Good morning, California. How about those Warriors and the Sharks? Happy Tax Day.

Pleased to meet you: I’m Dan Morain. I came to CALmatters because I want to help build a great and lasting journalism organization. This newsletter, which CALmatters launches today, is part of my contribution. My goal is to deliver quick and timely takes that explain California policy and politics, five days a week.

By way of introduction, I grew up on the San Francisco Peninsula,  went to public schools, College of San Mateo, and Humboldt State University. After working for a few small town papers and The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, I got hired by The LA Times, based in Los Angeles, San Francisco and, starting in 1991, in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee hired me in 2010, and named me editorial page editor in 2013, a job I held until I joined the CALmatters team.

I have covered crime, scandal, the California Supreme Court, the legislature, and the governor’s office. I met the love of my life covering the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980. We have three great kids and a grandbaby. I was in San Francisco when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit in 1989, witnessed the execution of Robert Alton Harris in 1992, and helped cover the recall of Gray Davis and 2008 presidential campaign. My most satisfying stories have been those that in some way helped people who needed it.

I care about water, education, politics, how we treat severely mentally ill people, and much more. California is a great place that could be better. Homelessness and poverty in our land of plenty appall me. And I hate the traffic.

During my three-plus decades as a news reporter, I tried to follow the facts and keep my opinions to myself. California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte once told me he couldn’t figure out my party affiliation. It was a compliment. I am a no-party preference voter. There are thoughtful politicians in both major parties. At The Bee, my job was to express fact-based opinion. Now, my goal is to provide you with my best fact-based analysis.

WhatMatters will grow and evolve and I’d like to know what you think. WhatMatters cannot be a one-person show. I depend on you, dear reader, to help by providing me with tips and insights. So please reach out at or pick up the phone, (916) 201-6281. Enough with the introduction.

On with WhatMatters:

Suddenly, the governor’s race turns real

Last week may have been a game changer in the race for governor. And it all may be due to a favor 20 years ago.

On Wednesday, Netflix founder Reed Hastings gave $7 million to an independent committee to help former LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at a time when he is running third in the polls behind Republican John Cox and Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad chipped in another $1.5 million.

Newsom is the frontrunner in the June 5 primary so, with California’s top-two primary, this is considered a race between Villaraigosa and Cox to see who will face him in November. That’s a big difference in a blue state, which Newsom seemed to recognize when he talked to CALmatters hours after learning about the new money.

“That was not an easy night last night. Honestly. My wife’s out of town with the kids, but I was like, it’s a little heartbreaking. That’s the beginning. That’s not the last check. I didn’t see that. I knew there was something coming. And by the way, I’m a big fan of Reed’s. That’s actually one guy I really like, who I respect. And I’m like, so yeah. I don’t know. It’s an open ended question.”

The Hastings/Broad money reveals how much the next governor may be determined by California’s ongoing fight over education between well-funded labor and reform groups. Hastings and Broad support charter schools because they are not bound by some of labor’s rules. Newsom, who is endorsed by the teachers union, was defensive about the issue when he spoke to CALmatters.

“I told all the charter folks I know, ‘If you want to paint me as an enemy, go ahead. I’m not. If you’re going to try to personally destroy me, I’m not going to reciprocate. And if I succeed and I survive tens of millions of dollars of attack ads, I’m going to do the right thing. But one thing I’m not going to do is perpetuate this war. I’m over it. I’m done with it.’”

Here’s the 20-year flashback. Netflix was a year-old start up in 1998 and Hastings had far less wealth than he does now. But the one-time math teacher spent $3.3 million to qualify an initiative to vastly increase the number of charter public schools. Then he used the threat of the initiative as a cudgel to negotiate a deal in the Legislature, and the teachers’ union signed on. Villaraigosa was Assembly Speaker then. In an email to me this week, Hastings said Villaraigosa was “instrumental in that 1998 effort.”

Bottom line: The 2018 race will in part be a proxy war among charter school advocates and public school unions. Certainly, their money will help define it.

Why the school fight matters

CALMatters’ Jessica Calefati, on the latest measure of our poorest students: “California’s poor students performed worse on a national exam than needy kids from all but one other state … Congratulations, folks. We beat Alaska.”

Newsom on Brown

CalMatters’ Ben Christopher, on Gavin Newsom’s visit to CALmatters: By Newsom’s own account, he owes much to Jerry Brown, the man he hopes to call his predecessor. “In some cases, he paid homage to Brown, who remains popular with a majority California voters.  … In others, he highlighted his areas of disagreement. Sometimes he did both at once.”

That’s an old politician’s trick.

Kevin McCarthy redux

Bakersfield’s finest House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy seems on the verge of becoming Speaker of the House. Again.

House Speaker Paul Ryan announced he won’t seek reelection, leaving behind the toxic stew that is Washington, D.C., and endorsed McCarthy. So did House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, of Louisiana. McCarthy sought the speakership three years ago when John Boehner stepped down, but pulled out on the eve of the vote. That was then.

CalMatters’ Dan Walters: “McCarthy’s close relationship with Trump, and also Vice President Mike Pence, is a major factor in his chances of succeeding Ryan.”

Bottom line: Even if he succeeds, the length of McCarthy tenure will depend on whether the GOP can hold its majority in the House. That will hinge in no small part on McCarthy’s ability to help Republicans hold most if not all of their 14 congressional seats in California.

ICYMI: What about immigration

Yes, the dysfunction in our nation’s Capitol affects California.

Dan Walters on Sunday: “Undocumented immigrants are living in fear that at any moment, they can be scooped up by immigration agents and banished to their supposed homelands… It happens every day. Employers, meanwhile, are being caught in a legal vise.”

Call WhatMatters a hopeless optimist, but “Speaker” McCarthy could fix that. Or not.

And finally,

Tax Day: If you’re paying taxes, you’re working, and that’s a good thing. The Franchise Tax Board reports that more than 1 million low-income workers, including people in the gig economy who have no tax liability, filed for the earned income tax credit, a new state program to help the working poor. They’ve collected more than $300 million, far surpassing last years totals of 266,000 filers who received $200 million. Jerry Brown embraces the concept of earned income tax credits, as did Ronald Reagan. The credit rewards work and gives families at the low of the pay scale a few hundred to a few thousand dollars they need.

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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Dan Morain joined CalMatters in March 2018. He is the former editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee. Morain also spent 27 years at The Los Angeles Times, and has covered the Capitol since 1992.