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Juan Rodriguez: Aspiring political kingmaker

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Juan Rodriguez: Aspiring political kingmaker

“One of the things that I’m pretty active in trying to do is making sure that I’m not the only person in these rooms that looks like me,” Juan Rodriguez said during an interview with The Times.

Born in Burbank and raised in North Hollywood as the son of immigrants from El Salvador, the Democratic political consultant and partner at Bearstar Strategies said that as a kid he accompanied his mother to the Beverly Hills and Studio City homes she cleaned as a housekeeper. Years later, his first invitations to political fundraisers came from the people for whom she had worked.

Discover the change-makers who are shaping every cultural corner of Los Angeles. This week we bring you The Connectors, who understand that power doesn’t travel in a straight line and know how to connect the dots. Come back each Sunday for another installment.

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A 2005 meeting with Antonio Villaraigosa at one of those events reinforced his interest in politics. The former Los Angeles mayor asked him who he was there with. Rodriguez said his mother was working in the kitchen and that prompted Villaraigosa to introduce himself to her.

“Having my mother feel seen is something I hold very dear to my heart,” Rodriguez said. “I was always so intrigued by how power was always next door to the people who didn’t have it. It made me believe at the time that politics could be the great equalizer.”

Villaraigosa hired Rodriguez as an intern a few years later, launching a meteoric rise that has included stints as director of state relations for the city of Los Angeles and as a top aide to then-California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris. Harris later tapped Rodriguez to lead her successful 2016 Senate campaign and then her brief 2020 presidential bid, a failed endeavor for which the politician and her advisors were criticized.

Juan Rodriguez

Bearstar’s founders, Ace Smith and Sean Clegg, saw the millennial strategist as the vanguard of a new generation of California political kingmakers when they hired him in 2017 to open a Los Angeles office for the campaign strategy firm. In addition to Harris, his roster of Bearstar clients has included U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla and, most notably, Gov. Gavin Newsom. In 2021, Rodriguez successfully led the campaign against the governor’s recall, for which he was named Democratic campaign manager of the year by the American Assn. of Political Consultants.

His work for Newsom is not over. On a Monday afternoon in late October, Rodriguez, 39, said he couldn’t talk at the moment because he was tied up in a meeting with Jane Fonda and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The actors were among a slate of high-profile supporters Rodriguez was courting to join environmental justice groups in their campaign to thwart the oil industry’s efforts to reverse a 2022 California law that created mandatory buffer zones around new wells.

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Newsom championed the law. Rodriguez is leading the multimillion-dollar 2024 ballot fight to keep it in place.

“There is kind of a worldview in terms of vision and what we believe in and what we don’t,” Rodriguez said, “so we often find ourselves fighting the fight on both fronts.”

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Congressional Baseball Game descends into chaos after protesters storm field

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Congressional Baseball Game descends into chaos after protesters storm field

Several arrests were made at the Congressional Baseball Game for Charity on Wednesday night, after individuals who appeared to be protesters of climate change stormed the field at Nationals Park in D.C.

The game, which raises money for local charities in the D.C. area, features Democrats and Republicans from the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

Climate change protesters were seen chanting with signs that read, “Stop playing games with our future,” and shirts that read, “End Fossil Fuels” before several people jumped onto the field.

A group known as Climate Defiance took credit for the display in a tweet on X.

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REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: LAWMAKERS TAKE TO THE FIELD IN STRANGE SPECTACLE OF ANNUAL CONGRESSIONAL BASEBALL GAME

During the Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park, eight people jumped out on the field in a demonstration against fossil fuels. (Emily Hillstrom)

“Update: Eight of us have been arrested for shutting down the Congressional Baseball Game. They are behind bars now. Make no mistake: It’s the Members of Congress who should be locked up.”

The group also bragged about their mission on social media and causing the game to pause.

“We have taken the field at the Congressional Baseball Game + play has FROZEN! Congress sends billions of public $$ to subsidize deadly fossil fuels — but the police are tackling us instead. This Chevron-sponsored game cannot continue. This is unconscionable,” the group wrote. 

