In summary

Long wait begins as California counts votes. Coronavirus death leads to emergency declaration. California health officials defend needle-exchange program.

Good morning, California.

Latest election returns:

  • Bernie Sanders: 1.57 million votes, 33.8%.
  • Joe Biden: 784,341, 25.1%
  • Proposition 13 school bond, 44.6% for it and 55.4% against.
  • Outstanding votes: Expect a specific number today, but millions.

And the long wait begins

Business: Man died while waiting "on hold." Office phone.
Does it feel like the wait for primary election results in California will take forever?

Proposition 13, the $15 billion school construction bond, failed by a historically wide margin, or it didn’t.

Bernie Sanders bulldozed the competition in California. Or Joe Biden did much better than expected.

Such questions are to be determined in the days and weeks ahead as California election officials tabulate uncounted millions of votes, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports.

Mike Young, of California League of Conservation Voters: 

  • “California has election month, not election day.”

Christopher lists some reasons for the long count:

  • California opts to make it very easy for Californians to vote, allowing them to register to vote or change their party registration on Election Day.
  • Any voter for any reason can mail in a ballot postmarked as late as Election Day and have it counted so long as it arrives within three days.

Paul Mitchell of Political Data Inc. said yet-to-be-counted ballots tend to come from younger, lower-income, non-white voters. That almost certainly means more Democrats’ votes are waiting to be counted. 

  • In a clear Democrat versus Republican race, expect the results between their current estimates and their certification in mid-April to move into the Democratic column. 

To read Christopher’s analysis, please click here.

COVID-19 death, emergency order

Gov. Gavin Newsom holds a press conference in the wake of the first COVID-19 death in California, a man who took a cruise from San Francisco to Mexico in February. The governor outlined measures being taken by the state to identify and test all other individuals who were on the same cruise ship as the deceased. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Gov. Newsom on Wednesday announces an emergency declaration related to COVID-19.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Wednesday after an elderly man died of the coronavirus in Placer County, and authorities held a cruise ship offshore so health workers can test passengers for COVID-19.

The man was the first Californian to die of COVID-19. He took a cruise aboard the Grand Princess from San Francisco to Mexico last month. The ship returned to San Francisco, then sailed to Hawaii with 3,000 passengers, CalMatters’ Ana Ibarra reports

Passengers with symptoms will be tested before the ship docks, as authorities seek to contain the spread.

  • 53 Californians are confirmed as having coronavirus.
  • 9,400 people in 49 counties are being monitored.
  • Attorney General Xavier Becerra warned against price gouging on products such as hand sanitizer that could be used to fend off coronavirus.
  • The cost of COVID-19 tests will be covered by health insurance and Medi-Cal, Newsom announced.

Newsom downplayed the emergency declaration: 

  • “This is not something I say hyperbolically and shouldn’t be reported as such. It would be incredibly misleading.”

The order allows the state to waive competitive bidding and regulatory requirements, and “provide some clarity … as it relates to access and utilization of state properties, be it fairgrounds or other state properties,” Newsom said.

  • “It allows us to preempt local land use if indeed we feel that is appropriate.”

Costa Mesa sued last month to block authorities from placing coronavirus patients at Fairview Developmental Center, a mothballed state hospital.

Newsom, referring to Fairview:

  • “It is not off the table, but our table is significantly larger.”

To read Ibarra’s report, please click here.

Defending needle exchange

Photo Illustration

California’s Department of Public Health is defending a needle-exchange program that has roiled people in Butte County, citing the county’s high rate of opioid abuse.

Remind me: Over the objection of some local officials, the state in October authorized the nonprofit North Valley Harm Reduction Coalition to begin the needle-exchange.

Assemblyman James Gallagher, a Republican who represents the Chico area, complained to state health officials that needles were littering parks. He also questioned why the nonprofit apparently provided syringes to minors.

Dr. Sonia Angell, California’s chief public health officer, answered in a recent letter, saying Butte County had the highest rate of opioid abuse of any county in the state, a high overdose rate, and soaring Hepatitis C infections, attributable to sharing needles.

  • Authorities are working to stop needles from being carelessly discarded.
  • As for minors, the state’s goal “is that young people at risk of harm from injection drug use have access to tools to protect their health and safety if they are currently injecting drugs, and to health care and other services in order to support them at any stage of drug use, up to and including abstinence.”

Gallagher was not satisfied:

  • “Handing out drug shoot up kits to addicts without providing referrals for treatment or counseling is flat out insane.”

P.S. Gallagher has not ignored the issue. Although he generally votes against tax increases, Gallagher co-authored legislation to tax opioid manufacturers to fund drug treatment.

  • Pharmaceutical companies lobbied against the bill. It died last month.

In San Francisco, meanwhile: U.S. Attorney David Anderson is threatening to block San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s effort to open supervised injection sites, KQED reports.

Weird Assembly results

Republicans evidently gained a rare legislative victory Tuesday, as two Republicans emerged as the top vote getters in a race to succeed outgoing Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith of Santa Clarita, who is running for Congress. Five Democrats seeking to replace Smith split Democratic votes.

Caveat: Many votes remain to be counted.

The apparent outcome is a function of California’s top-two primary in which the candidates with the most votes face one another in the November general election regardless of party.

  • The Republicans: Suzette Martinez Valladares, 39, and Lucie Lapointe Volotzky, 65. 

Given the GOP’s weakened state, the winner is destined to be a backbencher, and a Democratic target for defeat in 2022.

  • If Republicans win that race, the GOP would hold a mere 19 of 80 Assembly seats.

It could get worse: Democrats are targeting four Republicans in swing Southern California districts in the November general election. If Dems win all—not likely—Republicans could be down to 15 seats.

Separately, Assemblyman Tom Lackey, a Republican from Palmdale, would have been a Democratic target.

However: Antelope Valley Democrats apparently nominated Steve Fox, who served one term in the Assembly and was the targets of complaints that resulted in six-figure payouts by the state to his aides.

The California Association of Realtors spent $183,000 to secure Fox’s nomination, presumably to ensure Lackey will face a weak opponent in a district where Democratic voters hold a growing registration edge.

Don’t expect the formidable campaign operations of the California Democratic Party and Assembly Democratic Caucus to help elect Fox. Besides, Lackey is a well-liked legislator.

  • Such are the ways of California politics.

High stakes of census

Image from iStock

California is spending $187.2 million on marketing and outreach to encourage everyone to be counted for the 2020 census.

That’s a drop compared with what’s at stake, CalMatters’ Judy Lin writes in our explainer on the once-a-decade nose count.

If there’s an undercount of the state population, California could lose a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and billions of dollars in federal funding for programs such as Medi-Cal, school lunches, block grants for affordable housing, and other programs for which funding is based on population.

California is vulnerable to an undercount:

  • 29 million Californians belong to one or more groups that have been historically undercounted. 
  • That’s 72% of the state’s nearly 40 million residents.
  • Hard-to-reach people include renters, young men, children, African-Americans and Latinos, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

The census begins April 1, but notices will be going out sooner. 

To read Lin’s explainer, please click here.

Commentary at CalMatters

Nancy Deutsch, University of Virginia Curry School of Education and Human Development’s Youth-Nex Center: California’s law letting teenagers sleep an extra hour was a good first step. Now, the Legislature should adopt an agenda for adolescents.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing a big overhaul of Medi-Cal, California’s health care program for the poor, and it could be a precursor to a single-payer system.


A note: This is my last week writing and editing WhatMatters. Emily Hoeven will take over on Monday.

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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.