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    Keisha Lance Bottoms Won’t Seek Second Term as Atlanta Mayor

    Ms. Bottoms, who was mentioned briefly as a potential running mate with President Biden, is the latest mayor to move on after a year of pandemic challenges and social justice protests.ATLANTA — Keisha Lance Bottoms, the first-term Atlanta mayor who rose to national prominence this past year with her stern yet empathetic televised message to protesters but has struggled to rein in her city’s spike in violent crime, will not seek a second term in office, according to two people who were on a Zoom call with the mayor on Thursday night.The news shocked the political world in Atlanta, the most important city in the Southeast and one where the mayoral seat has been filled by African-American leaders since 1974, burnishing its reputation as a mecca for Black culture and political power.It is unclear why Ms. Bottoms, a Democrat, is not seeking another term, but 2020 took a toll on mayors nationwide. It was one of the most tumultuous years for American cities since the 1960s, with the social and economic disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic as well as racial justice protests that sometimes turned destructive.In November, St. Louis’s mayor at the time, Lyda Krewson, announced she would not pursue a second term. A month later, Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle announced she would not run for re-election. Several mayors in smaller cities have also declined to run again, exhausted or demoralized by the ravages of 2020.Two contenders who have been seeking to unseat Ms. Bottoms in the November election have promised to do a better job fighting what Ms. Bottoms has called a “Covid crime wave,” which includes a 58 percent spike in homicides in 2020.But Ms. Bottoms, 51, was expected to mount a formidable defense. She has a loyal ally in President Biden, whom she was early to endorse, and who repaid her loyalty with an appearance at a virtual fund-raiser in March. Ms. Bottoms was mentioned briefly as a potential vice-presidential running mate and said that she later turned down a cabinet-level position in the Biden administration.Ms. Bottoms, who served as a judge and a city councilwoman before being sworn in as mayor in 2018, is also blessed with a voice — measured, compassionate, slightly bruised and steeped in her experience as a Black daughter and Black mother — that seemed uniquely calibrated to address the challenges of the past year.It was in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that Ms. Bottoms went on live television and became a national star as she spoke directly to protesters. Some of their demonstrations had descended into lawlessness, with people smashing windows, spray-painting property and jumping on police cars.“When I saw the murder of George Floyd, I hurt like a mother would hurt,” she said. Then she scolded the protesters, insisting that they “go home” and study the precepts of nonviolence as practiced by the leaders of the civil rights movement. More

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    Andrew Yang's Campaign Is Guided by a Wealthy Lobbyist

