The images coming out of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent public events have been, to say the least, surreal — and could pose a political liability for the governor, who must balance buoying Californians’ spirits with acknowledging the ongoing harm of the pandemic as he fends off an almost-certain recall election.

On Wednesday, Newsom rode a roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain to promote the latest prize in the state’s vaccine lottery: 50,000 free tickets to the amusement park. On Tuesday, he drew $15 million worth of prizes to mark California’s grand reopening while surrounded by Minions, Smurfs and Transformers at Universal Studios Hollywood — and then made an appearance on the Late Late Show with James Corden. Three times in two weeks, he’s acted as a game show host, juggling lottery balls in front of a Wheel of Fortune setup.

The carnivalesque atmosphere of Newsom’s recent appearances — which prompted some reporters to question if they were on drugs — could invite comparisons to the antics of gubernatorial recall candidate John Cox, who launched his campaign with a 1,000-pound Kodiak bear in tow. It could also come off as tone-deaf to the hundreds of thousands of Californians who lost loved ones to the virus, are on the brink of eviction, can’t find work or are still waiting for their unemployment benefits.

Newsom’s critics have already seized on a comment he made on James Corden’s show Tuesday night while talking about the vaccine lottery.

  • Newsom: “Oprah Winfrey, eat your heart out. Million for you, a million for you. Imagine being in politics giving away money — it’s about as good as it gets.”
  • A video clip shared by Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk and GOP recall candidate Kevin Faulconer: “This same ‘invest in himself’ attitude is costing taxpayers billions and leaving everyday Californians in the dust.”

Newsom tried to strike a more sober tone on Wednesday, when he toured a gym in Bakersfield and launched a new advisory council on physical and mental health co-chaired by his wife, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom.

  • Newsom: “Every morning I wake up, I look at the number of cases, deaths, hospitalizations, ICU numbers. I look at the number of tests and I look at the number of people who have been vaccinated, and I do it by county.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Wednesday, California had 3,698,626 confirmed cases (+0.02% from previous day) and 62,534 deaths (+0.03% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 39,928,211 vaccine doses, and 55.9% of eligible 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. Blackouts on the way?

PG&E’s Oakland K substation is silhouetted at sunset in the hills of Oakland on October 9, 2019. Photo by Jane Tyska, Bay Area News Group
PG&E’s Oakland K substation silhouetted at sunset in the hills of Oakland on Oct. 9, 2019. Photo by Jane Tyska, Bay Area News Group

Another thorn in Newsom’s side: the specter of rolling blackouts. With a massive heat wave rolling across California and the West, the operator of California’s electric grid on Wednesday issued a Flex Alert urging residents to conserve power between 5 and 10 p.m. today. Though the California Independent System Operator maintains it is better prepared to handle the strain than it was last year, when it triggered the state’s first outages in nearly two decades, it also warned it “could again order utilities to begin rotating power outages” if conservation doesn’t ease enough of the burden. To make matters worse, California’s ever-worsening drought could prompt the deactivation of a major hydroelectric power plant for the first time in history.

2. A pandemic-affected education

Brian Cruz, a College Comeback participant, at Valley-Wide Recreation and Park District in San Jacinto on June 13, 2021. Photo by Nalani Hernandez-Melo for CalMatters

It will likely take years to measure the full impact of the pandemic on California’s educational system, but the toll is evident in the number of K-12 students clamoring for limited summer school spots and the number of high school graduates who aren’t going to college. Armed with $4.6 billion in state funds, districts are expanding their summer school offerings even as they emphasize that one- to two-month programs can’t make up for 15 months of online learning — or meet demand, CalMatters’ Joe Hong reports. Oakland Unified’s summer school program has a waitlist 510 kids deep, while the queue stretches to nearly 1,300 kids in San Diego County’s Poway Unified.

Meanwhile, California saw steep declines in college enrollment rates for students straight out of high school in both fall 2020 and spring 2021 — with community colleges most heavily affected. But College Comeback, a new program in Riverside County, is aiming to help those students get back on the higher-education path by connecting them with counselors who can help them apply for financial aid, fill out college applications and understand complex webs of paperwork, CalMatters’ Charlotte West and Angel Fabre report.

3. Should state go big on job training?

Marco Villanueva preps meals as part of the Hospitality Training Academy at the Los Angeles Convention Center on June 14, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

With a high unemployment rate and thousands of jobs going unfilled, Newsom and lawmakers are proposing funneling millions of dollars into job training programs. Will it be worth the investment? California’s own data shows that attempts to train workers for “green jobs” after the Great Recession fell short in helping them find work and improving wages. And it’s still too early to determine the success of a program called High Road Training Partnerships, in which the state partners with companies, unions and community groups to train workers for jobs they need to fill. Nevertheless, Newsom wants to pour $115 million into High Road, of which lawmakers so far have approved $25 million, CalMatters’ Sameea Kamal reports.

But there is anecdotal evidence of the program’s successes. Alhagie Dampha, who moved to Los Angeles County from Gambia, secured a union job as a cook after going through High Road training. The union, in turn, gave him legal help in applying for citizenship — which he attained in January.

  • Dampha: “Words can’t express how blessed and lucky I am.”

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The state Legislature just passed a self-serving sham budget.

An equitable economic recovery: California must take bold, collective action informed by working people who have long been shut out of our economy, argue Michael Tubbs, Newsom’s adviser for economic mobility and opportunity, and Don Howard, president and CEO of The James Irvine Foundation.

Reader reaction: I sincerely regret paying unemployment insurance premiums, because I haven’t been able to access my benefits, writes San Jose resident Igor Yevelev.

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Other things worth your time

San Jose becomes largest city in California to mandate video taping of gun sales. // Mercury News

Los Angeles moves to ban selling flavored tobacco, but exempts some hookah sales. // Los Angeles Times

California high speed rail’s latest threat: Los Angeles wants to spend money locally. // San Francisco Chronicle

How a California union turned the West’s biggest red state blue. // The Nation

State judiciary paid out $1.9 million since 2018 to settle sex harassment claims. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Sacramento seeks restraining order on city council employee. // Sacramento Bee

Meet the local dad working on the school board recall who confronted a petition thief in a viral video. // San Francisco Chronicle

The bogus backlash against California’s progressive prosecutors. // Washington Post Opinion

In farewell, Superintendent Beutner calls Los Angeles schools a ‘model for the nation.’ // Los Angeles Times

Why training California bilingual teachers just got harder. // EdSource

California bar and restaurant operators evicted after defying COVID-19 mandates. // Mercury News

Cheapest CalPERS health insurance plan will cost 23% more next year, projections show. // Sacramento Bee

California lawmakers secure $80 million in budget for Jewish causes. // The Jerusalem Post

MacKenzie Scott donates millions to California groups. // 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...