A nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California’s policies and politics

Ben Christopher

Contributing Writer

Ben Christopher is a contributing writer for CALmatters where he covers California’s economy and the budget. Based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, he has written for San Francisco magazine, California magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Priceonomics. Ben also has a past life as an aspiring beancounter: He has worked as a summer associate at the Congressional Budget Office and has a Master’s in Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley.


This weekend the rank-and-file of the state’s second favorite political party are descending upon the Anaheim Marriott in Orange County to rub elbows, pass bylaws, cheer keynote speaker/bomb-thrower Steve Bannon, and formulate a strategy to attempt to re-take political power in California. Or barring that, to at least reclaim political relevance. We speak, of course, of California Republicans.

Wildfires burned across Sonoma County, Oct. 2017. Photo by Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP

California Burning

California Burning By Ben Christopher and Judy Lin | October 18, 2017 After a particularly wet rainy season fueled growth of lush vegetation, the sweltering summer of 2017 dried those plants to a...

There’s sometimes a fine line between good governance and trolling. One of this year’s most controversial—if not quite as consequential—state bills is a proposal by Democratic Sen. Mike McGuire of Healdsburg that would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns before they can appear on a California ballot. Proponents insist this is simply about providing voters with necessary information about any and all presidential candidates. Did you have one in mind?

At this point, it’s practically a California tradition. First, state judges find a loophole in California’s constitutional bulwark against new, higher taxes. Then conservative legislators and anti-tax activists rush in to patch the hole with a new ballot proposition. This week, the state Supreme Court made the first move in this familiar two-step by issuing a ruling that both anti-tax crusaders and proponents of more local investment say could make it much easier for city and county governments to raise new taxes. Now California conservatives are counter-punching.

California would allow residents to opt for a “nonbinary” gender marker on all forms of state identification—”M” and “F” would likely be followed by “X” —under advancing legislation. That would make California the first state in the nation to fully depart from the rigid either/or categorization of gender, embracing a more fluid understanding of the term—at least on paper.

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