    Andrew Yang’s relationship with Bradley Tusk, a tech investor, has raised concerns about conflicts of interest if he is elected.When Andrew Yang parachuted into the New York City mayor’s race from a losing presidential campaign, he was a known national quantity but unknown in the insular world of local politics.He did not rise from a political club, had never run for local office and had no established base of financial or political support in the city. He had never even voted in a mayoral election.But he had one major asset working in his favor: He had joined forces with Bradley Tusk, a powerful New York political strategist, lobbyist and venture capitalist whose investments could hinge on government action.Mr. Yang leads most early polling in a race for mayor that is less than seven weeks away. But Mr. Tusk’s personal business concerns could present significant potential conflicts of interest should Mr. Yang be elected mayor. Mr. Tusk, 47, has an expansive political and financial portfolio. He worked for Senator Chuck Schumer as his communications director, was a special adviser to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and then became deputy governor of Illinois, under Gov. Rod Blagojevich.His venture firm lists interests in high-profile companies like Bird, the electric scooter company; Coinbase, a cryptocurrency company; and Latch, a company that makes keyless entry systems for homes.He also has a well-known penchant for self-aggrandizement: His 2018 book is called “The Fixer: My Adventures Saving Startups From Death by Politics.” He describes various exploits, including how he helped Uber ward off government regulations — though some of his colleagues have said that he has taken more credit than he deserves. Nonetheless, because he took equity in the company in exchange for consulting advice, he ultimately cashed out for what some reports estimate as $100 million.And now he is advising a candidate with a total absence of government experience — so much so that Mr. Tusk recently called Mr. Yang an “empty vessel.” “Tusk could essentially be the shadow mayor for New York, while he is representing the interests of big corporate clients,” said John Kaehny, executive director of the good-government group Reinvent Albany.After The New York Times sought comment from Mr. Yang’s campaign, Mr. Tusk posted a 1,000-word statement on Medium blaming his political opponents for rumor-mongering, and outlining policies that he and his team would follow should Mr. Yang win the election.“If we win, I will not lobby or talk with the new mayor — nor anyone in a Yang administration — on any matter that intersects with our work,” he wrote on Thursday.Andrew Yang has embraced stances that could help Mr. Tusk’s investments and his lobbying clients.Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesVoters who like Mr. Yang and his upbeat vision for the city’s recovery might not know Mr. Tusk’s name. His closeness to big business and connections to Mr. Bloomberg have led some Democrats to worry that Mr. Yang will embrace a Wall Street-centric vision for New York City.“Tusk spent the past decade defending billionaires and corporate interests,” said Monica Klein, a progressive political strategist. “If Yang won, there’s no question his agenda would mirror Tusk’s — and most New Yorkers aren’t looking for a mayor that will cater to the wealthy and corporations.”Mr. Tusk’s firm has proudly represented clients whose policies run afoul of Democratic orthodoxy: the hard-charging police union; a Republican who ran for New York attorney general; and the organizers of a campaign to preserve an admissions exam that has resulted in the enrollment of only tiny numbers of Black and Latino students in New York City’s elite high schools.Mr. Yang said he would not be influenced by his strategist. “I chose Tusk because they are experts in NYC politics,” he said in a statement relayed by Chris Coffey, who works for both Mr. Yang and Tusk Strategies. “New Yorkers know I’ve always been independent and have my own vision — I wrote a book in 2018 that spells out my agenda quite clearly. If elected, my decisions will be mine alone.”Mr. Yang has done little to allay concerns over conflicts of interest. He does not have his own office — his staffers work from home when they are not in the field — but he uses Mr. Tusk’s office for storage. He has also repeatedly embraced stances that would benefit both Mr. Tusk’s investments and his lobbying clients.Mr. Yang has long been a fan of Bird, the e-scooter company that Mr. Tusk has an ownership stake in and that is participating in a city-governed program in the Bronx.“Every once in a while a Bird scooter feels like the greatest invention in the world,” Mr. Yang tweeted in June 2019, before Mr. Tusk spoke to him about running for mayor.Other ideas seem to have sprung more directly from the Tusk-Yang mind-meld.One of Mr. Yang’s very first proposals after announcing his run for mayor was that the city should put a casino on Governors Island. Mr. Yang argued the city could reap financial benefit from the casino, with the added benefit of making New York City “more fun.” Critics immediately pounced, noting that the island in New York Harbor is a peaceful respite so ill-suited to gambling halls that they are expressly forbidden in the island’s deed.Mr. Yang did not back down. Nor did Mr. Tusk, whose interest in casino investment is longstanding.In 2018, his casino management company, then called Ivory Gaming, mounted a bid for a casino site in Las Vegas. He told Politico that if he won, he would put an ax-throwing facility inside the casino. The deal did not move forward.Ivory Gaming ultimately spawned IG Acquisition Corp., a gambling concern that reportedly raised $300 million in the public markets to invest in the industry. Documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission indicate that Mr. Tusk’s publicly traded shell corporation is aiming to identify “businesses in the leisure, gaming and hospitality industries with an enterprise value exceeding $750 million, with particular emphasis on businesses that are well-positioned for growth.”The casino issue in New York City is poised to become a major one for the next mayor. Starting in 2023, the state is expected to open bidding on three casino licenses for the area in and around New York City.A spokesman for Mr. Tusk said he would have no role in a New York City casino and never had intended to.In his Medium statement, Mr. Tusk said his involvement in Mr. Yang’s campaign stemmed from the need for innovation after the pandemic.“We took on this campaign because we looked at the crisis facing this city, looked at the options of viable candidates and knew we could do a lot better,” he said.His campaign also pointed to other candidates who are working with consulting firms that are involved in lobbying — a practice recently highlighted by City & State..css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-w739ur{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-w739ur{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1dg6kl4{margin-top:5px;margin-bottom:15px;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-1rh1sk1{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-1rh1sk1 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-1rh1sk1 em{font-style:italic;}.css-1rh1sk1 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#ccd9e3;text-decoration-color:#ccd9e3;}.css-1rh1sk1 a:visited{color:#333;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#ccc;text-decoration-color:#ccc;}.css-1rh1sk1 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}The firms include Pitta LLP, which is working for Eric Adams’s campaign and has ties to lobbyists who represent Wheels Labs, an e-bike company, and the unions for police detectives and transit workers; and Global Strategy Group, which is working for Scott Stringer’s campaign and whose clients include RXR Realty, a prominent real estate company, and MGM Resorts, according to state records.Mr. Tusk’s investments go well beyond the gambling industry. His venture capital firm has also invested in three companies dealing in the technology underpinning Bitcoin. The state regulates e-coin, but the city may well have an interest in the sector under a Yang mayoralty, too.“As mayor of NYC — the world’s financial capital — I would invest in making the city a hub for BTC and other cryptocurrencies,” Mr. Yang tweeted in February, apparently referring to Bitcoin.Mr. Tusk’s venture capital firm has also invested in Latch, an app-based door-locking company that critics argue will allow landlords to surveil their tenants’ movements and keep track of their visitors. Mr. Tusk’s consulting firm, Tusk Strategies, lobbied against recent efforts in the City Council to limit the company’s operations in New York City.Several of the Tusk lobbyists listed as working for Latch in New York State’s lobbying database are also working for Mr. Yang’s campaign, including Mr. Coffey, one of Mr. Yang’s campaign managers; Mr. Yang’s senior adviser Eric Soufer; and his press secretary, Jake Sporn. The Yang campaign has been paying Tusk Strategies about $33,000 per month.“First, you don’t want a mayor whose staff are the same as the lobbyists for for-profit corporations with interests before the city,” said Brad Lander, a candidate for comptroller who is the sponsor of a City Council bill that would limit Latch’s operations. “You sure don’t want a mayor with a staff who are not only staff of the lobbyists, but staff of the for-profit interests themselves.”Mr. Tusk’s work history is as unconventional as the campaign he is now running for Mr. Yang. He grew up on Long Island and started out handling press for the famously idiosyncratic Parks Department commissioner Henry Stern, before joining Senator Schumer’s office. From there, he worked as an aide to Mr. Bloomberg.Mr. Tusk was heavily involved in the successful effort to amend New York City’s term-limits law, allowing Michael Bloomberg to win a third term as mayor.Ruby Washington/The New York TimesAt the age of 29, as Mr. Tusk recounts in his book, a friend from his Schumer days asked if he wanted to work as a deputy governor under Mr. Blagojevich, who would later end up in prison for soliciting bribes and trying to benefit from filling President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat.Mr. Tusk was unsure if he had the requisite skill set for the job, but he was smart and hard-working and learned a lesson he found so profound that he used it as a chapter title in his book: “Not Being Qualified for a Job Shouldn’t Stop You.”Mr. Blagojevich was uninterested in governing, and Mr. Tusk has said that he essentially ran the state. Mr. Tusk testified at Mr. Blagojevich’s corruption trial in 2010 and said he steered clear of any wrongdoing.Mr. Tusk went on to work for Lehman Brothers, leaving the bank just before its collapse. He ran Mr. Bloomberg’s re-election drive in 2009, in which the incumbent mayor, even with a huge campaign budget of $100 million, barely prevailed over the Democratic New York City comptroller, William C. Thompson.Then he jumped into the world of political consulting and lobbying, working to expand charter schools. His firm lobbies for the Education Equity Campaign, an organization funded by the cosmetics billionaire Ronald Lauder that wants to keep the admissions test for selective high schools. The firm emphasized that it stopped representing the police union before it endorsed Donald J. Trump.Mr. Tusk began discussing the race with Mr. Yang in early November; Kevin Sheekey, who ran Mr. Bloomberg’s presidential campaign, had introduced Mr. Tusk to Mr. Yang’s campaign manager, Zach Graumann, not long after Mr. Yang dropped out of the presidential race.Mr. Tusk had been looking for a like-minded mayoral candidate for years. In 2017, he tried — unsuccessfully — to recruit a candidate to run against Mayor Bill de Blasio.In the Medium post, Mr. Tusk noted that he had not worked on a mayoral campaign since his Bloomberg days, adding that he decided to get involved now because he wanted to protect New York and his interests there, including his plans to open a bookstore and podcast studio on the Lower East Side.“Obviously, this is happening because their candidates and campaigns are behind in the polls and they’re looking for anything that can stick,” he wrote, before adding parenthetically, “I’m familiar with how this stuff works.” More

