Rep. Michelle Steel chats with a registered Republican voter through his front gate, while canvassing for voters ahead of the primary for the newly drawn 45th congressional district in Buena Park on May 28, 2022. Bing Guan for CalMatters
Rep. Michelle Steel chats with a voter through his front gate while canvassing in Buena Park on May 28, 2022. The Republican’s seat is in play again in 2024. Photo by Bing Guan for CalMatters

Yes, the headline race in California’s 2024 election is the first open U.S. Senate seat in 30 years. 

But voters should also pay attention to the U.S. House: California helped flip control to Republicans in 2022 (and the speakership went from Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco to Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, until he was deposed last month).

And California is shaping up as a key battleground again next year. Both parties are spending money and resources in the state. Now, California’s delegation includes 40 Democrats and 12 Republicans, who hold an overall majority of a mere nine seats in the House.

Wednesday, the well-regarded Cook Political Report put out its latest scorecard and 10 of the state’s 52 congressional seats are in play. It says a year out from the general election, it’s more likely that Democrats will retake the House than keep control of the U.S. Senate.

One of the key races is the 47th District in Orange County, an open seat because Rep. Katie Porter is running for Senate. It’s a “lean Democratic” in Cook’s ratings, and it was a CalMatters “hot race” in 2022.

Other Democratic-held seats on Cook’s list are the 9th District represented by Josh Harder and the 49th District by Mike Levin, both rated as likely Democratic.

Seven Republican-held seats are on the scorecard, including four rated as toss-ups: the 13th represented by John Duarte, the 22nd by David Valadao, the 27th by Mike Garcia and the 41st by Ken Calvert

Also, the 45th District represented by Michelle Steel is a “lean Republican” and the 3rd held by Kevin Kiley and the 40th by Young Kim are likely Republican.

All but one of these districts were also CalMatters hot races in 2022.

But while it’s a Democrat vs. Republican battle again for Congress, a new poll suggests there might be an opening for a third party in California — if there were ever enough money and the right leaders, that is.  

Half of California voters have a negative opinion of the Democratic Party, two-thirds have a dim view of the Republican Party and one third don’t like both parties, according to a recent Public Policy Institute of California survey.   

That pox-on-both-parties sentiment is up from 20% in October 2020 and has risen steadily since. So has the proportion of voters who say a third major party is needed — 71%, up from 54% in 2019.

The policy brief notes that half of no party preference voters dislike both parties, and that those who have negative opinions of both parties are far more pessimistic about the direction of California and the nation and have a more negative view of President Biden. And if the 2024 election is a rematch between Biden and former President Donald Trump, about a quarter of the likely voters in this group say they would vote for someone else. 

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Keep up with wildfire season with the CalMatters tracker, which is now using data by Watch Duty, a nonprofit that tracks and sends alerts in real time on wildfire and firefighting efforts in the West.   

AG Bonta clears officers in fatal shooting

California Attorney General Rob Bonta speaks at a press event in San Francisco on Sept. 21, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
California Attorney General Rob Bonta speaks at a press event in San Francisco on Sept. 21, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

From CalMatters criminal justice reporter Nigel Duara:

Officers from the Anaheim police SWAT team were rightfully fearful of their lives when they killed a man who was reported to be armed, but was instead holding a black drawstring bag, the state Justice Department announced Wednesday.  

The investigative summary found insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges against the four officers who fired at least 23 rounds and killed Brandon Lopez after a four-hour standoff on Sept. 28, 2021.

It was the fourth decision issued by Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office under a 2021 law that requires a Justice Department investigation into fatal police shootings of unarmed people. 

Forty-four cases remain open, the oldest dating to August 2021, according to the CalMatters tracker.

Lopez, who had four outstanding warrants for charges including armed robbery, led Anaheim police on a half-hour chase into Santa Ana, where his car crashed onto trolley tracks. He tried and failed to dislodge the car, and police blockaded him. 

About 6:10 p.m., less than an hour into the standoff, Santa Ana Police Officer Nelson Mendendez, sitting in an armored vehicle parked next to Lopez with a view into his car, reported that he could see a gun in Lopez’s right hand, according to the Justice Department investigation. 

Lopez, in fact, did not have a weapon, but the Justice Department found that the other officers’ belief that Lopez had a gun contributed to their assertion that they were acting in self-defense. 

At 10 p.m., officers pushed a chemical agent through the car’s rear windshield and Lopez ran out, first turning away from a line of SWAT officers, then turning toward them. Anaheim Police Officer Catalin Panov saw a drawstring bag in Lopez’s waistband, mistook it for a weapon and yelled out that Lopez had a gun. 

The officers fired at least 23 rounds, striking Lopez 18 times and killing him. 

