Good morning, California. This is Shawn Hubler, CALmatters deputy editor, filling in for Dan Morain who is off today.
“I have made the realization that in order for those to whom I may have caused pain and who need to heal, for my own health, and in the best interest of the Party that I love and to which I have dedicated myself for more than 25 years, it is in everyone’s best interest for me to resign my position as chair of the California Democratic Party.”—Eric Bauman yesterday.
Bauman's resignation: Four takeaways
Eric Bauman, former California Democratic Party chairman
After first announcing a leave of absence, and then his intention to get treatment for an alcohol problem, former California Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman on Thursday heeded the call of Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom and other party leaders and announced he was stepping down.
- The move followed a Los Angeles Times report detailing assorted charges of sexual misconduct and lewd behavior leveled against Bauman, who is gay.
The fall from grace suggests two key questions about the California Capitol’s political culture, and one big lesson, writes Laurel Rosenhall of CALmatters:
“That Bauman’s alleged behavior persisted even as the public gaze focused so heavily in the last year on rooting out sexual harassment may be a testament to the counterproductive role alcohol too often plays in Capitol culture.
“Or it may point to the declining significance of political parties—how important can a party leader be, after all, if he can decree ‘zero tolerance,’ as Bauman did, for sexual harassment and then openly proceed to harass his staff?
“But most of all, Bauman’s resignation is a sign that the #MeToo story is far from over.”
The Legislature passed dozens of laws this year to combat sexual harassment, Rosenhall notes, and adopted its own plan to improve the Capitol’s workplace culture. Bauman himself spoke in favor of legislation to give whistleblower protection to Capitol staffers who report misconduct, only to end up being accused himself.
Sacramento #MeToo activist Samantha Corbin: “There are a lot of untold stories, and frankly, a lot of bad actors who haven’t been held accountable yet.”
Female Democratic leaders added to The Los Angeles Times that the episode points to a need for the state party to overhaul its mindset.
Lt. Gov.-elect Eleni Kounalakis: “I think that we’re frankly at a stage where this is a wake-up call and the culture of the organization needs to up its game and up its professionalism… It’s almost like a family. People have been more comfortable to let their hair down. I think what can go along with the congeniality is a comfort level that you can say and do whatever you want, and that is really what has gotten out of hand.”
After the fire, the deluge
A bulldozer clears mud from Highway 140 in Mariposa County.
Blackened and traumatized by wildfire, loss and disaster, California was pummeled from end to end Thursday by great sheets of rain.
- In Butte County, torrents of mud and debris stranded 50 vehicles on roads scorched by the Camp Fire, and a swift-water rescue team helped evacuate three families trapped by rising creek waters.
- In Shasta County, up to three inches of rain soaked the scarred hills laid bare by the Carr Fire.
- In Mariposa County, Caltrans crews worked overtime on the site of the Ferguson Fire to clear roads closed by mudslides.
- In Orange County, storms soaked the Holy Fire burn area, filling creeks with coursing mud and branches.
- In Riverside County, two feet of muck flooded a garage.
- In San Bernardino County, roads were closed and the National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch.
- In Los Angeles County, helicopter crews rescued a man clinging to a tree in the Los Angeles River.
- Santa Barbara County reported hail the size of dimes. Malibu reported mudslides with rocks the size of footballs.
On the upside, five feet of snow are forecast for this weekend in the Sierra Nevada, and the wet weather has cleared the air and extinguished smoldering fires.
Still, the World Meteorological Organization, a leading global authority on climate change headquartered in Geneva, reported on Thursday that the past four years have been the hottest on record, and humans are running out of time to curb, or even mitigate, global warming.
WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas to The Guardian: “We are not on track to meet climate targets and rein in temperature increases….We are the first generation to fully understand climate change and the last generation to be able to do something about it.”
Can NorCal afford a PG&E bankruptcy?
PG&E equipment in the thick of Butte County's Camp Fire
Patience has worn thin for California’s largest utility as the smoke clears from California’s deadliest wildfire in history.
- On Tuesday, the federal judge supervising PG&E’s probation from the fatal 2010 San Bruno gas explosion demanded to know what role the utility may have played in the Camp Fire, which claimed at least 88 lives this month in Butte County.