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    Florida and Texas Join the March to Restrict Voting Access

    The efforts in two critical battleground states with booming populations and 70 Electoral College votes between them represent the apex of the Republican effort to roll back access to voting.Hours after Florida installed a rash of new voting restrictions, the Republican-led Legislature in Texas pressed ahead on Thursday with its own far-reaching bill that would make it one of the most difficult states in the nation in which to cast a ballot.The Texas bill would, among other restrictions, greatly empower partisan poll watchers, prohibit election officials from mailing out absentee ballot applications and impose strict punishments for those who provide assistance outside the lines of what is permissible. The State House of Representatives was scheduled to debate the measure late into the evening with the possibility that it would pass it and send it to the Senate.Gov. Greg Abbott is widely expected to sign the bill into law.Briscoe Cain, the Republican sponsor of the bill, said he had filed it “to ensure that we have an equal and uniform application of our election code and to protect people from being taken advantage of.”He was quickly challenged by Jessica González, a Democratic representative and vice chair of the House Election Committee, who argued that the bill was a solution in search of problem. She cited testimony in which the Texas secretary of state said that the 2020 election had been found to be “free, fair and secure.”Florida and Texas are critical Republican-led battleground states with booming populations and 70 Electoral College votes between them. The new measures the legislatures are putting in place represent the apex of the current Republican effort to roll back access to voting across the country following the loss of the White House amid historic turnout in the 2020 election.Earlier on Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, with great fanfare, signed his state’s new voting bill, which passed last week. Held at a Palm Beach hotel with cheering supporters in the background, the ceremony showcased Mr. DeSantis’s brash style; the governor’s office barred most journalists and provided exclusive access to Fox News, a nose-thumbing gesture of contempt toward a news media he viewed as overly critical of the bill.“Right now, I have what we think is the strongest election integrity measures in the country,” Mr. DeSantis said, though he has praised Florida’s handling of last November’s elections.Ohio, another state under complete Republican control, introduced a new omnibus voting bill on Thursday that would further limit drop boxes in the state, limit ballot collection processes and reduce early in-person voting by one day, while also making improvements to access such as an online absentee ballot request portal and automatic registration at motor vehicle offices.Iowa and Georgia have already passed bills that not only impose new restrictions but grant those states’ legislatures greater control over the electoral process.Republicans have pressed forward with these bills over the protests of countless Democrats, civil rights groups, faith leaders, voting rights groups and multinational corporations, displaying an increasing no-apologies aggressiveness in rolling back access to voting.The efforts come as Republicans in Washington are seeking to oust Representative Liz Cheney from her leadership position in the House Republican caucus for her continued rejection of former President Donald J. Trump’s lies about the 2020 election, and as Republicans at a party convention in Utah booed Senator Mitt Romney for his criticism of the former president.Together, the Republican actions reflect how deeply the party has embraced the so-called Big Lie espoused by Mr. Trump through his claims that the 2020 election was stolen.Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida after he signed a new voting bill into law during an event closed to all news outlets except Fox News.Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, via Associated PressDemocrats, gerrymandered into statehouse minorities and having drastically underperformed expectations in recent state legislative elections, have few options for resisting the Republican efforts to make voting harder.In Georgia and Texas, progressive groups applied pressure on local businesses to speak out against the voting measures. But Republican legislators have been conditioned during the Trump era to pay less attention to their traditional benefactors in chambers of commerce and more attention to the party’s grass roots, who are aligned with the former president and adhere to his lies about the 2020 election.And in Florida, Democrats didn’t even manage to organize major local companies to weigh in on the voting law.“Elections have consequences both ways, and we are living in the consequences of the Trumpiest governor in America here in Florida,” said Sean Shaw, a former state representative who was the 2018 Democratic nominee for Florida attorney general. “The ultimate strategy is, what are we going to do in 2022? How are we going to beat the dude?”Mr. Shaw, who offered an extended laugh when first asked what his party’s strategy was for combating Florida’s new voting law, said he was planning to start a campaign this month to place referendums on the state’s 2022 ballots for constitutional amendments that would make voting easier.“We are not Mississippi or Alabama,” he said. “We are not that kind of conservative state, but we are governed by this mini-Trump person. All we can do as Democrats is let the people know what they’ve got.”Marc Elias, a Democratic lawyer, filed a lawsuit nine minutes after Mr. DeSantis had signed the legislation, saying that the new Florida law violated the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.“It’s not true that states could not change their voting laws whenever they want,” Mr. Elias said in an interview Thursday. “You have to weigh the burden on the voter with the interest of the state.”.css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-w739ur{margin:0 auto 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a:visited{color:#333;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#ccc;text-decoration-color:#ccc;}.css-1rh1sk1 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}Tom Perez, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, said a case could be made that the new voting laws would improperly make it harder for Black and Hispanic people to vote, and he called on the U.S. Justice Department to take the lead in the legal battle against the Republican-passed laws.“Ten years ago when I was running the Civil Rights Division, the Georgia law would never have seen the light of day,” Mr. Perez said Thursday. “The Justice Department needs to get involved, and having the imprimatur of the Justice Department sends a really important message about our values.”A protest against new voting restrictions at the Texas Capitol in Austin on Thursday.Eric Gay/Associated PressMr. Biden’s nominee to lead the Civil Rights Division, Kristen Clarke, had a Senate hearing last month but has not yet been confirmed. Mr. Biden said in March, after the Georgia law had been signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, that the Justice Department was “taking a look” at how best to protect voting rights. A White House official said that the president, in his comments, had been assuming the issue was one the department would review.Democrats argued on Thursday that the Republican crackdowns on voting in Florida and Texas had made it more urgent for the Senate to pass the For the People Act, which would radically reshape the way elections are run, make far-reaching changes to campaign finance laws and redistricting and mitigate the new state laws.“We are witnessing a concerted effort across this country to spread voter suppression,” Jena Griswald, the Colorado secretary of state, said Thursday on a call with progressive groups in which the new Florida law was condemned. “The For the People Act levels the playing field and provides clear guidance, a floor of what is expected throughout the nation.”The scene in Austin on Thursday was tense, as Republicans in the House decided to replace the language of a bill that passed the senate, known as SB 7, with the language of a House voting bill, known as HB 6. The swap removed some of the more onerous restrictions that had originally been proposed, like banning drive-through voting, banning 24-hour voting and adding limitations on voting machine allocation that could have led to a reduction of polling locations in densely populated areas.But the bill before the House included a host of new restrictions. It bans election officials from proactively mailing out absentee ballot applications or absentee ballots; sets strict new rules for assisting voters and greatly raises the punishment for running afoul of those rules; greatly empowers partisan poll watchers; and makes it much harder to remove a partisan poll watcher for bad behavior. The expansion of the authority and autonomy of partisan poll watchers has raised voter intimidation concerns among civil rights groups.In the debate Thursday evening, Mr. Cain, the sponsor of the House bill, was unable to cite a single instance of voter fraud in Texas. (The attorney general found 16 instances of minor voting fraud after 22,000 hours of investigation.)Democratic lawmakers also seized on Texas’ history of discriminatory voting legislation and likened the current bill to the some of the state’s racist electoral practices of the past.“In light of that history, can you tell me if or why you did not do a racial impact analysis on how this legislation would affect people of color?” said Rafael Anchía, a Democratic representative from Dallas County.Mr. Cain admitted that he had not consulted with the attorney general’s office or conducted a study of how the bill might affect people of color, but he defended the bill and said it would not have a discriminatory impact.Patricia Mazzei More

