In summary

Gov. Gavin Newsom will face the most pivotal day of his political career on Sept. 14, the date of the second recall election in California.

Sept. 14 is shaping up to be the most pivotal day of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s career.

That’s when California voters will decide whether to oust him from office in only the second gubernatorial recall election in state history and the fourth in U.S. history. Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis announced the date on Thursday, capping off a months-long process that intensified this week when Newsom signed a bill to expedite the election hours after he sued his own elections chief over a legal dispute related to the ballot.

Why is the election being held earlier than the typical November? Because the Democratic-controlled Legislature apparently calculated it could help Newsom stay in office by restricting the amount of time for opponents to mobilize and for disasters to spring up, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. Under the recall process’ wonky rules, the last day for candidates to file the paperwork necessary to run — which includes five years of tax returns — is July 16.

The accelerated process still leaves plenty of time for challenges to crop up, although California is in a markedly better place than it was heading into Fourth of July weekend last year, when coronavirus ICU admissions were up 49%. Now, more than half the state’s population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and only 0.039% of fully vaccinated Californians have contracted the disease, providing strong evidence of the shots’ effectiveness, CalMatters’ Barbara Feder Ostrov reports.

Still, concerns remain: Los Angeles County this week strongly recommended everyone wear masks indoors to defend against the highly transmissible Delta variant. California’s coronavirus positivity rate was 1.4% on Thursday, twice the 0.7% rate in early June. And the state Capitol building this week saw an outbreak of seven new COVID cases — including two in fully vaccinated employees.

Meanwhile, officials are pledging to crack down on illegal Fourth of July fireworks that could spark blazes across California’s bone-dry landscape. The state fire agency on Thursday seized nearly 80,000 pounds of illegal fireworks as firefighters continue to attack conflagrations that have forced thousands of evacuations.

Also Thursday, the operator of the state’s electric grid took the rare step of appealing for additional energy resources possibly through September — an indication that the threat of another wave of rolling blackouts is growing.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 3,712,152 confirmed cases (+0.05% from previous day) and 63,096 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 41,707,555 vaccine doses, and 59.1% 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. Newsom wants to diversify judiciary

A photo wall of past judges inside the Imperial County Superior Court in El Centro on April 29, 2021. Photo by Shae Hammond for CalMatters

Speaking of Newsom, the governor has mostly been laying low since an investigation last week found he vastly overstated California’s progress on fire prevention, giving just one press conference at which only two reporters asked him questions. Notably, on Thursday he did not unveil the final prizes — six Dream Vacation giveaways — in the state’s vaccine lottery; the Department of Public Health hosted the event instead. The governor, perhaps seeking to strike a more sober tone after a series of carnivalesque lottery drawings, instead launched a new mentorship program that aims to diversify California’s judiciary. The announcement came less than 45 minutes after Kounalakis set the recall election date. It also followed a series of reports from CalMatters’ Byrhonda Lyons that found white Californians make up nearly two-thirds of superior court judges but only one-third of the state’s population, while four majority-Latino counties don’t have a single Latino superior court judge.

  • Newsom: “This mentor program supports our efforts to identify the best and brightest judicial candidates from throughout the state, contributing to a stronger, more inclusive bench to better serve all Californians.”

2. Gun sales, homicides surge

A manager at Big 5 Sporting Goods in El Cerrito points out a long gun from a display on September 9, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
A manager at Big 5 Sporting Goods in El Cerrito points out a long gun from a display on Sept. 9, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Californians legally bought a record 686,435 handguns in 2020 — a nearly 66% increase from the year before — while annual long-gun sales reached their second-highest total with 480,401 legal purchases, according to data Attorney General Rob Bonta released Thursday. Though Bonta noted that a surge in gun sales doesn’t necessarily correspond to a rise in gun-related violence, the slew of reports he published Thursday show that homicides skyrocketed 31% from 2019 to 2020, resulting in California’s highest homicide rate since 2008. Nearly 75% of the 2,202 reported homicides last year involved the use of a gun. Meanwhile, domestic violence-related calls for assistance involving guns shot up 42% and violent crime increased 0.8%. And despite a new law intended to limit police use of force, the number of civilians killed by law enforcement rose to 172 in 2020, up from 147 the year before.

  • Bonta: “With more weapons, more economic stagnation, more desperation, I think those are all potential components and drivers of where we are today.”

Rising rates of homicide and violent crime will likely feed into ongoing concerns about public safety and could play a big role in next year’s attorney general election. Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, who has a more traditional law-and-order approach, announced Thursday that she’s raised more than $1 million since announcing her AG bid two months ago. Campaign finance records show Bonta, who’s positioned himself as more of a progressive prosecutor, has raised $1.15 million for his reelection campaign.

3. Supreme Court axes another CA law

Image via iStock

California took another hit from the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, when the nation’s highest court in a 6-3 vote struck down a state law requiring charities to disclose the identities of their major donors. The ruling was a massive win for two conservative groups — including one linked to the billionaire Koch brothers — that argued the Golden State’s law hampered their ability to raise money and subjected donors to possible harassment. Attorney General Bonta, meanwhile, slammed the decision as one that would make it harder for his office to weed out fraud and self-dealing within the state’s vast system of 115,000 charities. It’s the second California law the court’s conservative majority has overturned in less than two weeks: In late June, it knocked down a law that allowed union organizers to meet with farmworkers on growers’ private property.

But another recent U.S. Supreme Court decision challenging the notion that college athletes shouldn’t make money has emboldened California, which sparked a national movement in 2019 when it passed a first-in-the-nation law allowing players to sign paid endorsement deals. Now California legislators are pushing for the law to go into effect earlier and expand it to cover community college athletes, Matthew Reagan reports for CalMatters’ College Journalism Network.

Speaking of money, CalMatters’ Erica Yee, Frida Qi and Jackie Botts put together a tool to help you find out whether you’ll get a check under California’s expanded Golden State stimulus program. (The tool is also available in Spanish.) Keep an eye out for payments in early fall.

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CalMatters commentary

The value of California’s progressive tax structure: Conventional fiscal wisdom says such a system is too volatile, but the pandemic proved it to be both efficient and moral, argues Patrick Murphy of The Opportunity Institute.

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Other things worth your time

Pandemic drives sharp rise in California families opening their own home schools. // EdSource

California gas tax went up, federal fuel tax did not. // Sacramento Bee

Water futures market fails to make a splash with California farmers. // Reuters

Oakland: Much-needed housing held up over three parking spots. // Mercury News

Los Angeles backs new restrictions on homeless encampments. // Los Angeles Times

California lawmakers push feds to allow a therapy that pays meth users to abstain. // California Healthline

Some 200 California projects may be funded by federal infrastructure bill. Search your city’s projects here. // Los Angeles Times

San Francisco eyes more movie, television productions to boost recovery. // Here/Say Media

An ‘existential crisis’: Pandemic debts hang over Bay Area restaurants. // San Francisco Chronicle

Anaheim balances 2021-22 budget — with hefty borrowing // Orange County Register

State auditor to investigate deaths at San Diego County jails. // San Diego Union-Tribune

State launches audit of sexual harassment policies at powerful Southern California water agency. // Los Angeles Times

See you Tuesday.

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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...