Cisneros, Rouda Ran Far-Left Primary Campaigns

Media trumpets pair as former Republicans, but primary positions reveal support for leftwing agenda

Harley Rouda and Gil Cisneros
Harley Rouda and Gil Cisneros

The national media in recent weeks have touted the GOP pasts of Democratic candidates Gil Cisneros and Harley Rouda, who are running in traditionally conservative Orange County, but videos and documents show that both candidates took far-left positions in the primary—positions they are now distancing themselves from in the homestretch of the campaign.

The Los Angeles Times last week wrote a piece with the headline, "Blue Wave in Orange County relies on two ex-Republicans turned Democrats." The New York Times in early September ran a story about Rouda titled: "He's a Former Republican Taking on Dana Rohrabacher. Can He Win?"

Despite these depictions, both candidates running in the reddest two of the seven key districts Democrats are hoping to flip in California, bore little resemblance to Republicans during their primaries earlier this year.

During an April debate event sponsored by Democratic billionaire Tom Steyer's group NextGen, Cisneros repeatedly raised his hand in support of a host of liberal policies, including backing a single-payer healthcare system.

Cisneros, who is running in a tight contest against GOP small businesswoman Young Kim, also raised his hand in support of California's sanctuary-city policies and in opposition to the ability of local police to cooperate with ICE, as well as the belief that President Trump is "a racist," according to a video of the event.

He continued to look on and did not interject as the debate moderator asked the Democratic candidates in a joking way which marijuana dispensary they frequented and more seriously referred to a "broken" criminal justice system, which he characterized as "even racist."

Neither the Cisneros nor the Rouda campaigns responded to a Washington Free Beacon question about whether their primary views are in sync with voters in the purple Orange County districts they are running to represent.

Republicans said Cisneros' stated support for liberal policies belie the recent media fixation on his status as a former Republican running in a district previously held by Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.).

"Gil Cisneros supports radical, far-left policies that would give the government control of our healthcare and cause a $32 trillion tax hike," said Jack Pandol, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "No matter what party affiliation Gil attaches to his name, his extreme platform is flat-out wrong for Southern California."

Even well into the general election, Cisneros, a Navy veteran and lottery winner, in late August campaigned with state Sen. Josh Newman, who voters in the district recalled by a 20-point margin June 5 for his support for the recent gas tax increase. The tax hike, which Sacramento Democrats supported, adds an additional 12 cents per gallon to the price of gas, which is already some of the highest prices in the nation.

Republicans are trying to repeal the gas-tax with a ballot initiative that has the support of 52 percent of Orange County voters.

"Trotting out a former state senator who was just overwhelmingly recalled by voters in this congressional district seems like a sound strategy," tweeted Rob Pyers, the research director for the nonpartisan California Target Book, which tracks political contests in the state.

The California Republican Party blasted the move as out of touch with voters in the district, roughly 80 percent of which overlaps with Newman's former state senate district.

"We heard you're campaigning with a special guest on Saturday, former senator Josh Newman," the party tweeted, along with an ad bashing Newman for his 2017 vote supporting the gas tax. "Just an FYI, voters recalled Newman (nearly 60%) in June for raising gas taxes on working-class Californians."

A campaign spokesman said Cisneros did not support raising the gas tax but said he doesn't back its repeal now. Cisneros, in a post on medium.com said President Trump has forced California lawmakers to act by failing to follow through with his promises to push billions of dollars in infrastructure spending through Congress.

"I do not support repeal of the gas tax because our local businesses and workers need certainty and work is already underway on local projects like 46 lane miles of State Route 57," he said in the post. "While I didn't support raising the gas tax because California families shouldn't have to pay for the Trump administration's misplaced priorities and tax giveaways to big corporations, jobs are on the line and we must finish what we started."

More recently, Cisneros backed away from his support for single-payer style healthcare reforms even though he told the Orange County Register that he supported them during the primary.

When pressed on single-payer and Medicare-for-all questions, Cisneros said it was something to work toward.

"I think that it's something we can start working towards, but I think right now, being practical, the best thing that we can do right now is protect the Affordable Care Act," he said. "Republicans have been trying to get rid of it, and they have been chipping away at it. They got rid of the individual mandate, which has raised the cost of Covered California here by 10 percent. We need to stop that."

Harley Rouda, a former real-estate mogul and Democrat candidate challenging Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.) in another Orange County district, has also tried to walk back his repeated primary support for impeaching Trump, as well as his previously unequivocal backing of expanding Medicare to illegal immigrants.

At a liberal forum during the Democratic primary, Rouda stated that he backs expanding Medicaid to illegal immigrants but has since said that he never made that statement, even though it was captured on a video.

As the Free Beacon previously reported, Rouda also stated his support for Medicare-for-all, as well as several other liberal initiatives, including creating a Department for Peacebuilding in the federal government, and the creation of a commission to study reparations for slavery.

Rouda made that support clear in a questionnaire he completed for the Progressive Democrats of America. The questionnaire has since been deleted from the group's website.

Rohrabacher has made imposing tougher immigration laws a central part of his campaign and focused on Rouda's flip-flop on the issue of Medicare for illegal immigrants during a recent PBS debate.

"When you have somebody who is willing to give Medicare to illegal immigrants which we have a video of this gentleman making that promise, but it also drains money from education, from healthcare from veteran benefits," he said during the debate.