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    Arizona Election Results Review Is Riddled With Flaws, Says Official

    Arizona’s top election official said the effort ordered by Republican state senators leaves ballots unattended and lacks basic safeguards to protect the process from manipulation.Untrained citizens are trying to find traces of bamboo on last year’s ballots, seemingly trying to prove a conspiracy theory that the election was tainted by fake votes from Asia. Thousands of ballots are left unattended and unsecured. People with open partisan bias, including a man who was photographed on the Capitol steps during the Jan. 6 riot, are doing the recounting.All of these issues with the Republican-backed re-examination of the November election results from Arizona’s most populous county were laid out this week by Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s Democratic secretary of state, in a scathing six-page letter. Ms. Hobbs, called the process “a significant departure from standard best practices.”“Though conspiracy theorists are undoubtedly cheering on these types of inspections — and perhaps providing financial support because of their use — they do little other than further marginalize the professionalism and intent of this ‘audit,’” she wrote to Ken Bennett, a former Republican secretary of state and the liaison between Republicans in the State Senate and the company conducting it.The effort has no official standing and will not change the state’s vote, whatever it finds. But it has become so troubled that the Department of Justice also expressed concerns this week in a letter saying that it might violate federal laws.“We have a concern that Maricopa County election records, which are required by federal law to be retained and preserved, are no longer under the ultimate control of elections officials, are not being adequately safeguarded by contractors, and are at risk of damage or loss,” wrote Pamela Karlan, the principal deputy assistant attorney general with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.The scene playing out in Arizona is perhaps the most off-the-rails episode in the Republican Party’s escalating effort to support former President Donald J. Trump’s lie that he won the election. Four months after Congress certified the results of the presidential election, local officials around the country are continuing to provide oxygen for Mr. Trump’s obsession that he beat Joseph R. Biden Jr. last fall.In Arizona, the review is proving to be every bit as problematic as skeptics had imagined.Last month, the Arizona Republic editorial board called for the state’s G.O.P. Senate majority to stop “abusing its authority.”“Republicans in the Arizona Legislature have set aside dollars, hired consultants, procured the hardware and software to conduct what they call ‘an audit’ of the 2020 presidential election in Maricopa County,” the editorial said. “What they don’t have is the moral authority to make it credible.”Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s secretary of state, said the process had ignored long-established safeguards against mistakes or deliberate manipulation of the election results.Pool photo by Ross D. FranklinRepublican state senators ordered a review of the election in Maricopa County, whose 2.1 million ballots accounted for two-thirds of the entire vote statewide, in December, after some supporters of Mr. Trump refused to accept his 10,457-vote loss in Arizona. Democrats had flipped the county, giving Mr. Biden more than enough votes to ensure his victory statewide.The senators later assigned oversight of the effort to a Florida-based company, Cyber Ninjas, whose chief executive had publicly embraced conspiracy theories claiming that voting machines had been rigged to deliver the state to Mr. Biden. Since then, supporters of Mr. Trump’s stolen-election story line have been given broad access to the site of the review, while election experts, the press and independent observers have struggled to gain access, sometimes resorting to going to court.In one much-noted instance, Anthony Kern, a former state representative photographed on the Capitol steps on the day of the insurrection — and who was on the Maricopa ballot both as a legislative candidate and as a presidential elector — was hired to help recount ballots.Among other concerns, Ms. Hobbs’s letter contended that stacks of ballots were not properly protected and that there was no apparent procedure for preventing the commingling of tallied and untallied ballots.The security violations spotted by observers, the letter stated, included ballots left unattended on tables and ballots counted using scrap paper instead of official tally sheets. Counters receive “on the fly” training. Ballots from separate stacks are mixed together. Software problems cause ballot images to get lost. The letter also noted that some aspects of the process “appear better suited for chasing conspiracy theories than as a part of a professional audit.”For instance, some ballots are receiving microscope and ultraviolet-light examinations, apparently to address unfounded claims that fraudulent ballots contained watermarks that were visible under UV light — or that thousands of fraudulent ballots were flown in from Southeast Asia using paper with bamboo fibers.John Brakey, an official helping supervise the effort, said high-powered microscopes were being used to search for evidence of fake ballots, according to a video interview with the CBS News affiliate in Phoenix.“There’s accusations that 40,000 ballots were flown in, to Arizona, and it was stuffed into the box,” he said in a taped interview. “And it came from the southeast part of the world, Asia, OK. And what they’re doing is to find out if there’s bamboo in the paper.”“I don’t believe any of that,” he added. “I’m just saying it’s part of the mystery that we want to un-gaslight people about.”Republicans in the Senate signed a contract agreeing to pay $150,000 for the vote review, a figure that many said then would not cover its cost. A variety of outside groups later started fund-raisers to offset extra expenses, including the right-wing One America News cable channel and an Arizona state representative, Mark Finchem, who argues the election was stolen. How much in outside donations has been collected — and who the donors are — is unclear.The letter from the secretary of state also said that equipment and software being used to display images of ballots had not been tested by a federal laboratory or certified by the federal Election Assistance Commission, as state law requires. That left open the possibility, the letter said, that the systems could have been preloaded with false images of ballots or that the software had been designed to manipulate ballot images — concerns similar to those that believers in a stolen election had themselves raised.Ms. Hobbs also said the procedures for checking the accuracy of the effort included no “reliable process for ensuring consistency and resolving discrepancies” among the three separate counts of ballots. It also appeared that the task of entering recount results into an electronic spreadsheet was performed by a single person rather than a team of people from both political parties, the letter stated.Mr. Bennett, the liaison between Republicans in the State Senate and the company conducting the vote review, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.But Ms. Hobbs concluded her letter to him by saying, “you know that our elections are governed by a complex framework of laws and procedures designed to ensure accuracy, security, and transparency. You also must therefore know that the procedures governing this audit ensure none of those things.“I’m not sure what compelled you to oversee this audit, but I’d like to assume you took this role with the best of intentions. It is those intentions I appeal to now: either do it right, or don’t do it at all.” More

