Good morning, California. It’s Tuesday, March 16.

Democrats close ranks

In a tacit acknowledgment that he will likely face a recall election this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday officially launched a campaign against the effort to remove him from office.

The move came two days before the deadline for organizers to submit the final batch of signatures needed to trigger a recall election. It also breaks the governor’s lengthy silence on the issue: For months, Newsom refused to acknowledge the recall, and although he referred to it obliquely in his State of the State speech last week, he appeared to utter the word for the first time in a Monday tweet denouncing “this partisan, Republican recall.” He also granted two exclusive interviews on the subject to friendly national TV shows: MSNBC on Monday and “The View” today.

The governor’s comments underscore the California Democratic Party’s game plan for combating the recall: Portray it as a Trump-inspired movement full of conspiracy theorists, political extremists and anti-vaxxers, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. But a poll released Monday by Emerson College and Nexstar Media Group complicates that narrative, with 39% of independent voters in favor of recalling Newsom. With 86% of Republicans supporting the recall and 66% of Democrats opposing it, Newsom’s fate could very well lie in the hands of independent voters. 

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is shoring up its flanks. Prominent Black, LGBTQ and Asian-American Democrats have coalesced behind Newsom, who also gained endorsements from U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in an apparent attempt to stave off potential challengers from the left. 

  • GOP political strategist Rob Stutzman: “If you have a progressive out there who catches fire and then add that to some centrist Republicans … I’m not saying Newsom is toast, but he’s vulnerable.”


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 3,528,795 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 55,330 deaths (+0.4% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 12,172,948 vaccine doses.

Plus: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. We’re also tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county and lawsuits against COVID-19 restrictions.

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1. The wealth tax is back

Image via iStock

A group of progressive Democrats on Monday introduced a plan to “tax extreme wealth” in California by levying a 1% tax on those worth more than $50 million and a 1.5% tax on those worth more than $1 billion. The proposal — which would have to be approved by a majority of voters — comes despite Newsom’s stated opposition to not only creating a wealth tax, but also raising corporate or personal income taxes. It also follows two failed attempts last legislative session to create a millionaire tax and to hike income taxes for the state’s top earners. Assemblymember Alex Lee, a San Jose Democrat and the proposal’s principal author, said it would generate $22.3 billion annually to “continually invest in our communities” and help close California’s staggering wealth gap.

Also backing the bill is progressive tech investor Joe Sanberg, whose apparent political ambitions raise the question of whether he’d consider running for California governor in a recall election. Sanberg said Monday he opposes the recall, though he didn’t explicitly rule out running. He also dismissed the notion that a wealth tax could drive businesses out of California.

  • Sanberg: “The number one thing you need as a businessperson is customers who have money. … For decades now, people who need to buy things don’t have any money, and the people who have all the money have run out of things to buy. That’s not a recipe for great economic growth in California or anywhere.”

2. Reopening draws mixed reactions

UFC Gym Long Beach members train indoors for the first time in months as Los Angeles County moves into the less restrictive red tier March 15, 2021. Photo by Hunter Lee, Press-Telegram/SCNG
UFC Gym Long Beach members train indoors for the first time in months in Los Angeles County on March 15, 2021. Photo by Hunter Lee, Press-Telegram/SCNG

On Sunday and Monday, restaurants, movie theaters, yoga studios and other businesses began reopening indoors at limited capacity in Los Angeles and 12 other counties. A solid 65% of the state’s population is now in the red tier, a number that will grow today with another 13 counties, including Sacramento, expected to enter the red tier. Athough many restaurants and businesses reported bustling clienteles as they opened their doors for the first time in months, others didn’t — and some said reopening at limited capacity didn’t make financial sense.

Tudor House, a historic dinner theater in San Bernardino County, normally has 60 people attend its champagne brunch. On Sunday, there were just two.

  • Owner John Connor: “It’s not a matter of when the government says you can open, it’s when people reestablish that routine. It’ll be a slow process for people to get their big boy pants on.”

Meanwhile, one California couple was so eager to return to indoor dining they visited four Danville restaurants on Sunday. And Huntington Beach resident Jeff Alexander couldn’t wait to enter a movie theater.

  • Alexander: “I didn’t even care what I saw, just picked the first showing and I went.”

3. Su faces tough Senate hearing

California Labor Secretary Julie Su presides over the swearing-in ceremony of the newly-appointed Future of Work Commission during their first meeting at the California Environmental Protection Agency in Sacramento on September 10, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
California Labor Secretary Julie Su in Sacramento on Sept. 10, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Today, California Labor Secretary Julie Su will be under the microscope as the U.S. Senate considers whether to confirm her as President Joe Biden’s deputy labor secretary. The hearing is likely to be unusually contentious for a second-in-command post, with labor and Asian American groups squaring off against conservative and business groups. Labor organizations pushing for Su’s confirmation point to her “decades of experience combating wage theft, tackling worker misclassification and abuses in the underground economy,” while business groups have unveiled videos and reports criticizing Su’s oversight of California’s beleaguered unemployment department. Meanwhile, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra appears likely to be confirmed as Biden’s health and human services secretary this week, paving the way for Newsom to appoint the Golden State’s top prosecutor at a pivotal moment for the office and his own political career.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom said California has the country’s most robust vaccination program, but the record tells a different story.

California’s child support system is broken: When low-income parents make monthly child support payments, only $50 goes to their children and the rest goes to the government, writes Anne Stuhldreher of the Financial Justice Project.

Preparing for a drought emergency: Here are some priorities the State Water Board and Department of Fish and Wildlife can tackle now, write Jeffrey Mount and Caitrin Chappelle of the Public Policy Institute of California Water Policy Center.

Other things worth your time

California sues nation’s largest nursing home chain, saying it manipulated ratings system. // New York Times

California’s COVID-19 contact tracing app off to slow start. // Sacramento Bee

Distance learning changed California education. What’s here to stay? // EdSource

Bay Area lawmaker’s bill would make 988 the 911 of mental health emergencies. // East Bay Times

In Santa Barbara, a City Hall insider is raising eyebrows. // Los Angeles Magazine

In Shasta County, a columnist watchdogs the extreme right. // Los Angeles Times

Bay Area home sales surge as buyers sense end of pandemic. // The Mercury News

’15-minute city’ concept may sprout in downtown San Jose, rest of Bay Area. // The Mercury News

Debate over splitting the 9th Circuit Court, which includes California, revived. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Judge rules against Los Angeles in Long Valley irrigation fight. // Los Angeles Times

Should Cabrillo College change its name? Community conversations to begin. // Lookout Local Santa Cruz

See you tomorrow.

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Emily Hoeven wrote the daily WhatMatters newsletter for three years at CalMatters . Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco...