FRESNO COUNTY – Former Fresno City Councilmember Chris Mathys, who is running for Congress against incumbent David Valadao (R-22nd District) in the March primary will not be allowed to identify himself on the ballot as a “MAGA Conservative” or “MAGA Conservative Republican.”
On Dec. 22, 2023, the Sacramento Superior Court ruled that Mathys’ desired appellations violate Elections Code section 13107, which limits a ballot designation to profession, vocation, or occupation and must be no more than three words in length. Examples of profession, vocation, or occupation include, respectively, attorney, accountant, minister, mother, rancher, military pilot or police officer.
Another court wrinkle for Mathys was the fact that former President Trump trademarked the phrase “Make America Great Again” in August 2016. According to the court, Mathys’ use of MAGA would violate California Code of Regulations, title 2, section 20716, subdivision (d) which states, in part, that “a ballot designation may not compromise or include commercial identification information, such as trademark, service mark, trade name, or the specific name of a business, partnership, corporation, company, foundation, or organization.”
SECRETARY OF STATE SAYS NO
In November 2023, when Mathys filed his Ballot Designation Worksheet with the Secretary of State’s office for the March primary, under Proposed Ballot Designation(s), he listed “MAGA Conservative Republican.” As an alternative designation, he listed “MAGA Conservative.”
Under the Justification for use of Ballot Designation(s) section of the worksheet, as the reason why he listed the above designations, Mathys wrote, “As a Republican and strong believer that America can be great again, this designation best describes who I am and my great respect for our country.” Mathys provided this explanation for the three justification boxes on the worksheet.
On Dec. 6, 2023, the Secretary of State sent Mathys a letter denying his ballot designation. In the letter, Alexa P. Howard, elections counsel, explained the Secretary’s reasons for denying the designation.
Howard wrote, “The designations ‘Maga Conservative Republican’ and ‘Maga Conservative’ do not constitute a current profession or occupation.” Howard added, “The designation ‘Maga,’ understood here as an acronym for ‘Make America Great Again,’ trademarked campaign slogan, is an inappropriate ballot designation.” Howard provided the Elections Code and Code of Regulations sections Mathys’ proposed designation violated.
Howard noted that during a Dec. 4 phone call, she asked Mathys if he would be willing to accept “Businessman/Cattle Rancher” as an alternate designation; Mathys declined.
This was the second time Mathys and the Secretary locked horns over ballot designations. In 2022, Mathys challenged Valadao for the 22nd District. During that election, Mathys wanted his ballot designation to be “Trump Conservative/Businessman.” The Secretary said no; Mathys accepted “Businessman/Rancher” instead.
HIS DAY IN COURT
Howard concluded by saying Mathys had three days to respond to the letter. Mathys did. He sued Secretary of State Shirley Weber in Sacramento Superior Court on Dec. 8.
In his suit – a writ of mandate –under the First Cause of Action, Mathys wrote, “The issue of my self-identification as a MAGA Conservative Republican or MAGA Conservative should be left to the voters who will decide at the ballot box.”
Mathys also argued that the Secretary’s decision violated his First Amendment rights. He wrote, “The California Secretary of State is violating these rights when they unilaterally reject a candidate’s description of who he or she is or how he or she describes themselves. In the state of California, it is my right to self-identify as well as my right to choose a ballot designation that aligns with my principles without discrimination.”
The court disagreed. In denying Mathys’ petition, Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang wrote that “MAGA Conservative Republican” and “MAGA Conservative” denote status. Unlike a profession, vocation or occupation, a status does not provide a means of livelihood or produces income for its practitioner. Chang noted that the Code of Regulations disallows avocations, pro forma professions and statuses as ballot designations.
Responding to Mathys’ claim that the Secretary’s decision violated his First Amendment rights, Chang described the arguments as “unavailing.”
She wrote, “Section 13107 does not infringe on Petitioner’s core political speech.” She said Section 13107 and associated regulations “do not place a severe burden on Mathys’ right to free speech.”
Mathys elected to proceed with “Cattle Rancher/Businessman” as his ballot designation.
MAGA VERSUS RINO AND VALADAO
Mathys said in an interview with the Mid Valley Times he wanted his ballot designation to reflect his views on what it means to be a conservative and a Republican.
“I don’t want people to question if this guy is going to be another RINO (Republican in name only). There are so many in Congress and David (Valadao), obviously, belongs to that group. I want people to know Mathys is not going to vote for foreign aid when we have people here hurting. He’s not going to vote for open borders,” he said.
Mathys mentioned that Congress recently voted on an appropriations bill for more aid to Ukraine. He said that Valadao voted for the bill.
“He was all over it – voted ‘yes’,” Mathys said. “I am against giving any more aid to Ukraine. We’ve given them $100 billion. As Republicans, we’re supposed to be fiscally conservative. Sending that much money to a foreign country when you have so many domestic needs is not what I consider sound conservative policy. That would be the difference between a Valadao Republican and a MAGA Republican.”