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STEVE SCALISE BACK ON THE FIELD FOR CONGRESSIONAL BASEBALL GAME AFTER CANCER BATTLE

Protesters on field during congressional baseball game

Climate change protesters crashed the annual Congressional Baseball Game on Wednesday evening.  (Emily Hillstrom)

The U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) promptly arrived and escorted the demonstrators out and the game was able to resume play. USCP confirmed that eight people were arrested.

“We are proud of our officers who are working to keep everyone safe during tonight’s Congressional Baseball Game for Charity. When eight people tried to protest on the field, our officers quickly stopped them and arrested them. The eight people are being charged with federal charges – Interference with a Member of the U.S. Capitol Police,” Capitol Police wrote in a statement on X. 

A small group of anti-Israel protesters were also spotted in the crowd. The group unfurled a Free Palestine and Palestinian flag in the right field section by the foul post. The group’s message was met with boos from others in the stands.

CLIMATE ACTIVISTS HAVE NEW TARGET IN MIND FOR MAJOR SUMMER PROTEST: ‘MAKE THEIR LIVES MISERABLE’

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This is not the first time the annual charity game has been met with controversy.

Over the last several years, the event has drawn more scrutiny after a gunman opened fire on Republicans who were at the stadium early for practice in 2017.

The Congressional Baseball Game has been held since 1909. 

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Tough-on-crime measure officially qualifies for November ballot as rifts in Legislature mount

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Tough-on-crime measure officially qualifies for November ballot as rifts in Legislature mount

A ballot measure to impose harsher criminal penalties for drug possession and theft, altering the controversial Proposition 47 passed in 2014, has qualified for the November ballot.

The measure, however, may be undercut by the California Legislature’s Democratic leadership, which is pushing a package of bills targeting the rash of retail thefts across the state. The lawmakers hope the legislation will sway voters to reject the tough-on-crime ballot initiative, and are using the bills to pressure proponents of the measure rescind their proposal.

News of the ballot measure qualifying comes just two weeks before the secretary of state releases the official slate of statewide propositions that will appear on the November ballot. It also comes as Democratic leadership made a hardball move last week by promising to add an amendment to their retail crime legislation that would revoke the laws if voters pass the statewide proposition.

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“We’re calling today upon our leaders to stop playing politics,” Greg Totten, co-chair of Californians for Safer Communities, said Wednesday during a news conference. “The Legislature’s plan to include an automatic repeal … proves they are not serious about addressing the explosion in retail theft and the state’s fentanyl crisis.”

Since voters passed Proposition 47 in 2014, the initiative has been the center of debate over whether it is the reason for the rash of retail thefts across the state. Democratic lawmakers say that the measure helped reduce prison populations and that some areas have seen property crimes go down. Republicans say the measure has led to a lack of arrests and less accountability for thieves.

The secretary of state has verified that the measure gathered enough signatures from registered California voters to qualify for the ballot, made possible by a multimillion-dollar signature-gathering effort that big-box retailers including Walmart, Home Deport and Target largely funded. The coalition has so far raised $8.5 million in campaign contributions.

The ballot initiative, called the Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act, would change the law to make a third offense of theft, regardless of the value of merchandise, a felony punishable by up to three years in prison. The measure also would make possession of fentanyl a felony. Finally, the measure would impose a “treatment-mandated felony” the third time someone is arrested for drug possession.

Democrats have crafted a comprehensive 14-bill package that they think will resolve the issue of property crime and drug use in California — without the need to go back to the ballot box.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom has repeatedly said he is against bringing Proposition 47 back to the ballot.

“It doesn’t achieve the goals that are intended. I want to do something that can be done legislatively with more flexibility,” Newsom told The Times last Friday. “We have launched a package of bills working in both houses of the Legislature that have been fantastic in addressing legitimate concerns we have been addressing for years now. Not just retail theft, but organized retail theft.”

Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur (D-Los Angeles), who chairs the Select Committee on Retail Theft, told reporters Tuesday that the package of bills was “never intended” to be stacked on top of a “one-sided ballot measure.”

“The combination of the two [efforts] is sort of supercharging this whole process,” he said. “Moving back to a period where we’re going to have much more incarceration.”

Times staff writer Mackenzie Mays contributed to this report.

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Durbin looks to force Supreme Court ethics bill vote amid Alito controversy

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Durbin looks to force Supreme Court ethics bill vote amid Alito controversy

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., will attempt to force a vote Wednesday evening on a Supreme Court ethics bill backed by Democrats amid recent scrutiny of Justice Samuel Alito and renewed calls for the conservative justice to recuse from former President Trump’s immunity case. 

Durbin will lead fellow judiciary committee Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Peter Welch, D-Vt., in a request to bring the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act to the floor for a vote around 5:30 p.m.

However, unanimous consent to consider the measure will not be granted, as Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., will object, his office told Fox News Digital. 

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Sen. Dick Durbin will attempt to force a vote on a Supreme Court ethics reform bill, but Sen. Lindsey Graham will object to it.  (Getty Images)

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If brought for a vote and passed, the bill would require the Supreme Court to create an ethics code that is publicly available. It would additionally allow for complaints to be lodged against justices and for a judicial investigation panel to then review them. 

The measure advanced out of the committee last year by a party line vote, with 11 Democrats in favor and all 10 Republicans opposed. 

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Sheldon Whitehouse, Dick Durbin

Sens. Whitehouse, left, and Durbin, right, have made a concerted effort to push Justice Alito to recuse. (Getty Images)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., praised judiciary Democrats for their work on the bill after it advanced, saying at the time, “I support Chairman Durbin, Senator Whitehouse, and the Judiciary Committee’s work on SCOTUS ethics reform, and I look forward to working with them to make progress on this legislation.”

But since its advancement, the bill has remained in limbo. 

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Schumer’s office did not provide comment to Fox News Digital regarding his plans for bringing it to the floor. 

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Judiciary Democrats have made a renewed and concerted push to increase accountability for Supreme Court justices in the wake of the controversy surrounding Alito and his wife. The New York Times recently reported on an upside-down American flag that flew at their Virginia home in the weeks following the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot, as well as an “Appeal to Heaven” flag that was on display at a beach home belonging to the Alitos. 

Democratic critics have suggested that the flags were displays of support for those who rioted on Jan. 6.

The reports prompted several letters to both Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts from Durbin, Whitehouse, and Blumenthal, which requested a meeting with Roberts and Alito’s recusal from 2020 election-related cases.

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SUPREME COURT HISTORICAL SOCIETY BLASTS ‘SURREPTITIOUS’ RECORDING AS DEMS TARGET JUSTICE ALITO

Samuel Alito talks during confirmation hearing

U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Judge Samuel Alito (R), answers questions during the fourth and likely final day of his confirmation hearings January 12, 2006, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.  (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Alito has since refused to step back from such cases, which include the matter of Trump’s immunity claim in his federal election interference case, in which a decision from the court is expected this month. 

The unanimous consent request also comes in the wake of secret recordings that were taken by an undercover liberal filmmaker at the Supreme Court Historical Society’s annual dinner on June 3, which featured Alito acknowledging that “there are differences on fundamental things that really can’t be compromised” when it comes to ideological differences. Alito additionally agreed with the activist’s statement suggesting the country should return to “godliness.” 

In an op-ed on Tuesday for the Wall Street Journal, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., slammed his Democratic colleagues’ attempt to pass the legislation. The Republican explained that the court is charged constitutionally with the power to govern itself. “Liberals complain that the court’s binding ethics rules lack an ‘enforcement mechanism’ to ensure recusal when they want it,” he wrote. “But this complaint would throw the Constitution out the window.”

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“The court rightly vests judicial power in its democratically legitimate members as the Constitution requires. Democrats instead want a bureaucracy to ‘administer’ it,” he said in a scathing rebuke of the Democratic effort. 

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