Good morning, California.

“I find I never regret an appointment I didn’t make.”—Gov. Jerry Brown to a post-election press conference, answering a question from The Recorder’s Cheryl Miller. Brown hasn’t named a replacement for California Supreme Court Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, who retired effective Sept. 1, 2017, nor has he explained the delay.

Another wildfire makes tragic history

Empire State Building, lit in honor of California fire victims.

The Camp Fire in Butte County is now the deadliest wildfire in state history, as the death toll rose to 42 on Monday with hundreds still unaccounted for. In Southern California, casualties from the Woolsey Fire stood at two, with some 370 homes and other buildings reduced to ashes.

President Donald Trump, at Gov. Jerry Brown’s request, approved a major disaster declaration.

Brown: “We have a real challenge here, threatening our whole way of life. It is a time of sadness, but also one to reflect on where we are and resolve to pull together and do everything we can to help those in need.”

Stocks of California’s two largest utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric and Edison International, slid Monday amid investor fears of overwhelming fire liability.

Learn more about California’s epic wildfires from CALmatters’ fire tracker here.

The Legislature’s many shades of Dem

California's Senate Chamber could soon turn a more pro-business hue.

California Democrats have supermajorities in both legislative houses, as updated vote totals on Monday made it clear that two Republican seats in the Central Valley had flipped to Democratic women.

With Republicans collectively relegated to backbencher status, fights in the new Legislature could be among two types of Democrats: those primarily backed by labor and those primarily backed by business. That could be especially evident in the Senate, CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports.

The Senate has been more liberal than the Assembly in recent legislative sessions. It still will be left of center. But as Democrats expand their control, it could become a moderating influence, as the blue party claims two Central Valley Senate seats held by Republicans, with a moderate Democrat winning a third seat:

  • Assemblywoman Anna Caballero of Salinas won a seat held by termed-out Republican Anthony Cannella of Ceres.
  • Sanger Councilwoman Melissa Hurtado defeated Republican Sen. Andy Vidak of Hanford.
  • Baldwin Park City Councilwoman Susan Rubio appears to have defeated a labor-backed Democrat, former Assemblyman Mike Eng of Monterey Park.

To maintain the farm belt seats, Senate Democrats will need to focus on issues dear to the Central Valley, such as water, farm policy and economic development.

  • Health care and education ought to get attention as well. Teen birth rates and high school dropout rates are high in the Central Valley.
  • California’s oil patch in what will be Hurtado’s Kern County district will also require Senate attention. Rubio won in part because oil companies spent as much as $5 million on her campaign.

A left-over: Much of the Central Valley groundwater is fouled with toxins from farming. Vidak pushed for legislation to raise a fee from all water users to clean up the water. It fell short. Hurtado could pick up where Vidak left off.

Musical chairs, Sacramento-style

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia for Sen. Ricardo Lara's seat?

Based on last Tuesday’s results, Senate Democrats ought to control the 40-seat upper house by a 28-12 margin. All in good time.

  • Republican Sen. Ted Gaines of El Dorado County won a Board of Equalization seat. Assemblyman Brian Dahle of Lassen County gave up his post as Assembly Republican Leader to run for that seat, and Republican Assemblyman Kevin Kiley of Roseville was quick to announce his candidacy.
  • Democrats also look likely to be down a member. Sen. Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens is leading in the race for Insurance Commissioner.

Potential replacement candidates include Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia of Bell Gardens, The Long Beach Post reported.

  • Garcia would face serious opposition from the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California, which battled her over her environmental legislation.

Vanessa Delgado also could run. For now, Delgado is an answer to a trivia question. Because of a quirk of this year’s election, she was the shortest serving state senator in more than a century. And look for Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and City Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez.


A bill that could save a life

Gabriel MacConaill died Oct. 14, 2018.

Assembly Bill 3249 addresses one of the Capitol’s least-known, and most heart-wrenching stories. Its backers believe it will quietly save lives, at a cost to California’s 190,000 attorneys of $1 a year.

Gabe MacConaill was a high-powered partner at the blue-chip firm Sidley Austin. No one can know what drove him to shoot himself in a downtown Los Angeles parking garage on a Sunday last month.

His widow, attorney Joanna Litt, provided some insight in a moving commentary for The Recorder, citing job-related pressure and binge drinking.

Litt: “I didn’t have much compassion or realize his drinking was masking a deeper pain and I made him feel felt very guilty.”

David Mann, a Stanford law school graduate and Other Bar substance abuse counselor: “The whole profession reads that article and thinks it’s an aberration. The profession is in total denial that it generates more alcoholics than any other profession.” With that comes depression and too often suicide.

How AB 3249 became law is its own little-known story:

  • Former Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, a lawyer and recovering substance abuser, called lobbyist Bob Giroux seeking help funding the Other Bar.
  • Giroux, a recovering alcoholic, turned without charge to Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair Mark Stone, a Santa Cruz Democrat.
  • Stone inserted language into a routine bill dealing with the State Bar Association dues. Dozens of lawyers wrote letters in support.
  • The bill slid through without a single no-vote. Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law with little fanfare in September. The funding will start in 2019.

Commentary at CALmatters

Henry A. Waxman, Waxman Strategies: California Public Utility Commission members have many factors to consider when they evaluate a merger. But in my view, it comes down to a single question: Will California consumers benefit from this? For the T-Mobile-Sprint merger, the answer is yes.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: Gov. Jerry Brown will leave Gavin Newsom a stack of knotty managerial and policy issues that cannot be ignored.

Mayors to discuss California Dream

Four big-city California leaders—San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg—discuss California’s crisis in homelessness and housing on Friday in Sacramento. CALmatters Laurel Rosenhall will moderate the panel. It’s part of CALmatters’ California Dream project done in collaboration with public radio. For event details and registration, please click here.


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See you tomorrow.