SACRAMENTO, Calif.—In making their case for California’s policies on climate and immigration, Democrats proudly note the state’s status as one of the world’s most powerful economies, driven by thriving tech and creative industries.
Republicans here are pointing to a different metric: the poverty rate.
“Poverty is the No. 1 issue for California.… We have to work to fix it,” said Republican state Assembly leader Chad Mayes. “It is directly related to the policies we have put in place in California.”
By focusing on poverty, Republicans here are making a bid for relevance in an overwhelmingly Democratic state in open rebellion against the White House and national Republicans.
One of Mr. Mayes’ first acts last year as Republican state Assembly leader was to bring his caucus to a local homeless shelter. This year, his members have introduced a series of bills aimed at the poor and middle class that are working their way through the legislative process.
Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said she had worked with Mr. Mayes on a bill he had introduced that would incentivize welfare recipients to get high-school and college degrees. She also applauded a Republican bill aimed at expanding the number of dentists that accept payment through Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program.