Palm Springs and other Coachella Valley cities will have a new representative in Congress in 2023 — and one hopeful already in the race is one of the country’s longest-tenured Republican congressmen.
U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert, a Republican from Corona who has represented pockets of the Inland Empire since 1993, will be running for re-election next year in a newly drawn district that groups several Coachella Valley cities — including Palm Springs, La Quinta, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert — with Menifee, Norco and Corona in western Riverside County.
Calvert likely won’t face off against any other incumbents in the race. The Coachella Valley’s current congressman, Democratic U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, said last week he will be seeking re-election in the valley’s other district, which was drawn to include Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, Coachella, Indio and Imperial County.
However, the new congressional map, which was finalized by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission on Dec. 20, is likely to result in a more competitive race for Calvert, who was first elected to the U.S. House in 1992 and has comfortably won his last five elections.
Dave Wasserman, a national redistricting expert, listed Calvert as one of the five biggest losers based on California’s newly approved map, with his district morphing from one that former President Donald Trump carried by 7 points in 2020 to one that Trump won by just 1 point.
Calvert, who will be seeking election to his 16th term in Washington next year, makes no secret of his conservative voting record — or his vocal support of Trump, who he backed during both of his impeachments. The Corona congressman, who has a real estate background, voted in line with the former president 97% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight data.
Calvert, who serves on the House Committee on Appropriations, told The Desert Sun that he sees inflation — which has reached its highest rate in nearly 40 years — as the top issue facing the country right now, arguing it “should be a concern to everybody.”
“We got to get that back in the box as fast as we can, and that’s not a simple process — once inflation starts, it’s difficult to stop,” said Calvert. “And I agree with what (U.S. Senator) Joe Manchin did, as far as bringing a halt to (the Build Back Better Act), because right now, that’d be like pouring gas on a fire.”
Calvert said he has some experience working on issues related to the Coachella Valley, pointing to his past work on issues at the Salton Sea alongside the late former U.S. Rep. Sonny Bono and others. He also noted his bipartisan bill introduced this year that would establish a massive wildlife refuge in western Riverside County as an example of the collaborative approach that he would bring to the desert.
“I’ve developed a lot of bipartisan relationships over the years as a senior member, and working as an appropriator, you have to work with your colleagues, because that’s the one bill that has to pass,” Calvert said.
Calvert could face critics in deep-blue Palm Springs
But in Palm Springs, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a nearly 4-to-1 margin, Calvert is likely to face criticism for his voting record, particularly regarding LGBTQ issues.
Elle Kurpiewski, political director of the Democratic Headquarters of the Desert, said placing Palm Springs and other valley cities into Calvert’s district “just doesn’t make any sense,” arguing they have little in common with areas of western Riverside County.
“(Calvert) has no commonality — or he has not shown any commonality — with the constituents of those cities,” Kurpiewski said. “He has repeatedly opposed gay rights. He has repeatedly opposed voter rights. He has a very conservative record, and you’re putting one of the most liberal cities into his district? … I don’t understand that.”
In February, Calvert was among the 206 House Republicans that opposed the Equality Act, which would amend existing civil rights laws to explicitly ban LGBTQ discrimination in housing, education and the workforce. When asked by The Desert Sun, Calvert did not explicitly explain his opposition to the bill, which has yet to pass the Senate, but indicated a willingness to engage with local LGBTQ communities.
“I think all people should be treated equally. I’ve never believed in any kind of prejudice or discrimination against any group of people, whether they’re gay or Black or Hispanic, and the laws in our country should reflect that,” Calvert said. “I don’t want to put fingers on the scale for any one group or another … I’m happy to talk to folks and listen to their perspective on issues and see where they land.”
Although Palm Springs could provide a boost to Democrats hoping to unseat Calvert, other areas of the Coachella Valley included in the new district could bring more GOP supporters into the mix. La Quinta and Palm Desert both have a near-even split between registered Republicans and Democrats, while Indian Wells — the valley’s smallest city — has roughly twice as many Republicans as Democrats.
Joy Miedecke, president of the East Valley Republican Women Federated, said she was “loving” the new district’s extended boundaries, calling Calvert a wonderful man and a great legislator.
“Whatever (Calvert) needs, we’ll be here for him,” Miedecke said. “We’ll be absolutely thrilled to have him governing in La Quinta, where we’re based.”
Primary field will include several Democratic challengers
Calvert, who has won many of his recent elections by double-digit margins, will face a crowded field of Democratic challengers in the coming months.
At least three Democrats — former prosecutor Will Rollins, engineer Shrina Kurani, and teacher Brandon Mosely — have announced their intention to challenge Calvert. Other Democratic candidates are likely to emerge in the coming months, according to Kurpiewski.
Calvert could also face some pushback from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has issued statements blasting the congressman for some of his votes, such as his opposition to Democrats’ $1 trillion infrastructure bill, in recent months.
But anyone hoping to contend with Calvert will need to generate substantial fundraising. As of late September, Calvert’s campaign account reported roughly $809,000 of cash on hand, according to federal campaign finance data.
While more details about the challengers’ finances will emerge in coming months as campaign season gets fully underway, Mosely and Kurani have both raised more than $130,000 in the initial months of their campaign, according to campaign finance data.
Meanwhile, Rollins’ campaign reported raising more than $100,000 in the first 24 hours after announcing his campaign in November.
While he hasn’t had many close races in recent years, Calvert noted he has won some tightly contested races in the 1990s and 2000s, experiences that taught him how to engage with a wide range of ideological voters.
“This (new) district, though it’s not as conservative as the district I’m representing today, it’s still about half the advantage that I have today, as far as registration is concerned,” Calvert said, noting the valley has many non-party-affiliated voters. “Obviously, you got to get out and convince people to vote for you … It’s still a Republican district to some degree, but not nearly as Republican as the former one.”
Several months remain before California’s June 2022 primary elections — at which point Calvert’s top challenger would likely face off against him in the November general election, with the help of liberals seeking to oust the long-time representative.
“We Democrats are going to have to work very hard and very strongly to ensure that Ken Calvert does not go back to Washington,” Kurpiewski said.
Tom Coulter covers politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tomcoulter_.