Why isn’t Brown filling a high court vacancy?

Good Monday morning, California.

“They connected with me because of my strong advocacy on marijuana legalization.” — Gavin Newsom to The Sacramento Bee, which reported on a fundraiser put on by Republicans, who also support Orange County Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a legalization supporter.

Waiting for Brown’s last Supreme Court pick

Gov. Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown knows the lasting significance of Supreme Court appointments. Yet he has left a vacancy unfilled since Aug. 31 when Justice Kathryn Werdegar stepped down. The puzzling delay may have to do with arcane election law.

Long story short: Voters ousted three of Brown’s original Supreme Court justices in 1986. For the next three decades, appointees of Republican Govs. George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger controlled the court.

The comeback: Since returning to office in 2011, Brown has appointed three justices to the seven-seat court. With his next selection, Democratic appointees will constitute a majority for the first time since Brown’s first terms as governor.

Background: Once confirmed by a special commission, justices serve 12-year terms and run in retention elections in which voters cast yes or no votes. Except new appointees faces voters sooner.

In March, The Recorder reported Brown’s explanation for the delay in replacing Werdegar: “I’ve appointed three and the fourth could be very decisive, so I want to understand how that … could work.”

One translation: Brown wants to make sure his final appointee strikes an ideological balance.

Another possibility:  If a new justice is nominated and confirmed by Aug. 30, the appointee would face voters this November, the Secretary of State’s office told me. If Brown waits until after Aug. 30, his final appointee would not face voters until 2022.

Why risk it? This governor knows about the vagaries of retention elections. Why not give a new justice time to settle in before facing voters?

P.S.: The LA Times’ Maura Dolan offered a thoughtful take on Justice Leondra R. Kruger, Brown’s youngest appointee. Kruger will appear on the November ballot, as will Justice Carol A. Corrigan, a Schwarzenegger appointee.

How to restore the California Dream

Still haven’t decided who to vote for governor? Maybe it’d help to see the leading candidates’ vision for restoring the California Dream. Frontrunner Gavin Newsom would dwell on prenatal care and early education. Antonio Villaraigosa would focus on poor kids. Republican Travis Allen would cut taxes and complete the state water project. John Cox would focus on housing. CALmatters’ Byrhonda Lyons compiled their prescriptions in this video.

Why they're spending millions

Will Netflix founder Reed Hastings’ $7 million donation to help Antonio Villaraigosa get into the top-two be a bust? Why is Sacramento developer Angelo Tsakopoulos spending millions to elect the next lieutenant governor? Why is Chevron pumping  all that money into the Republican Party? CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall and Matt Levin take a look at why a few really big donors are giving.

Big vote today on watchdog agency's future

The Fair Political Practices Commission, a watchdog over campaign spending and lobbying, is scheduled to vote today to restructure itself, over Gov. Jerry Brown’s objections.

In 1974, Brown tapped into voter anger over the Watergate scandals that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation, and rode to the governor’s office in part on the power of a clean government initiative that created the Fair Political Practices Commission. .

Last week, Jodi Remke, who was on the losing end of votes, quit as Brown’s FPPC chairwoman. She warned the restructuring pushed by other commissioners would weaken the commission.

Peter Krause, Brown’s legal affairs secretary, sent a letter in April criticizing the plan. Common Cause of California detailed its objections in a 6-page letter.

On the flip side, several unions wrote letters extolling the plan.

The question: Who will the remaining four members of the FPPC listen to: organized labor, or Brown and Common Cause?

At stake in the Josh Newman recall

Sen. Josh Newman, Fullerton Democrat.

The recall of Sen. Josh Newman will be intensely watched Tuesday. Republicans saw an opportunity to reclaim a seat after the first-term Democrat from Fullerton voted to raise gasoline taxes to pay for road repairs.

CALmatters’ Ben Christopher concludes Newman’s fate will provide a “lesson to politicians of all stripes on what happens to vulnerable politicians who take controversial votes—and how well parties and other interest groups can (or can’t) protect them from ticked off voters.”

The outcome certainly will affect relations in the Senate.

Contaminated water

An estimated 360,000 Californians receive water containing unsafe levels of arsenic, nitrates, uranium or other toxins, McClatchy newspapers reported over the weekend.

Solution: As part of his budget, Gov. Jerry Brown is seeking approval of a water use tax averaging $11.40 per year to clean the water. Sen. Bill Monning, a Carmel Democrat, has legislation on the same topic.

Complications: Urban water districts contend they should not have to pay for a problem that is most pronounced in the Central Valley. The Association of California Water Agencies is urging its member districts to inundate lawmakers with letters:

“It is inefficient to turn thousands of local water agencies into taxation entities for the state and require them to collect the tax and send it to Sacramento.”

Politics: Sen. Andy Vidak, a Hanford Republican, opposes most taxes, but voted for an earlier iteration of the tax. It would benefit people in regions where Republicans are strongest. Most Democrats support the tax. But dynamics could change if the GOP-led recall of Sen. Josh Newman succeeds Tuesday over his vote for the gasoline tax.

Walters: Grading Brown’s big projects

CALmatters’ commentator Dan Walters offers a history of Gov. Jerry Brown’s big infrastructure projects. High-speed rail is shaky and the twin Delta tunnels face regulation and litigation. Both will be incomplete by the time he leaves office seven months from now.

Now you can get the WaltersWeekly email every Friday, with all four of Dan’s columns each week. Please sign up for it below.

Please email or call with tips, suggestions and insights, [email protected], 916.201.6281. Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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