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    F.E.C. Drops Case Reviewing Trump Hush-Money Payments to Women

    The case had examined whether Donald Trump violated election law with a $130,000 payment shortly before the 2016 election to a pornographic-film actress by his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.The Federal Election Commission said on Thursday that it had formally dropped a case looking into whether former President Donald J. Trump violated election law with a payment of $130,000 shortly before the 2016 election to a pornographic-film actress by his personal lawyer at the time, Michael D. Cohen.The payment was never reported on Mr. Trump’s campaign filings. Mr. Cohen would go on to say that Mr. Trump had directed him to arrange payments to two women during the 2016 race, and would apologize for his involvement in a hush-money scandal. Mr. Cohen was sentenced to prison for breaking campaign finance laws, tax evasion and lying to Congress.“It was my own weakness and a blind loyalty to this man that led me to choose a path of darkness over light,” Mr. Cohen said of Mr. Trump in court in 2018.While Mr. Cohen has served time in prison, Mr. Trump has not faced legal consequences for the payment.“The hush money payment was done at the direction of and for the benefit of Donald J. Trump,” Mr. Cohen said in a statement to The New York Times. “Like me, Trump should have been found guilty. How the F.E.C. committee could rule any other way is confounding.”In December 2020, the F.E.C. issued an internal report from its Office of General Counsel on how to proceed in its review in December 2020. The office said it had found “reason to believe” violations of campaign finance law were made “knowingly and willfully” by the Trump campaign.But the election commission — split evenly between three Republicans and three Democratic-aligned commissioners — declined to proceed in a closed-door meeting in February. Two Republican commissioners voted to dismiss the case while two Democratic commissioners voted to move forward. There was one absence and one Republican recusal.That decision was announced on Thursday.Two of the Democratic commissioners on the F.E.C., Shana Broussard, the current chairwoman, and Ellen Weintraub, objected to not pursuing the case after the agency’s staff had recommended further investigation.“To conclude that a payment, made 13 days before Election Day to hush up a suddenly newsworthy 10-year-old story, was not campaign-related, without so much as conducting an investigation, defies reality,” they wrote in a letter.The Republican commissioners who voted not to proceed with an investigation, Trey Trainor and Sean Cooksey, said that pursuing the case was “not the best use of agency resources,” that “the public record is complete” already and that Mr. Cohen had already been punished.“We voted to dismiss these matters as an exercise of our prosecutorial discretion,” Mr. Cooksey and Mr. Trainor wrote.A spokesman for Mr. Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.The Cohen case captured the public’s attention in 2018 after the F.B.I. raided his office, apartment and hotel room, hauling off boxes of documents, cellphones and computers. Months later, Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to, among other charges, campaign finance violations.He said in court that he had arranged payments — including $130,000 to the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford — “for the principal purpose of influencing the election.”The payment was far in excess of the legal limit for individual contributions for president, which was then $2,700.Mr. Cohen further said he had arranged for a $150,000 payment by American Media Inc. to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy playmate, earlier in 2016.Mr. Cohen would later turn on Mr. Trump and write his own book about serving as the former president’s enforcer while he was a businessman. The book was called “Disloyal: A Memoir.” More

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    Stefanik Moves to Oust Cheney, Resurfacing False Election Claims

