Good morning, California.

“What do we call that three-fourths threshold? Gigamajority?”—California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, discussing the Democratic Party’s overwhelming new post-election edge in the Legislature, in The Sacramento Bee.


Meet the new blue-wave majority

Democrats will occupy almost three-fourths of California Senate seats.

California’s new Legislature gets sworn in today, featuring more Democrats and more women, though fewer new faces than in past years.

  • In 2016, stunned by the national results, Democrats arrived with the goal of resisting Donald Trump. In 2019, the dominant party’s main job might be to resist themselves.
  • It’s hard to overstate the party’s power, thanks to the anti-Trump blue wave that blew through California in November—29 Democratic seats in the 40-seat Senate, and 60 (or 61) in the 80-seat Assembly.

Business groups hope moderate Democrats will combine with Republicans to block Democrats’ most liberal proclivities.

  • Some Democrats who flipped seats previously held by Republicans may be moderate. But if Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins get behind measures, they almost certainly will be able to muster sufficient votes.

Expect bills introduced today to focus on wildfire, early childhood education, housing, health care, mental health care, and higher ed.

  • Oh, and taxes: Democratic Assemblyman Marc Levine of Marin County proposes a $25 tax on automatic guns.
  • Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom promises to “raise the bar” on gun control. Whether a new gun tax is his first step is another question.

This freshman class is the smallest since 1988, The L.A. Times notes. That’s due to the longer term limits approved by voters in 2012.

  • There will be at least 23 women in the Assembly out of 80 seats, up from 17 in the class of 2016. In the Senate,  the eight female senators elected last month will bring the number of women in that chamber to 13* out of 40.  Prior to the election, there had been 10.

Steyer’s next steps: water

Tom Steyer is pushing "5 Rights."

San Francisco billionaire activist Tom Steyer expects that his NextGen advocacy group will focus on drinking water quality in the coming legislative session.

  • Steyer sat down with CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall last week as he met with his Sacramento lobbying team.

Steyer: “If you go into the Central Valley, I think there are a million Californians who drink unsafe water. It’s overwhelmingly in low-income communities and heavily Latino communities but also African American communities.”

Elections have consequences: Republican Sen. Andy Vidak of Hanford and Democratic Sen. Bill Monning of Carmel proposed a tax on all water users to pay for clean water. Water agencies lobbied against it and Vidak lost to Sanger Democrat Melissa Hurtado, who will be sworn in today.

  • Steyer, whose political ambitions go beyond Sacramento, also proposes a “5 Rights” campaign. As described by The Washington Post, the initiative relates to education, the environment, voting rights, the economy and health care.

Steyer: “I put this out to find out if somebody really wants to take this and run with it. The question here is, do we have a positive vision for America in the 21st century? Because there isn’t one. People have a lot of policies, but there is no vision.”

Rosenhall: Are you running for President?

Steyer: “I’ve said I’m willing to do anything.”

Brown's parting steps: water

Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Gov. Jerry Brown has embraced far-reaching federal legislation with weeks left in his tenure that could help bring about his California WaterFix, including the twin tunnels he long has championed.

  • New water storage and desalination plants worth hundreds of millions of dollars are being pushed in the lame duck session of Congress by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield.
  • While not directly related to the tunnels, The Sacramento Bee reports that the push, an extension of legislation Feinstein and McCarthy orchestrated in 2016, would allow for more flexibility in the operation of the massive pumps that push water south to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

It’s all about climate:

  • Brown is seeking a grand bargain that includes the $20 billion tunnel project to transport water from the Sacramento River 30 miles south to pumps near Tracy.
  • Brown and his experts see the tunnels as necessary to ensure stable water flows to Southern California as sea levels rise.
  • The governor seeks to forge agreements with San Joaquin Valley and Bay Area interests to convince them to reduce dependency on San Joaquin River watershed flows and provide more water for the environment.

Choke points: Many environmentalists decry the tunnels, and Delta landowners and their political representatives oppose the project, believing it would destroy their way of life.

Opioid deaths and a question mark

California's opioid death rate is up, but lower than nationally.

Opioid-related drug overdose deaths rose in California in 2017, but remained significantly below national rates, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • California’s numbers: 11.7 deaths per 100,000 population, up from 11.2 in 2016. The national rate: 21.7 per 100,000, up from 19.8 in 2016.
  • Five states had lower opioid-related deaths than California in 2017: Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Texas and Iowa. The full extent of drug-related deaths in California is not known, however.

Amphetamine-related overdose deaths rose by 127 percent between 2008 and 2013, far faster than deaths attributed to opioids, Kaiser Health News reported, citing the California Department of Public Health.

  • The data, however, are dated: When I asked why 2013 was the most recent year for amphetamine-related deaths, a state health department spokeswoman said the department hadn’t processed data past 2013. Which begs the question. I await the answer.

Al Lowe, integration champion

Al Lowe in 1970, defending Pasadena busing to CBS News.

Pasadena was the first public school district outside the American South to face a federal order to integrate. Al Lowe, a fourth-generation Chinese-American, was a Pasadena School Board member who helped implement a federal court order to integrate the schools in the early 1970s.

Lowe, who died last week in San Francisco at age 92, weathered a recall but was unseated in 1973.

Larry Wilson of the Pasadena Star News: “Every adult in town knew him, or knew who he was, because his Lowe’s interior design store on East Colorado was hugely influential. I didn’t know from furniture, but those of us young and old who wanted to end the racist legacy of school boundaries drawn up to create essentially all-white and all-black campuses rallied to his cause.”

Another wildfire recovery begins

Aerial footage of the Camp Fire.

Donations are pouring in for victims of the Camp Fire as yet another long wildfire recovery commences, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

  • Charity Navigator lists charities helping Butte County survivors get back on their feet.

Twenty-five people remain missing in the Paradise area, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea says. This year’s deadliest fire in state history claimed the lives of at least 88 people, 41 of whom have been positively identified.

Commentary at CALmatters

Democrats won big in California but face big challenges nationally, CALmatters contributors say.

Ellen O. Tauscher, former Bay Area congresswoman: Democrats flipped seven congressional seats by organizing and talking directly to voters about issues that mattered most to them.

Tom Epstein, former Democratic staffer:  Democrats cannot abandon the rest of the country. To win, they must directly engage with rural voters and focus on issues that matter to them.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: California’s two major parties are becoming more polarized, leaving middle-of-the-road Californians without representation. Two new organizations, however, are trying to change that.

Please email or call me with tips, suggestions and insights, [email protected]org, 916.201.6281. Shawn Hubler, [email protected], edits WhatMatters. Thanks for reading, please tell a friend and sign up here.

See you tomorrow.

*An earlier version of this newsletter misstated the number of women in the state Senate.