Good morning, California. It’s Wednesday, March 10.
High stakes for governor
Buckle your seatbelts: It’s officially election season in California.
That much was evident from the ambience of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s State of the State speech Tuesday night. The governor stood at a podium in Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium, flanked by massive screens that alternated Zoom snapshots of top Democratic officials with images of California’s prowess and resiliency, including the Hollywood sign and cars lined up at mass vaccination sites. Newsom, who maintained an upbeat tone and smile throughout much of the fast-paced 28-minute speech, walked off the stage to Wilco’s version of “California Stars” — the same song featured in his 2018 election commercials.
In his address, Newsom worked to acknowledge the tragedies of the past year while simultaneously inspiring hope for the future and shoring up the base of voters he’ll need to stave off an almost-certain recall election, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. Newsom gave call-outs to mothers, teachers, workers and Latinos — all key Democratic voter blocs — while highlighting the state’s recent stimulus package, school reopening deal and vaccine strategy. And after months of refusing to reference the recall, he blasted it in his harshest words yet.
- Newsom: “To the California critics out there who are promoting partisan political power grabs with outdated prejudices, and rejecting everything that makes California truly great, we say this: We will not be distracted from getting shots in arms, and our economy booming again.”
The challenge facing Newsom now is that, with the recall looming over him, critics will try to attribute almost anything he says or does to his desire to stay in office. The governor, whose French Laundry dinner came with a rumored $12,000 wine tab, will need to strike a relatable, empathetic and genuine tone with would-be voters — something Newsom recognizes. “My word of the year is humility,” he said last week at a press conference in Stockton.
- Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican running for governor: “California needs a comeback. But the only comeback Gavin Newsom is focused on is his own.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 3,507,266 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 54,395 deaths (+0.3% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.
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. Big reopening shift ahead
Nine counties moved into less restrictive reopening tiers Tuesday, but an even larger shift is on the horizon. California is less than 103,000 doses away from its goal of administering 2 million shots in the state’s most impoverished neighborhoods. Once it reaches that benchmark, it will adjust its reopening criteria to make it easier for counties to move into the red tier, allowing restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and other businesses to reopen indoors at limited capacity and increasing pressure on school districts to bring kids back to campus. The change will have a massive impact on some of the state’s largest counties, such as Los Angeles, which has never managed to exit the most restrictive purple tier but could soon do so under the new criteria.
Nevertheless, complications in the state’s vaccine strategy persist. Santa Clara County announced late Monday it would not participate in the state’s controversial Blue Shield vaccination program. So far only one county, Kern, has signed a contract with the insurance giant, raising questions as to whether California actually has “the most robust vaccination program in America,” as Newsom claimed in his State of the State speech.
2. Oil plan puts Newsom in bind
Although Newsom emphasized the dangers of climate change in his State of the State speech, he may soon find himself signing off on thousands of new drilling applications after Kern County supervisors on Monday unanimously approved a plan to develop more than 40,000 new oil and gas wells over the next 15 years, Politico reports. Newsom is likely to honor the local decision, but he risks further alienating environmental groups at a time when he needs to shore up their support ahead of the potential recall. A national environmental organization recently sued him for issuing “illegal” fracking permits, and others are frustrated by his silence on a fracking ban he ordered lawmakers to introduce.
- Juan Flores of the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment: “A lot of the people who voted for him will be disenchanted … if he shows that he would rather sell out the dream that California can be an inclusive leader when it comes to environmental justice.”
- Chandra Commuri, a public policy researcher at CSU Bakersfield: “I don’t think he will pick a big fight with oil right now. At the end of the day, he wants to remain governor; he has ambitions for higher office. I’m pretty sure he knows what’s best for him in the long run.”
3. Republicans push to cancel utility debt
Debt cancellation is a controversial topic even among Democrats, but two of California’s top Republican lawmakers want the state to forgive residents’ water, electricity, internet and utility debt. In a March 3 letter to Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat and chairperson of the Senate Budget Committee, GOP Sens. Jim Nielsen and Shannon Grove suggested the state use some of its $25 billion surplus to cancel utility debt and provide aid to small community pharmacies, which many low-income residents depend on for health care and COVID vaccinations.
- Nielsen and Grove: “Payment plans may help those with jobs. Moratoriums will delay the debt. These patchwork remedies, however, are not sustainable solutions to lift low-income Californians out of their growing piles of debt.”
As CalMatters’ Jackie Botts has reported, 1.6 million California households have water debt totaling $1 billion, and could face shutoffs when Newsom lifts the state of emergency. Meanwhile, around 9 million households are behind on their electric or gas bills and owe more than $1 billion, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.
California economy in peril: Here are three things lawmakers must stop doing if they want to create healthy employment growth for economic recovery, writes David Smith, economics professor at Pepperdine Graziado Business School.
Other things worth your time
Los Angeles reopening deal ends California’s biggest schools standoff. // Politico
Inside Los Angeles’ disorganized vaccine rollout. // New Yorker
Inmates have herd immunity at 7 California prisons. // Sacramento Bee
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin: Across prison walls, I felt my parents’ love. // The Nation
How California’s job seekers found new careers with help from a rent relief program. // Sacramento Bee
Amazon’s third-party drivers owed millions in wage theft probe, state says. // Orange County Register
Tesla to California DMV: Our vehicles are not self-driving. // Los Angeles Times
California may repeal anti-prostitution loitering law over bias concerns. // San Francisco Chronicle
Former Rep. Katie Hill’s lawsuit pits 1st Amendment against California’s revenge-porn law. // Los Angeles Times
UC Davis is offering students $75 to staycation for spring break. // CNN
See you tomorrow.
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