The Justice Department’s legal review found that officers’ fears were reasonable because of Panov shouting “Gun!” along with Lopez’s outstanding warrants, Menendez’s misidentifying an object as a gun and communication with a girlfriend who said Lopez wanted to commit suicide.  

The false reports about a gun, “while incorrect, were not objectively unreasonable given the information relayed to the officers and the facts known to them at the time,” Justice Department investigators wrote. 

Top Chinese officials coming to CA

Signage along the Embarcadero promotes the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco on Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Eric Risberg, AP Photo

With a focus on climate change and trade, Gov. Newsom traveled to China last week to cement ties with the country and meet with President Xi Jingping

In nine days it’ll be China’s turn, as its top diplomats — as well as officials and business leaders from Australia, Vietnam, the Philippines and other Asia Pacific nations — are expected to land in California for a major conference.  

Known as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, or APEC, the invite-only event runs Nov. 11 through Nov. 17 and will bring more than 20,000 visitors to San Francisco, where entrepreneurs, politicians and industry leaders will sit in on talks and generally mingle with one another to discuss (what else?) climate change, technology, supply chains and more.

President Joe Biden and President Xi are also expected to meet face-to-face “on the sidelines” of the event, as first reported by AP News. This was later confirmed by the White House press secretary on Tuesday.

Despite the global draw, one of the conference’s biggest donors is a casino located in Sonoma County, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Graton Casino & Resort, which is owned by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, has given $4.6 million to the summit, with the hopes to raise its statewide profile and attract more Asian American customers.

With so many high-profile attendees, the conference has caused drama among San Francisco residents living in its downtown area. All the extra security and logistics have raised concerns about closed roads and inaccessibility for the senior residents living near the conference’s vicinity. And the city’s Board of Supervisors has urged the mayor to give $10 million to local businesses nearby that anticipate they will lose money due to the summit.

Protests also threaten to disrupt the conference as various advocacy groups — including the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition, No2 APEC Coalition and an organization promoting Filipino Indigenous rights — plan to rally during the week, reports the Chronicle

More money to tackle opioid crisis

An evidence bag containing pills of synthetic fentanyl disguised as Oxycodone at a Fresno County Sheriff's Office press conference in 2020. Photo by Craig Kohlruss, The Fresno Bee via Reuters
An evidence bag containing pills of synthetic fentanyl at a Fresno County Sheriff’s Office press conference in 2020. Photo by Craig Kohlruss, The Fresno Bee via Reuters

With help from the federal government, California will receive more cash to help address the opioid epidemic.

On Wednesday the Biden administration announced that it will provide states and Native American tribes a total of $1.5 billion to combat drug overdoses and provide resources for people with opioid use disorder.

California will receive $95 million, which can go into providing residents with addiction treatment, recovery support services and overdose reversal medication kits.

The news follows Newsom’s announcement last week about a partnership with San Francisco to create a new task force that will investigate opioid-related deaths and poisonings in a similar way the city’s law enforcement looks into homicide cases. The task force will document deaths and gather evidence, and will include personnel from the police department, highway patrol, the city’s district attorney’s office and the state’s National Guard.

In 2021, the last year data is available, more than 10,000 Californians died from drug overdoses. And between 2019 and 2021, opioid-related deaths in the state spiked 121%, with the vast majority of these deaths linked to fentanyl.

For more about the state’s opioid crisis, read our CalMatters explainer.

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Two new analyses reveal why it’s so difficult to build housing in San Francisco and San Jose and what must change.

CalMatters columnist Jim Newton: In L.A. and cities throughout California, public hearings have been hijacked by commenters spewing racism and hate speech.

Other things worth your time:

Some stories may require a subscription to read.

CA federal prosecutor raises alarm about Chinese election interference // Politico

Ro Khanna, Vivek Ramaswamy debate was low-drama, substance-heavy // San Francisco Chronicle

UC faculty letter ‘legitimized’ Hamas attack on Israel, regent says // Los Angeles Times

Survivors from CA’s period of forced sterilization denied reparations // KQED

Oceanside woman asks US Supreme Court if horn honking is free speech // The San Diego Union-Tribune

Pregnant farmworkers don’t know of time off to prevent pesticide exposure // The 19th

Thousands of Californians stuck on waitlist for home care help // Los Angeles Times

Exxon scraps plan to replace Santa Barbara County pipeline from 2015 oil spill // Los Angeles Times

Bayer ordered by CA jury to pay $332M in Roundup cancer case // Bloomberg

Tesla wins CA lawsuit that blamed its autopilot software for deadly crash // The New York Times

Court rules Kern River should keep flowing in Bakersfield // Los Angeles Times

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Lynn La is the WhatMatters newsletter writer. Prior to joining CalMatters, she developed thought leadership at an edtech company and was a senior editor at CNET. She also covered public health at The Sacramento...