Good morning, California. Know who you’re voting for yet?

Vote-by-mail ballots went out last week, early voting starts soon in some counties and polls open three weeks from today, Nov. 6, for in-person traditionalists. For concise nonpartisan information, check out our CALmatters voter guide.

Bonus: We explain the propositions in 60 seconds.

What went wrong at the DMV

The California Department of Motor Vehicles office in Oakland.

The DMV has offered piecemeal explanations as it acknowledged making more than 100,000 errors in registering Californians to vote: software problems, human errors, data entry mistakes.

What DMV officials didn’t acknowledge was what increasingly appears to have been the underlying problem, as reported Monday by CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall: a piecemeal computer system that wasn’t intended to support the massive motor voter project.

California Common Cause Executive Director Kathay Feng, who worked with DMV on motor voter: “What we’re finding out is that they were really patching together an old system with several new systems … We still don’t know if … they had planned all along to have an interim process between April and September or if this is something they cobbled together because something wasn’t ready.”

California has more than 19 million registered voters. The rash of DMV errors represents less than one half of one percent of the total. But in this polarized moment, everything is political fodder.

Mike Madrid, Republican political consultant: “There is a way to salvage this but it requires not dismissing it as ‘no big deal.’”

To read more, click here.

Paint companies face $400 million judgment

Lead paint chips, the subject of a big court case.

The U.S. Supreme Court handed California cities and counties a big win Monday on liability for lead paint.

  • Without comment, the high court refused to hear a major challenge by business and conservative organizations to a $400-million judgment against paint companies that promoted lead paint decades ago, knowing the product damaged children’s brains.
  • Attorneys for Santa Clara County, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and seven other localities defended state court rulings that lead paint on houses built in the first half of the 20th Century created a public nuisance.

Ann Ravel was the Santa Clara county counsel who filed the original suit almost 20 years ago: “These paint companies were marketing lead paint knowing that it caused permanent brain damage. … We had the responsibility to help those people who were impacted by it.”

The California Chamber of Commerce urged the high court to intervene, warning:

  • The precedent that lead paint sold decades ago constitutes a public nuisance today could extend to many products.
  • Oil companies, for example, could face suits over climate change.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned of a “wave of copycat suits that now threaten this country’s businesses.”

Republican attorneys general from Indiana, Louisiana, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming called on the court to step in because some states “have attempted to wield public nuisance lawsuits as a weapon.”

Politics: Three paint companies, ConAgra, NL Industries and Sherwin-Williams, spent $8 million to place an initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot to shift clean-up costs to taxpayers. They dropped the idea when Democratic Sen. Robert Hertzberg of Los Angeles sought a legislative solution. Talks collapsed in June.

Paint companies will have little choice but to settle, Hertzberg said, now that the Supreme Court has declined to hear the case.

P.S. At least 50,000 kids in 10 cities and counties had elevated lead levels, a study that became evidence in the lawsuit showed.


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CA’s war on tobacco shows results

California's anti-tobacco ads resonate by focusing on tobacco industry manipulation.

Lung cancer deaths declined far more rapidly in California than in the rest of the country since 1986, thanks to California’s intense anti-tobacco efforts, UC San Diego researchers have found.

Californians’ incidence of smoking is lower than any state other than Utah and teen smoking rates are especially low. Some reasons:

  • A 25-cent per pack tax approved by voters via Proposition 99 in 1988 funded anti-tobacco efforts.
  • A landmark smoking ban in workplaces, including restaurants and bars, signed in 1994 by Gov. Pete Wilson.
  • A $2 per pack tax approved in 2016 by voters; young people don’t start smoking and people quit when costs rise.

Lung cancer peaked in California in 1985. Then, the incidence here was higher than in the nation as a whole. But as anti-smoking efforts intensified, fewer kids started smoking and adults quit at younger ages.

From 1986-2013, lung cancer mortality decreased more rapidly in California and was 28 percent lower by 2013 than the rest of the nation, the study published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research says.

California’s anti-tobacco ads resonated with young people because they hammered home the message that tobacco companies manipulated teenagers into smoking, Dr. John Pierce, the lead author, told me.

By 2037, lung cancer mortality will be 50 percent lower in California than in the rest of the country, the study predicts.

The new fire prevention at PG&E

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. turned off power to 59,819 customers in the Sierra and elsewhere Sunday to avoid wildfire sparked by its equipment and driven by hot, dry wind.

Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin“Any measures the government or utilities can take to lessen the risk of a repeat of the hellacious firestorms would be gratefully appreciated by the community.”

Not everyone was pleased.

Joan Sato of Clearlake told the San Francisco Chronicle she would have to go to a hotel to plug in a breathing system she uses for apnea: “I’m angry for sure because it’s totally irresponsible to pull this stuff.”

CalFire reported no major Northern California fires—this time.

Cox vs. Newsom vs. Brown

Jerry Brown’s priorities are by now familiar: climate, realignment, local control, frugality.

  • But how would Democrat Gavin Newsom and Republican John Cox differ from Brown in the governor’s office?

CALmatters’ Byrhonda Lyons has put together a quick video primer on where they would depart from Brown in running California, from housing policy to education to state executions. Check it out here.

Commentary at CALmatters

Kathryn Lybarger, AFSCME Local 3299: Housing, food, healthcare, and other costs are soaring. Real wages are stagnant. And for UC ‘s lowest paid employees, most of whom are people of color, a raise means nothing if your job gets outsourced the next day to a private contractor that pays much less.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: Jerry Brown has never been interested in the management of the state bureaucracy and as he prepares to retire from the governorship he probably will leave behind a managerial debacle in the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

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

See you tomorrow.