- Then on Thursday, as PG&E critics shouted, protested and demanded a crackdown, the California Public Utility Commission launched a probe into the utility’s corporate structure. PUC’s orders included implementation of 60 safety improvements recommended last year by a consultant after an independent audit.
PUC President Michael Picker: “PG&E appears to not have a clear vision for its safety programs…This is deeply troubling. It keeps me awake at night.”
PG&E: “We value and agree with all of [the consultant’s] recommendations. We have implemented the majority of their recommendations already, and are on track to implement many more within the next year, along with our ongoing activities to improve public, employee and contractor safety.”
Margaret Lewis, Communities for a Better Environment in Oakland: “We do not want to bail out PG&E. We don’t want to take the fall for PG&E. … They have made irresponsible corporate decisions by putting profits over people. Let them go bankrupt.”
But bankruptcy could hurt, writes CALmatters’ Judy Lin, who lays out in detail just how a PG&E restructuring would go down, and who would feel the impact. Hint: Not just PG&E.
- PG&E serves 16 million people in Northern California, and has 20,000 employees, Lin notes, and an integral role to play in California’s renewable energy future.
- Also standing to lose? Victims of the wildfires—17 last year alone—in which the company has been implicated.
In an era of climate-driven disaster, PG&E isn’t the only utility with a stake in this debate—Southern California Edison, too, has been sued, by victims of the Woolsey Fire in Ventura County.
- But PG&E’s checkered history has created a special place in hell for it with the Northern California public.
Lin: “What if Sacramento lacks the political appetite to bail out the soulless corporation in ‘Erin Brockovich’ and the negligent villain that was found guilty in the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion?”
To go deeper, click here.
Blue arrows, pointing left
California went from blue to bluer between 2014 and 2018.
How blue did California go in the November election? Off-the-charts blue, according to CALmatters’ Ben Christopher, who ran some longitudinal numbers on the powerful Democratic wave that flipped seven California GOP congressional seats.
- Christopher has been charting the 2018 elections this week in a series of five data visualizations. His latest: the staggering decline in the Republican congressional vote from midterm to midterm.
Click here to see the voting trajectory from 2014 to 2018 in every congressional district. Or we can save you the trouble: It’s a sea of blue arrows, pointing left.
- In virtually every competitive congressional race, California Democrats amassed a larger share of the vote this year than they did in 2014, the last non-presidential election year.
- The average district saw a 7 percent decline in the Republican share of the vote. Excluding the non-competitive districts, where Democratic and Republican candidates didn’t go head to head in both midterms, the typical district saw a 9 percentage point GOP drop.
'I still don't completely understand it'
GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan
Still reeling from that blue wave is House Speaker Paul Ryan, who on Thursday called California’s elections “bizarre.”
- Ryan, who is retiring soon from Congress, said during a Washington Post event that California’s practice of tallying votes for weeks after elections—a function of the state’s size, preponderance of mail-in ballots and drive to maximize turnout and count every ballot—“just defies logic to me.”
The Speaker questioned the reversal of several races as mail-in ballots were counted, though he added that he wasn’t suggesting anything “nefarious.” Of particular concern to Republicans is a change in state law allowing mail ballots to be dropped off by people other than the voter’s relatives.
- Even paid campaign workers can now collect and drop off ballots for California voters—”harvesting,” in the parlance—and some Orange County GOP officials have blamed it for the clean Democratic sweep of House seats in that former bastion of conservatism.
Ryan to the Post: “We had a lot of wins that night, and three weeks later we lost basically every contested California race.”
The remarks got a rise out of Democratic Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who shot back that “it is bizarre that Paul Ryan cannot grasp basic voting rights protections.”
Padilla: “It shouldn’t ‘defy logic’ that elections officials are meticulous in counting every eligible ballot. California works to ensure every ballot is counted properly and every ballot is accounted for. In the most populous state in the nation—and the state with the largest number of registered voters—this takes time.“
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Please email or call Dan Morain with tips, suggestions and insights, [email protected]
See you Monday.