California Senate rejects governor's CHRB appointment, first such move in 20 years

John Cherwa
·3 min read
The California State Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on Aug. 30, 2016.
The California State Capitol in Sacramento. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

In a bizarre bit of political theatre, the California Senate turned down a governor’s political appointment for the first time in more than 20 years on Monday. Wendy Mitchell was seeking reappointment to the California Horse Racing Board when a majority of votes turned to a slim minority in an hour.

It’s expected that Mitchell’s case will be reconsidered and another vote taken at an undetermined time.

Mitchell unanimously was confirmed by the Senate in September to fulfill the completion of the term of a former commissioner. Mitchell already had completed almost all of the term, but the Senate has a year to confirm a person after they have started performing the duties of the job.

On March 17, she was on the agenda of the Rules Committee for reappointment. Because of her recent confirmation, Mitchell was not required to attend and was moved forward with a 5-0 vote for confirmation.

The Senate voted on Monday afternoon, in what is routinely a prolonged process, and she had a 29-5 vote for confirmation at 2:30 p.m. that turned into a 17-20 denial by 3:30 p.m. According to multiple people familiar with the process, extensive lobbying was done on the floor of the Senate although no individual senator has claimed to be heading the effort.

One senator who changed their vote during that hour, but would not be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation, said there was concern about Mitchell's role as a consultant. She has no current clients connected to horse racing. No specifics were given.

Another senator, who also changed their vote but declined to be named, voiced concern about the commissioner, given her official role, but did not elaborate.

Mitchell has been aligned with the racing reform wing of the CHRB, which includes vice chairman Oscar Gonzales and Brenda Davis. Gonzales unanimously was reappointed in September and Davis was unanimously confirmed Monday.

Mitchell said she was “mystified by the vote.”

“Change is hard,” Mitchell said. “I get that. It’s slow and sometimes painful for those accustomed to the status quo. Sadly, it would appear that [Monday’s] confirmation vote was the old guard of the industry fighting back against reform — reform of horse racing and reform of being implemented by a woman who is not beholden to the old boys’ network.”

Mitchell said she was in the process of calling every senator who voted against her.

“I look forward to my reconsideration vote by the Senate,” Mitchell said. “I respect and revere the job of the Senators and their staffs, having worked in the Senate for many years. Regardless of the outcome, I know the governor and the CHRB will continue to fight for reforms to save these beautiful horses and protect the horse racing industry for future generations.”

Times staff writer Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento contributed to this story.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.