Good morning, California. It’s Wednesday, May 5.

Elections and bears, oh my

If, like me, you didn’t have “California political candidate campaigns with 1,000-pound Kodiak bear” on your 2021 bingo card, you were not prepared for the excesses of a gubernatorial recall election.

The effort to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom from office entered a new phase Tuesday, when Republican businessman John Cox rebranded himself as the “beast” to Newsom’s “beauty” while standing next to a live bear named Tag at a Sacramento park. Cox repeatedly referred to Newsom as a “pretty boy” who comes from a “political dynasty,” which Cox contrasted with “the toughness, the beastliness” of his own upbringing — a message reinforced by a $5 million ad buy that will begin airing across the state this week, as well as by a massive red-and-green tour bus emblazoned with the slogan “Meet the Beast.”

“We’ve seen what the beauty has done — it’s time to unleash the beast,” Cox said as Tag ambled around in the background, licked himself, and munched chicken and cookies thrown to him by his trainer. (I compiled a play-by-play of the press conference and bear’s actions in this Twitter thread.)

Caitlyn Jenner took a different marketing approach — one that allowed her to avoid condemnation from PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — by describing herself as a “compassionate disruptor” in a three-minute campaign video also released Tuesday. Jenner is set to make her first big TV appearance today on Fox News after launching a relatively quiet gubernatorial campaign last month.

With a new poll from the California GOP showing that 45% of voters support the recall, 45% are against and 10% are undecided, Newsom appears to be making a concerted effort to appeal to voters of all stripes. He held his first anti-recall campaign event Tuesday alongside two firefighters’ unions — a profession held in high esteem by Democrats and Republicans. Also Tuesday, he unveiled a vaccination PSA alongside a bipartisan group of past California governors and launched new efforts to increase vaccine access in underserved communities. Today, he’s set to deliver remarks at a business policy summit hosted by the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.

  • Newsom: “The fear, the anxiety we all faced in the past year … in that process, I understand why people would express themselves the way they did. So my job is to earn that trust back.”


The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 3,645,341 confirmed cases (+0.04% from previous day) and 60,765 deaths (+0.003% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 30,700,655 vaccine doses, and 40.8% of Californians are fully vaccinated.

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. A big reopening step

Guests walk down Main Street USA at Disneyland in Anaheim on April 31, 2021. California tourism leaders are urging residents to spend their pent-up travel dollars at home after experiencing a 55% decline in spending from pre-pandemic levels. Tourism raked in $145 billion in 2019 but just $65 billion in 2020. Full recovery isn't expected until 2024. Photo by Jae Hong, AP Photo
Guests walk down Main Street USA at Disneyland in Anaheim on April 30, 2021. Photo by Jae Hong, AP Photo

Los Angeles and San Francisco were among the counties that sailed into the least restrictive yellow reopening tier Tuesday, paving the way for amusement parks, stadiums, movie theaters, gyms and other businesses to operate at higher capacity, and bars and saunas to reopen indoors for the first time in months. With just two coronavirus-related deaths recorded Tuesday and record-low hospitalizations, California appears well on its way to fully reopening the economy by June 15. But residents don’t have to wait that long to enjoy the Golden State’s attractions, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis and state travel officials said Tuesday while unveiling a new report projecting that total travel-related spending in California won’t reach pre-pandemic levels until 2024.

  • Kounalakis: “I think we all need a little weekend getaway.” Now is the “perfect time to go to Disneyland or a museum because they won’t be packed” due to capacity limits.
  • Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California: “Residents can help their fellow Californians by keeping their tourism dollars in California and supporting local businesses as a modern-day act of patriotism.”

2. Bypassing state vaccine program

Rodolfo Reyes, receives the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine in the D'Arrigo California parking lot on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. This is the first COVID-19 vaccine distribution for agricultural workers in Monterey County. Photo by David Rodriguez, The Salinas Californian
Rodolfo Reyes receives the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in the D’Arrigo California parking lot on Feb. 25, 2021. Photo by David Rodriguez, The Salinas Californian

Around the same time that Newsom announced Blue Shield would develop a statewide vaccine distribution system, California’s massive agricultural industry was preparing for the harvest season — and they needed doses fast, to prevent infections from spreading among farmworkers. But growers couldn’t get vaccine from the state or counties, which were prioritizing doses for elderly residents — so they bypassed California entirely and applied directly to the federal government for vaccine shipments, CalMatters’ Caitlin Antonios reports. And though the state gave community-based organizations extra funding to reach vulnerable populations, some groups that didn’t receive the money said they actually had more success vaccinating farmworkers because they avoided additional layers of bureaucracy.

3. Spousal rape bill in limbo

California State Capitol. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Under California law, someone who rapes their spouse would be charged with a less serious crime than they would be for raping someone who is not their spouse. Bills that would eliminate that distinction — and treat spousal rape the same as rape — have stalled in the Legislature, raising ire and confusion among lawmakers, progressive prosecutors and women’s rights advocates alike. One bill, in the Senate, has been tabled for the year. The other, in the Assembly, has not yet been scheduled for a hearing — the latest example of a controversial rule that effectively allows committee chairs to kill legislation by not bringing it forward for a vote.

  • Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, a Bell Gardens Democrat and the bill’s author: “Not providing (the bill) a hearing directly contradicts the urgency to modernize our penal code to be line with our values and make clear that no means no.”
  • Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón: “Our laws should protect all victims of rape equally, regardless of whether the crime was committed by a spouse.”

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: When Eli Broad died last week, Los Angeles lost a civic leader and California lost a passionate advocate for charter schools.

Priorities for May budget revision: We shouldn’t consider expanding the size of the government until we first learn to make government work effectively for Californians, argue Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron and Assemblymember Vince Fong, a Bakersfield Republican.

A blueprint for behavioral health: It’s time to invest in early intervention and treatment to support Californians’ overall wellbeing, write Carmela Coyle of the California Hospital Association and Jessica Cruz of NAMI California.

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Other things worth your time

California lawmakers demand: Where’s the COVID data? // Mercury News

Hundreds of thousands of California students won’t take statewide standardized tests this spring. // EdSource

Biden considering Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti for ambassador to India. // Axios

Diverse field shaping up in Sacramento district attorney’s race to replace Schubert. // Sacramento Bee

Los Angeles gun violence surged during COVID-19 and isn’t receding. // Los Angeles Times

California moves to hire more inspectors for troubled jails. // Sacramento Bee

Advocates fear efforts to thwart unemployment fraud in California could hurt the formerly incarcerated. // KQED

San Francisco set to approve reparations task force. // San Francisco Chronicle

Inside Kaiser Permanente’s broken mental health care system. // Capital & Main

Surprising tsunami triggers may lurk off California’s coast, scientists say. // Los Angeles Times

Spying on California’s great white sharks with drones. // Los Angeles Times

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...