    Republicans say Liz Cheney, their No. 3, is being targeted because she won’t stay quiet about Donald J. Trump’s election lies. Her would-be replacement is campaigning on them.WASHINGTON — As House Republicans have made the case for ousting Representative Liz Cheney, their No. 3, from their leadership ranks, they have insisted that it is not her repudiation of former President Donald J. Trump’s election lies that they find untenable, but her determination to be vocal about it.But on Thursday, Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the Republican whom leaders have anointed as Ms. Cheney’s replacement in waiting, loudly resurrected his false narrative, citing “unprecedented, unconstitutional overreach” by election officials in 2020 and endorsing an audit in Arizona that has become the latest avenue for conservatives to try to cast doubt on the results.“It is important to stand up for these constitutional issues, and these are questions that are going to have to be answered before we head into the 2022 midterms,” Ms. Stefanik told Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former strategist, in the first of a pair of interviews on Thursday with hard-right acolytes of the former president.The comments, Ms. Stefanik’s first in public since she announced she was taking on Ms. Cheney, reflected how central the former president’s election lies have become to the Republican Party message, even as its leaders insist they are determined to move beyond them and focus on attacking Democrats as radical, big-spending socialists before the 2022 midterm elections.Far from staying quiet about the false election claims on Thursday, Ms. Stefanik effectively campaigned on them, describing Mr. Trump on Mr. Bannon’s show as the “strongest supporter of any president when it comes to standing up for the Constitution,” and asserting that Republicans would work with him as “one team.”“The job of the conference chair is to represent the majority of the House Republicans, and the vast majority of the House Republicans support President Trump, and they support his focus on election integrity and election security,” Ms. Stefanik later told Sebastian Gorka, a former adviser to Mr. Trump. The job, she said in an unmistakable jab at Ms. Cheney, “is not to attack members of the conference and attack President Trump.”While Ms. Stefanik avoided claiming outright that the election was stolen, she praised the Arizona audit, a Republican-led endeavor that critics in both parties have described as a blow to democratic norms and a political embarrassment, as “incredibly important.” She said recounting votes there and scrutinizing how Pennsylvania and other states administered the 2020 election were “valid, important questions and issues that the American people deserve policy proposals and answers on.”It was a stark contrast from Ms. Cheney, who has relentlessly upbraided the former president for falsely claiming the election was stolen and on Wednesday beseeched Republican lawmakers in a scathing opinion piece to excise him from the party. Ms. Cheney voted against her party’s efforts to invalidate the election results on Jan. 6, while Ms. Stefanik — like most House Republicans — voted to reject Pennsylvania’s electoral votes for President Biden.Some Republicans, including the hard-right lawmakers who led a charge to try to remove Ms. Cheney in February after she voted to impeach Mr. Trump, readily conceded that they were unwilling to tolerate dissent from their party leaders.“All the polling indicates that President Trump is still the titleholder,” Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said on Fox News. Ms. Cheney “can tell what her version of the truth is, but she can’t do it as the leader of the Republican Party in Congress.”For many Republicans, however, the calculation to boot Ms. Cheney, a strict conservative, in favor of Ms. Stefanik, who has a far more moderate voting record but has wholeheartedly embraced Mr. Trump, is more complicated.In interviews with lawmakers and party operatives, all of whom requested anonymity to discuss the internal turmoil, several expressed concern about the optics of purging the only female member of leadership and a daughter of a conservative dynasty for her resolve to call out Mr. Trump’s lies. They worried that the move to oust Ms. Cheney could spook donors who might chafe at sending money to Republicans so closely associated with the Jan. 6 riot, and ultimately voters who might be alienated by the party’s refusal to brook dissent.But they were also wrestling with the political downsides of keeping Ms. Cheney in her post, worried that they would continue to be forced to answer for her unyielding broadsides against the myth of a stolen election that many of their voters believe. Several lawmakers privately lamented her stubbornness and said they wished Ms. Cheney would focus solely on attacking Democrats.Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the Republican whom leaders have annointed as Ms. Cheney’s replacement in waiting, has loudly resurrected Mr. Trump’s false election narrative.Cindy Schultz for The New York TimesThat has been the approach taken by Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, who was initially vocal in his criticism of Mr. Trump and support of Ms. Cheney, but more recently has refused to broach either subject.On Thursday, for the second day in a row, he sidestepped questions about Mr. Trump and Ms. Cheney, saying he was solely focused on challenging Mr. Biden and Democrats, and “looking forward — not backward.”“Members do not want to have to defend themselves against attacks from members of their own leadership team,” said John Feehery, a Republican strategist and former House leadership aide. “The primary job of the House Republican Conference chair is to set up and facilitate the weekly press conferences conducted by the House Republican leadership. If you go out of your way to embarrass your leaders at those press conferences, you are not doing your job and you won’t last in that position very long.”Representative Ashley Hinson of Iowa, a rising freshman star who voted against her party’s attempt to invalidate the election results, came out on Thursday in support of Ms. Stefanik, saying she respected Ms. Cheney’s “strong conservative record and service to our country” but wanted relief from the infighting that had plagued the conference.“If Republicans are divided, and not focusing all of our efforts against radical Democrat policies, Speaker Pelosi will remain in power,” Ms. Hinson said in a statement that called Ms. Stefanik “the right person to unify and lead our conference at this time.”Others appeared torn. Representative Nancy Mace, Republican of South Carolina, who had vocally condemned Mr. Trump for his role in encouraging the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 and warned that the Republican Party could not define itself solely around the former president, said she was tired of “having these fights publicly.”“I want to move forward,” Ms. Mace told Fox Business’s Neil Cavuto. “I want to win back the House in a year and a half. We can get the majority back, and we’ve got to stop fighting with each other in public.”Ms. Mace warned that if the party continued “to make our party and our country about one person, and not about hard-working Americans in the this country, we’re going to continue to lose elections.” Asked whether she was referring to Mr. Trump or Ms. Cheney, Ms. Mace replied, “All of the above.”Some arch-conservative Republicans who are eager to oust Ms. Cheney — many of whom have despised her hawkish foreign policy views for years — have been quietly skeptical of Ms. Stefanik despite her endorsement from Mr. Trump, noting the low rankings conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and American Conservative Union have given her. On Wednesday night, the anti-tax Club for Growth opposed her campaign, branding her “a liberal.”“House Republicans should find a conservative to lead messaging and win back the House Majority,” the group wrote in a statement on Twitter.But despite the hand-wringing among the rank-and-file, by Thursday, Ms. Stefanik’s allies, including Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of the founders of the Freedom Caucus, publicly predicted that she would be conference chairwoman as soon as Wednesday, when Republicans plan to meet.“For sure the votes are there,” Mr. Jordan said on Fox News. “You can’t have a Republican conference chair taking a position that 90 percent of the party disagrees with, and you can’t have a Republican Party chair consistently speaking out against the individual who 74 million Americans voted for.”Carl Hulse More

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    Three Months After Coup, Myanmar Returns to the ‘Bad Old Days’

