudy Salas is pledging to "reduce the cost of living" and "lower gas prices" by boosting domestic oil production. When he served in the California State Assembly, Salas voted for legislation that helped make California gas prices the highest in the country.

Salas in 2017 backed a bill to extend California’s carbon offset system, which analysts say caused fuel prices to rise by 27 cents per gallon. The same legislation extended a separate program to lower the carbon in fuel mixes, which state regulators have reported could leave drivers on the hook for another 47 cents per gallon.

Salas’s support for this legislation could hurt his chances in November. The Democrat in 2022 lost his heavily agricultural district to Republican Rep. David Valadao as California gas prices spiked. Salas’s Central Valley region is the only one in California where a majority of voters oppose President Joe Biden’s plan to phase out gas cars, and where most drivers haven’t considered buying an electric vehicle, according to a 2023 survey.

"Gas prices have affected me a lot," Janet Martinez, who lives in Salas's district, told the Washington Free Beacon.

"Everything is up. You pretty much have to do 10 things when you go grocery shopping so your gas is worth it," said Martinez, a single mother of four who says high prices and the economy are her top concerns.

"It’s not just me—I’ve heard from a lot of people. Everyone is struggling right now. Everyone is saying, ‘I don’t have money.’"

The Salas campaign did not respond to a request for comment. 

Salas attempted to walk a fine line on fossil fuels during his decade in the state legislature. After being stripped of a committee chairmanship for opposing a gas tax hike in 2017, Salas skipped the next four votes on freezing annual gas tax increases. The gas tax will increase by another 2 cents to 59.6 cents per gallon on July 1.

The same year, Salas voted to approve an expansion of the state’s cap-and-trade program and low-carbon fuel standard, which add about 11 cents to the cost of each gallon of gas.

The California Air Resources Board, which has banned the sale of gas cars starting in 2035, is building on this legislation to propose changes to fuel mixes that could hike gas prices 47 cents per gallon next year and another 52 cents per gallon in 2026.

The proposal has drawn criticism from both the left and right. The president of Consumer Watchdog warned in a letter to regulators earlier this year that the "burden [of high gas prices] on working families in California is too much." Republican lawmakers say the proposal is a secret tax.

Air regulators have delayed the vote on these proposed mandates. In a statement to the Free Beacon, a spokesman for the agency claimed "there is no data showing a correlation between [the low-carbon fuel standard offsets] and fuel prices at the pump" and that the figures are "from an incomplete, preliminary document … intended to provide a range of financial possibilities."

Republican lawmakers have denounced the agency’s mixed messages on the costs of its regulatory programs as "intellectually dishonest."

Salas’s bid to unseat Valadao is one of the most heated contests in the race to control the U.S. House of Representatives next term, rated a toss-up by the Cook Political Report. Salas is rebuilding his war chest after a bruising primary battle with a Democratic state senator.

Fortunately for Salas, the Democratic Party has come to the rescue. The House Democrats’ campaign committee has poured more than $2.1 million into Salas’s campaign, while a separate Democratic super PAC has spent nearly $700,000 boosting him.