Good morning, California. Back to work.

“The American people deserve to have somebody who is going to fight for them, who is going to see them, who will hear them, who will care about them, who will be concerned about their experience and will put them in front of self-interest.”—U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, announcing she is seeking the Democratic nomination for president.

CA will matter big in 2020

California Sen. Kamala Harris is officially running for president.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris’ candidacy won’t be the only California angle in the 2020 presidential election. Also a factor: the date of the state’s 2020 primary, which will be set for March 3—aka “Super Tuesday”—instead of June.

  • California remains a go-to state for campaign contributions from show biz and Silicon Valley.
  • But historically, frontrunner nominees have been established long before Golden State voters mark their primary ballots.

California will join Texas, Virginia and at least a half-dozen other states holding primaries on March 3, 2020, thanks to a 2017 bill sponsored by Secretary of State Alex Padilla, advocated for by Harris’ strategists and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

  • California’s extra edge: Early voting will start here on Feb. 3, 2020. That’s the date of the Iowa caucuses, and a formula for more diverse input on nominations.

Padilla: “California’s primary will officially be in prime time. Candidates will not be able to ignore the largest, most diverse state in the nation as they seek our country’s highest office.”

California is not a winner-take-all state. Candidates who get 15 percent or more of the vote will receive a portion of what will be roughly 400 delegates.

  • Harris has won three statewide races in California, giving her a leg up—with caveats.

Politico’s Chris Cadelago: “[T]he home-field advantage for the California-based candidates will be limited—they still have to perform well in the early contests and establish themselves as presidential material.”

More certain is that the new date will separate serious candidates from wannabes, early.

San Francisco-based Democratic pollster Ben Tulchin: “California is going to be the place where only the top-tier three or four contenders can play and the only alternative is if a dark horse emerges from Iowa or New Hampshire—and then starts raising money to play there.”

A Silver State note: Nevada’s caucus is set for Feb. 15. Harris’ strategy must entail sending her supporters to Las Vegas and Reno to organize and win, which would propel her into South Carolina.

Kamala Harris, a primer

Recommended reading: L.A. Times reporter Michael Finnegan’s backgrounder on Kamala Harris, newly announced presidential candidate:

“Her  rivals could soon see the mix of cold calculation, relentless fundraising and force of personality that drove Harris’ quick rise, starting with the overthrow of her old boss in the prosecutor’s office. It set her on a path to statewide office and, barely two years into her Senate term, a top-tier try for the White House.”

Finnegan refers to Harris’ friendship with Willie Brown, the former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor, noting she was there on the night in 1995 when Brown was elected mayor, and citing appointments by Brown of Harris to various posts, as described in this 1994 L.A. Times article.

  • More to the point of her current undertaking, Harris trudged through the Iowa snow knocking on doors for Barack Obama in 2007. Obama endorsed her when she ran for California Attorney General in 2010 and for U.S. Senate in 2016.

If PG&E goes bankrupt, who pays?

The Camp Fire in Butte County killed 86 people.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. customers may not necessarily get stuck with the bill if the company seeks bankruptcy reorganization, CALmatters reporter Judy Lin reports, citing the California Public Utilities Commission’s watchdog arm.

  • Ratepayers were saddled with $6-$8 billion when PG&E filed for bankruptcy in 2001, or roughly $1,300 to $1,700 per customer spread over years. Costs fell hardest on large industrial users.
  • Because that bankruptcy stemmed from market price manipulation by energy traders including Enron, regulators let PG&E pass on higher rates, says Elizabeth Echols, executive director of the Public Advocates Office.

PG&E has announced it will file for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code in the face of $30 billion in potential liabilities from 2017 fires Napa and Sonoma Counties, and the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 86 people.

  • This time, PG&E may be responsible, though the causes have not been determined.

The precedent: The commission blocked San Diego Gas & Electric from passing on $379 million in costs from a 2007 wildfire.

The bottom line: If ratepayers aren’t responsible, then investors including shareholders must pay.

Echols: “We should definitely not assume that because PG&E is heading to bankruptcy court that ratepayers are going to end up footing the bill again.”

What’s ahead: The California Public Utilities Commission must approve any settlement affecting PG&E’s 16 million customers in Northern and Central California. Gov. Gavin Newsom has one vacancy to fill on the five-member CPUC. That selection will send a signal about the commission’s direction.

Creditors fight to stop PG&E's bankruptcy

Erin Brockovich speaks to Camp Fire victims.

Capitol lobbying is about intensify to persuade legislators to do what they can to avert a PG&E bankruptcy. But don’t expect PG&E to take the lead.

  • Even the utility’s own lobbyists say privately the company has lost credibility in Sacramento.
  • But potential PG&E creditors—fire victims with pending lawsuits, workers who depend on PG&E paychecks—also have a stake in the utility’s solvency.

A rally featuring Erin Brockovich has been organized for today at the Capitol by wildfire victims suing the utility and their lawyers.

  • Portrayed by Julia Roberts in a 2000 movie, Brockovich was an investigator for a plaintiff’s lawyer who sued PG&E over an earlier disaster, a spill of hexavalent chromium in drinking water in the Mojave Desert desert town of Hinkley. That cost PG&E a mere $335 million.
  • PG&E’s looking at $30 billion in potential wildfire liability. If the utility goes bankrupt, fire victims would stand to collect far less than the potential value of their suits.

Organized labor also hopes to avert a bankruptcy, as detailed in a commentary for CALmatters by Tom Dalzell of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1245. Electrical workers could lose in a reorganization.

  • One hope: Change liability laws in a way that could lift some costs from utilities found to be responsible for fires.
  • Another: Establish some sort of state fund to help pay for climate-related disasters.
  • The fundamental problem: Legislators have little appetite to take any steps that could be viewed as a “bailout” for the utility.

Democratic Sen. Jerry Hill, who represents San Bruno, the site of a PG&E natural gas explosion in 2010 that killed eight people: “There is no basis of trust. They’re out for whatever they can get. … I don’t think the state can do enough to satisfy them and Wall Street.”

Speaking of electricity

California's grid, explained in less than 2 minutes.

If you’ve ever wondered how California’s aging electricity system works, CALmatters videographer’ Byrhonda Lyons and the Sacramento Bee’s Sharon Okada created this explainer video.

  • It’s less than 2 minutes. Plus, Julie Cart’s cartoon look-a-like makes her debut.
  • For the real-life Cart’s look at the electric grid, click here.

Commentary at CALmatters

Tom Dalzell, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245: Gov. Gavin Newsom needs legislators to begin the uncomfortable work of making changes to our infrastructure, our policies, and yes, our liability laws, so that we can build a state meets the current challenges of climate change while reducing its impact in the future.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: California has a severe housing crisis but it’s compounded by the high price of building or even rehabbing low-cost housing.

Please email or call 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.