    Every night at 8, the stern-faced newscaster on Myanmar military TV announces the day’s hunted. The mug shots of those charged with political crimes appear onscreen. Among them are doctors, students, beauty queens, actors, reporters, even a pair of makeup bloggers.Some of the faces look puffy and bruised, the likely result of interrogations. They are a warning not to oppose the military junta that seized power in a Feb. 1 coup and imprisoned the country’s civilian leaders.As the midnight insects trill, the hunt intensifies. Military censors sever the internet across most of Myanmar, matching the darkness outside with an information blackout. Soldiers sweep through the cities, arresting, abducting and assaulting with slingshots and rifles.The nightly banging on doors, as arbitrary as it is dreaded, galvanizes a frenzy of self-preservation. Residents delete their Facebook accounts, destroy incriminating mobile phone cards and erase traces of support for Myanmar’s elected government. As sleep proves elusive, it’s as if much of the nation is suffering a collective insomnia.Little more than a decade ago, the most innocuous of infractions — owning a photograph of pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or an unregistered cellphone or a single note of foreign currency — could mean a prison sentence. Some of the military’s Orwellian diktats rivaled those of North Korea.Security forces search for protesters as they crack down on a peaceful demonstration against the military coup in Yangon, in April.The New York TimesThree months after Myanmar’s experiment in democracy was strangled by the generals’ power grab, the sense of foreboding has returned. There is no indication that it will ease. For the better part of 60 years, the military’s rule over Myanmar was animated not by grand ideology but by fear. Today, with much of the population determined to resist the coup-makers, a new junta is consolidating its grip by resorting, yet again, to a reign of terror.“Myanmar is going back to the bad old days when people were so scared that their neighbors would inform on them and they could get arrested for no reason at all,” said Ko Moe Yan Naing, a former police officer who is now in hiding after opposing the coup.Prisons are once again filled with poets, Buddhist monks and politicians. Hundreds more, many young men, have disappeared, their families ignorant of their whereabouts, according to a group that tracks the military’s detentions. More than 770 civilians have been killed by security forces since the putsch, among them dozens of children.As they did years before, people walk the streets with the adrenaline-fueled sense of neck hairs prickling, a glance from a soldier or a lingering gaze from a passer-by chilling the air.Protesters fight with security forces in Yangon in March.The New York TimesYet if the junta is reflexively returning to rule by fear, it is also holding hostage a changed country. The groundswell of opposition to the coup, which has sustained protests in hundreds of cities and towns, was surely not in the military’s game plan, making its crackdown all the riskier. Neither the outcome of the putsch nor the fate of the resistance is preordained.Myanmar’s full emergence from isolation — economic, political and social — only came five years ago when the military began sharing power with an elected government headed by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. A population that barely had any connection to the internet quickly made up for lost time. Today, its citizenry is well versed in social media and the power of protests tethered to global movements. They know how to spot a good political meme on the internet.Their resistance to the coup has included a national strike and a civil disobedience movement, which have paralyzed the economy and roiled the government. Banks and hospitals are all but shut. Although the United Nations has warned that half the country could be living in poverty by next year because of the pandemic and the political crisis, the democratic opposition’s resolve shows no sign of weakening.More than 770 civilians have been killed by security forces since the putsch.The New York TimesIn late March, Ma Thuzar Nwe, a history teacher, branded her skin with defiance. The tattoo on the nape of her neck reads: “Spring Revolution Feb. 2021.”The police are now stopping people on the streets, looking for evidence on their phones or bodies of support for the National Unity Government, a civilian authority set up after the elected leadership was expelled by the military. A popular tactic is to affix an image of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the coup leader, on the sole of a shoe, smashing his face into the ground with each step. During spot checks, the police now demand that people show their soles.Ms. Thuzar Nwe says she wears her hair down to cover her tattoo, hoping the police won’t be too inquisitive.“In Myanmar culture, if a woman has a tattoo, she’s a bad girl,” she said. “I broke the rules of culture. This revolution is a rare chance to eradicate dictatorship from the country.”But the Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military is known, has built an entire infrastructure dedicated to one purpose: perpetuating its power for power’s sake.Its bureaucracy of oppression is formidable. An army of informers, known as “dalan,” has reappeared, monitoring whispers and neighbors’ movements.The blandly named General Administration Department, a vast apparatus that remained under military control even after the army had started sharing authority with the civilian government, is once again pressuring administrators to keep tabs on everyone’s political views. And local officials have taken to banging on doors and peering in homes, as a dreaded system of household registration is reintroduced.Military vehicles during the national Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, in March.Associated PressEach morning, as residents count the dead and missing, the military’s media present its version of reality, all the more pervasive since the junta has revoked the publishing licenses of major private newspapers. Democracy will return soon, the military’s headlines insist. Banking services are running “as usual.” Health care with “modern machinery” is available. Government ministries are enjoying English-proficiency courses. Soft-shell crab cultivation is “thriving” and penetrating the foreign market.The Tatmadaw may have modernized its military arsenal, acquiring Chinese-made weapons and Russian fighter jets. But its propaganda is stuck in a time warp from back when few challenged its narrative. There is no mention in its media of the military’s killing spree, the broken economy or the growing armed resistance. On Wednesday, the State Administration Council, as the junta calls itself, banned satellite TV.For all the fear percolating in Myanmar, the resistance has only hardened. On Wednesday, the National Unity Government said it was forming a “people’s defense force” to counter the Tatmadaw. Two days before, ethnic insurgents fighting in the borderlands shot down a Tatmadaw helicopter.Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing in 2016.Hein Htet/European Pressphoto AgencyIgnoring such developments, the Tatmadaw’s media instead devote space to the supposed infractions of thousands of civilians who must be locked up for “undermining state peace and stability.” Among them are AIDS patients so weak they can barely walk.More than for the civilian population, such propaganda is meant to convince the military ranks that the coup was necessary, Tatmadaw insiders said. Sequestered in military compounds without good internet access, soldiers have little ability to tap into the outrage of fellow citizens. Their information diet is composed of military TV, military newspapers and the echo chambers of military-dominated Facebook on the rare occasions they can get online.Still, news does filter in, and some officers have broken rank. In recent weeks, about 80 Myanmar Air Force officers have deserted and are now in hiding, according to fellow military personnel.“Politics are not the business of soldiers,” said an air force captain who is now in hiding and does not want his name used because his family might be punished for his desertion. “Now the Tatmadaw have become the terrorists, and I don’t want to be part of it.”Myanmar’s citizens are now well versed in social media and the power of protests tethered to global movements, since the country opened up a few years ago.The New York TimesIn the cities, almost everyone seems to know someone who has been arrested or beaten or forced to pay a bribe to the security forces in exchange for freedom.Last month, Ma May Thaw Zin, a 19-year-old law student, joined a flash mob protest in Yangon, the country’s biggest city. The police, she said, detained several young women and crammed them into an interrogation center cell so small they barely had room to sit on the floor.For a whole day, there was no food. Ms. May Thaw Zin said she resorted to drinking from the toilet. The interrogations were just her and a clutch of men. They rubbed against her and kicked her breasts and face with their boots, she said. On the fourth day, after men shoved the barrel of a pistol against the black hood over her head, she was released. The bruises remain.Since she returned home, some family members have refused to have anything to do with her because she was caught protesting, Ms. May Thaw Zin said. Even if they hate the coup, even if they know their futures have been blunted, the instincts of survival have kicked in.“They are afraid,” she said, but “I can’t accept that my country will go back to the old dark age.”Riot police prepared to remove protesters who attempted to block a motorcade of security forces in February.The New York Times More

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    For Bears, California Recalls Are the Perfect Circus

