Presidential debate, goats and voter turnout, PG&E’s profit, and a new trade deal

Good morning, California.

“I’m not interested in quantity. I’m interested in quality. I’m interested in careers, not in minimum wage jobs that don’t have any room for advancement.”—Gov. Steve Sisolak, quoted in the Nevada Independent, on his desire to overhaul Nevada tax incentives to better attract high-wage employers.

  • Nevada has no state income tax, and its property taxes are low.

Wine caves and purity tests

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg during a Democratic presidential primary debate Thursday. (Photo by Chris Carlson, AP Photo.)

If Sen. Elizabeth Warren is going to win California’s March primary, she’ll have to make do without the Napa wine cave vote, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher writes.

Long-time Democratic donors, vintners and philanthropists Craig and Kathryn W. Hall hosted a weekend fund-raiser for South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at their Hall Wines wine cave in Rutherford. 

That became one of the most contentious spats at Thursday’s televised Democratic debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. 

  • Earlier in the week, the Associated Press described the wine cave as having a “chandelier with 1,500 Swarovski crystals, an onyx banquet table to reflect its luminescence and bottles of cabernet sauvignon that sell for as much as $900.” 

Warren pounced on Buttigieg over the venue: “Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next president of the United States.”

Clearly prepared, Buttigieg warned about “issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass,” and noted Warren’s net worth is “100 times mine.” What if, he wondered, she donated to him: 

  • “[W]ould that pollute my campaign because it came from a wealthy person? No. I would be glad to have that support. We need the support of everybody who is committed to helping us to defeat Donald Trump.”

The Halls have been donating to Democrats for decades, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, Gavin Newsom, Barack Obama, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But not Elizabeth Warren.

To read Christopher’s story, please click here.

Pet a goat, cast a vote

uc riverside, student voters, 2018 election
Ash Conner trots out Luna, a Vote Goat, to encourage UC Riverside students to vote. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda/The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Helped by new laws and creative tactics, campus organizers are aiming to boost civic participation beyond 2018 levels, when student voter turnout more than doubled nationwide, CalMatters’ Felicia Mello reports.

A few tactics to boost student turnout: Popcorn and pajama parties to talk about the propositions, and cute goats to pet.

  • Mello: “While most students in the state may lean left, some of the most successful campus voter drives have been bipartisan — like one at UCLA in 2018, where a coalition including the campus Democratic and Republican clubs more than tripled the voting rate.” 

Experts anticipate big student numbers at the polls again in March, when the Democratic presidential primary will be a draw, and November when people can vote for or, more likely in California, against President Trump. 

California law requires that public colleges designate “civic and voter empowerment coordinators” and offer incentives for county elections officials to locate vote centers on campuses.

To read Mello’s story, which is part of CalMatters’ California Dream collaboration, please click here.

Business embraces new trade deal

Vineyard near Clarksburg in September

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved an updated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, eliciting praise from the California Chamber of Commerce and support from organized labor.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994, awaits a vote in the U.S. Senate. Given President Trump’s support, the measure likely will pass.

The L.A. Times noted that the most “important parts of the agreement may be those that signal a shift away from the long-standing ideology of free trade and toward an embrace of more managed trade.”

In a letter to California’s congressional delegation, the California Chamber of Commerce urged support, writing:

  • Mexico, California’s No. 1 export market, bought 17% of all California exports in 2018.
  • Canada, California’s No. 2 export market, bought 9.9% of California’s exports in 2018.
  • Combined, California’s exports to Mexico and Canada were valued at $48.45 billion last year.

The vote: 385-41. Seven of California’s 53 members of Congress voted against the measure, all of them Democrats.

  • Chamber President Allan Zaremberg: “It’s about time that the USMCA becomes a reality. … The USMCA is a necessary modernization to NAFTA that recognizes the impacts of technology on the three countries’ economies.”

California farmers no doubt will welcome the deal. Canada and Mexico account for $23.1 billion in farm exports from California.

To read a past CalMatters piece on trade, please click here.

PG&E’s profit margin

PG&E power lines in the East Bay (Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

Pacific Gas & Electric’s profit margin will remain at its current 10.25% in 2020, under the California Public Utilities Commission vote Thursday. 

  • In April, PG&E sought 16%, though it later lowered that to 12%. 
  • On Tuesday, PG&E brushed aside Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call, made in a bankruptcy court filing, to overhaul its board of directors. U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Dennis Montali sided with the utility. 

Thursday’s vote illustrates the state’s fundamental power over the utility. Governors appoint members of the Public Utilities Commission.

  • Commission President Marybel Batjer, Newsom’s appointee: “This proposed decision reaches a fair and just outcome.”

Southern California Edison’s rate will be 10.3%, and San Diego Gas & Electric’s profit will be 10.2%.

The L.A. Times’ Sammy Roth: “That means for every dollar the utilities spend building electric or gas infrastructure, they’ll be allowed to charge customers an additional 10 cents or so in profits for their shareholders.”

Roth quoted Jason Wells, PG&E’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, as saying that PG&E “must offer investors a fair return for the risks they bear comparable to opportunities they have nationally and internationally.”

  • Wells: “No other state faces the combined risks of climate change, wildfires, inverse condemnation and decarbonizing the natural gas system. And no other state has seen such an overall decline in the financial health of its utility as experienced here in California.”

Episode 6: New laws in a minute

AB 5, california, unions, labor, gig
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez authored one of the year’s most far-reaching laws.

Starting Jan. 1, a California law will require some businesses to re-classify independent contractors as employees, granting them benefits such as overtime pay and the right to join a union.

It affects hundreds of thousands of gig workers, from Uber drivers to freelance journalists.

To watch CalMatters video journalist Byrhonda Lyons and reporter Judy Lin explain one of the most far-reaching laws of the year, please click here. In 60 seconds, or so.

Take a number: 5,620

An Asian man in his 50s was found dead outside Los Angeles City Hall on Wednesday.

L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer, as quoted in the L.A. Times: “He was someone’s son. He might’ve been somebody’s dad or somebody’s brother.”

  • The number of homeless people who’ve died on the streets of L.A. County this year is approaching 1,000.
  • More than 5,620 have died on the streets since 2013, L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez writes.

Commentary at CalMatters

Kathay Feng, California Common Cause: We are in a time when there are so many people who seek to sow divisions among Americans. I’m looking for the presidential candidate who presents a vision for how people can find common ground through uncommon solutions to create a democracy that works for all of us.

Horacio Amezquita, San Jerardo Housing Cooperative: Since 1990, the people of San Jerardo have drilled one well after another, only to see each closed as a result of agricultural contamination including nitrates and pesticides. Our children and our elders have developed painful rashes as a result. We worry about other health impacts from this stew of contaminants.

_______

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 for WhatMatters here.

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