    A recall candidate hired a bear to draw attention to his campaign to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom, but the bear ended up drawing attention to the bear.SACRAMENTO — He was new to politics but a working actor who has shared the screen with Kevin Costner. He posed. He swaggered. He did not obviously beg for the rotisserie chicken. He publicly refrained from his two favorite offstage habits, flatulence and belching, although at one point he did wash himself with his tongue as the cameras rolled.Under a broiling Sacramento sun, Tag — a half-ton bear hired as a stunt by one of the Republicans hoping to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom of California in a likely fall recall election — hit all his marks in front of a campaign bus on Tuesday before heading home to Kern County in time for a dip and a nap.By Thursday, editorial boards were fretting, a state senator was fuming, animal rights groups were calling for formal investigations and the Republican candidate who hired the bear, John Cox, was fending off questions about whether his rented mascot had been exploited.“I kissed the bear, actually,” Mr. Cox said. “It’s a very tame bear.”As California’s nationally watched recall effort cleared yet another threshold this week, with a final count of some 200,000 signatures beyond the required 1.5 million or so, the bear’s appearance marked a new phase in the proceedings. Call it the circus phase.When Californians recalled their governor in 2003, 135 candidates were on the ballot, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom 48.6 percent of voters selected as the replacement for Gray Davis. Aspirants included the former child actor Gary Coleman, the online publisher Arianna Huffington and the Hustler magazine mogul Larry Flynt. The campaign became so antic and bizarre that one of the debates was hosted by the Game Show Network.Tag, a half-ton Kodiak bear, ate chicken and creme sandwich cookies.Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesWill the list be long and bizarre again? Well, does a bear sleep in Kern County?Among those running again this time are Mary Ellen Cook, a former pornographic film actress who worked under the professional name Mary Carey, and Angelyne, a 70-year-old former Los Angeles billboard model. Many more have publicly flirted with the possibility, including the actor Randy Quaid, who tweeted last month that he was “seriously considering” a run despite pending criminal charges. Other announced candidates include Kevin Faulconer, the recent mayor of San Diego; Doug Ose, a former congressman from Sacramento; and Caitlyn Jenner, the Olympic gold medalist, reality show celebrity and transgender activist.The barriers to enter the race are low: State rules allow candidates to file any time up until 59 days before Election Day, as long as they can produce 7,000 signatures from supporters or pay a fee of about $4,000.Tag does not work as cheaply. Mr. Cox’s campaign paid about $6,000 to Steve Martin’s Working Wildlife, animal wranglers in Frazier Park, Calif., for the bear to make appearances at news conferences and in a commercial, according to Mr. Martin and Keith Bauer, Tag’s trainer.Mr. Cox’s campaign sought to rebrand him with a tougher image after the San Diego businessman was trounced by Mr. Newsom in the 2018 election. It changed his Twitter handle to @BeastJohnCox, and labeled Mr. Newsom a “pretty boy” whose looks had carried him into office. Tag’s job, apparently, was to drive home the “beast” theme and represent California.In that respect, he was technically miscast. He is a Kodiak bear, and the official state animal is the brown California grizzly. The bear on the state flag is a grizzly. So is “Bacteria Bear,” the famed 800-pound bronze statue outside the governor’s office, so nicknamed for all the small, sticky hands that have petted it during elementary school field trips.But the grizzly has been extinct for a century in California. Born nine years ago in a private zoo in Ohio, Tag, at least, is alive and “is brown,” Mr. Bauer explained.Tag has worked for the past seven years. He has appeared in “Yellowstone,” the Western television series starring Mr. Costner, with Tracy Morgan in an ad for Rocket Mortgage and in the Apple TV+ series “See” with Jason Momoa. In an upcoming plumbing company ad with a Goldilocks theme, Mr. Bauer added proudly, “he plays all three bears.”At the Sacramento news conference on Tuesday, the trainer cued Tag to nod as Mr. Cox spoke, and rewarded the bear with creme sandwich cookies and chicken from Walmart. An electrified cord — unplugged because Mr. Bauer said the bear had long since learned not to go near it — separated Tag from the press.Tag is part of a rebranding effort for Mr. Cox, a San Diego businessman who lost to Mr. Newsom in 2018.Renée C. Byer/The Sacramento Bee, via Associated PressMr. Bauer, who has trained Tag since he was a cub, said the bear had the personality of a golden retriever.“We wrestle and I tickle the inside of his thigh, which for a bear that’s like tickling the bottom of your foot,” the trainer said.Still, he expected trouble. Once, an Instagram influencer in Los Angeles hired Tag to pose with a crowd of bikini-clad women in a mansion, and animal rights groups complained, charging that the bear was insufficiently separated from the women. Mr. Bauer and Mr. Martin, the owner of the animal business, said state fish and wildlife inspectors interviewed them for several hours after the complaint.Records shared by animal rights groups show a handful of citations involving issues with the company’s care and housing of animals over the last decade, but none involving Tag. This week, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals immediately criticized the Cox campaign for hiring the bear, saying that the use was exploitative and that the handlers appeared to have violated the federal Animal Welfare Act by letting Mr. Cox stand too close to his mascot.California opinion writers charged that the use of the bear was ethically and politically tone-deaf.“Pro tip: Nobody cares what you say when there’s a half-ton omnivore lurking behind you,” the Sacramento Bee’s editorial page editor suggested.And at the Capitol, a Democratic state senator from San Diego, Ben Hueso, charged that Tag’s handlers had violated the spirit of a law California passed in 2019 to prevent animal cruelty in circuses.“An innocent wild animal shouldn’t have to suffer harassment, confinement and humiliation because Mr. Cox has a problem generating interest in his campaign,” Mr. Hueso said.“Humiliation?” countered Mr. Bauer. “That bear will walk away from you and fart in your face and it doesn’t mean a thing to him. He burps in my face all the time. Doesn’t mean a thing to him.”Meanwhile, on Twitter, it appeared that the bear’s message had been hijacked. “Why’s everybody gotta make a big deal about my weight?” tweeted a new account, @SadJohnCoxBear.Mr. Bauer said he had done little this week but defend himself to reporters. “They make it seem like I’m up here with a cattle prod and it’s not like that,” he said.In fact, during the shoot for that plumbing commercial, he said, he and Tag had played off camera with soap suds. It did not fit the beastly brand, but “he enjoyed the hell out of that.” More