In summary

If Newsom is recalled, who should take his place? Democrats would rather you leave that part of the ballot blank.

As we’ve been telling you for weeks, the California recall ballot has two questions. To paraphrase:

  1. Should voters fire Gov. Gavin Newsom two-thirds of the way through his first term? 
  2. If Newsom is recalled, who should take his place?

But if you listen to the California Democratic Party and the governor himself, you might think only the first question matters — and that you should leave the second one blank.

California voters are understandably confused. Some recall opponents have even drawn the incorrect conclusion that voting for a replacement will invalidate their “no” vote. Ask the Newsom camp and you get this text message: 

  • Newsom spokesperson Nathan Click: “Voting NO is the only way to ensure California doesn’t get a Trump-supporting and anti-vax enabling Governor like (Larry) Elder.”

Which isn’t much of an explanation. 

To understand the strategy behind this message, remember the last and only time the California electorate gave its governor the premature boot.

When Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was facing a recall in 2003, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante jumped into the race at the last minute to serve as a backup Democrat, without the support of either the party or Davis. Still, the presence of a viable-seeming left-of-center alternative convinced many Democratic-leaning voters that they could vote to ditch Davis without ending up with a Republican governor.

That’s the lesson many Democratic political consultants took after Davis got the axe, Bustamante lost and the GOP’s Arnold Schwarzenegger won.

But not everyone thinks it’s the right lesson. 

Democrats on the replacement ballot agree. YouTube real estate investment guru Kevin Paffrath, who backs the recall, has called the strategy “selfish.” Weed business consultant Jacqueline McGowan, who opposes it, says the party needs “an insurance policy” — namely, her.

The Democratic strategy is risky. If enough Newsom supporters listen to him, recall supporters will make up the majority of replacement votes, all but guaranteeing a conservative winner if the recall succeeds.

As for Bustamante? He said this time he left the second option blank.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 4,112,976 confirmed cases (+0.4% from previous day) and 64,674 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data.

California has administered 46,015,737 vaccine doses, and 65.3% 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.

In the latest episode, CapRadio reporters discuss their investigation into the Sacramento Police Department’s high use of “exceptional means” to clear sexual assault cases in recent years — and how the trend is reflected in other police departments across the state.

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1. Out of the frying pan

A firefighter hoses down flames from the Dixie Fire in Genesee on Aug. 21, 2021. Photo by Ethan Swope, AP Photo
A firefighter hoses down flames from the Dixie Fire in Genesee on Aug. 21, 2021. Photo by Ethan Swope, AP Photo

As the insatiable Dixie Fire surpasses 700,000 acres and the Caldor Fire east of Sacramento approaches 100,000, here’s an unwelcome reminder: California’s traditional fire season hasn’t even started yet.

At this time last year, fire crews were only just starting to do battle with the more than 300 fires sparked by freak dry lightning storms that crackled over the state. Then came September with its moisture-sucking offshore winds that helped start the August Complex, California’s largest recorded wildfire, in its worst wildfire year.

One can only hope that national reporters will pay attention.

And remember how California’s water regulators warned that they would soon be ordering thousands of farmers and other landowners not to draw water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed? Roughly 4,500 orders went out on Friday

In a statement, Erik Ekdahl, deputy director of the State Water Resources Control Board, called the decision “painfully necessary as severe drought conditions this year and next could threaten health, safety and the environment.”

San Diego’s solution to the state’s water woes should be familiar to dogs everywhere: Drink from the toilet. On Friday, the city launched a nearly $600 million project to convert sewage into potable water. San Diego follows the lead of an Orange County pilot project. In fact, “toilet to tap” could be the future of drinking water in California.

Diesel for a hotter world? On Friday, KQED reported that the Newsom administration will expedite approval of five new natural gas and diesel-powered generators in the Central Valley. The goal: build in some extra capacity to our blackout- prone grid

2. Elder digs in

Conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder, arrives at a campaign rally in Norwalk, on July 13, 2021. Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
Conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder arrives at a campaign rally in Norwalk, on July 13, 2021. Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

Remember the political depth charge last Thursday when Politico reported that recall candidate Larry Elder’s former fiancee accused him of abusive and manipulative behavior — allegations he denies.

That’s not Elder’s only problem. On Sunday, the state’s campaign finance regulator announced it was investigating whether Elder failed to fully disclose his sources of income as required by state law.

Now the Sacramento Bee’s editorial board and fellow Republican candidates Kevin Faulconer and Caitlyn Jenner have called on Elder to quit the race.

  • Faulconer, in a written statement: “Elder’s lack of judgement and character flaws threaten the success and credibility of this historic recall movement – Californians will not vote to recall one dysfunctional Governor if it means replacing him with another.”

Not that Elder has paid any of that much mind. The candidate, who was leading the field in recent polls conducted before the Politico story, held rallies in Newport Beach — where he made sure to highlight some of the women who work for his campaign — and in Fresno this weekend. A former girlfriend of Elder’s is also now speaking out in his defense.

The story hasn’t harmed the Elder campaign’s bottom line either. The day after the story ran, Team Elder raised ​​$238,400 — its third biggest daily haul. 

But changes are afoot. Elder is swapping out his campaign manager

More recall news: Vice President Kamala Harris is reportedly planning to swing through the Bay Area this Friday to lend Newsom a bit of D.C. starpower.

3. Voter-backed gig law “unconstitutional” and “unenforceable”

Members of Rideshare Drivers United, Eduardo Romero, Oscar Rodriguez, Alejandro Partida, Nixon Diaz, and Norma Bustamante hold up a "No on Prop 22" sign in downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 31, 2020. Photo by Tash Kimmell for CalMatters.
Members of Rideshare Drivers United — Eduardo Romero, Oscar Rodriguez, Alejandro Partida, Nixon Diaz, and Norma Bustamante — hold up a “No on Prop 22” sign in downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 31, 2020. Photo by Tash Kimmell for CalMatters.

A law enacted last year by 59% of voters — in a campaign that flattened all California campaign spending records — has been struck down by an Alameda County trial judge.

A quick reminder: Last year, Uber, Lyft and other gig economy giants spent a record-obliterating $206 million to support Proposition 22, an initiative to exempt them from a wildly controversial state labor law and allow them to classify their drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. Your mailbox may still be recovering from the flood of campaign mailers.

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch laid out why the law violates the state’s constitution: 

  • Prop. 22 restricted the Legislature’s ability to define who is covered by the state’s workers’ compensation law.
  • Another section of the state constitution gives the Legislature “unlimited” power to regulate workers’ comp.
  • Therefore, Roesch wrote, if voters want Prop. 22 to be the law of the land, “they must first do so by initiative constitutional amendment, not by initiative statute.”

The lawsuit was brought by the Service Employees International Union, one of the main donors to the No on 22 campaign. But with the ruling on hold, this fight is far from over. 

  • Geoff Vetter, a spokesman for the Yes on 22 campaign coalition formed by gig economy companies: “This outrageous decision is an affront to the overwhelming majority of California voters who passed Prop 22. We will file an immediate appeal and are confident the Appellate Court will uphold Prop 22.”

This wouldn’t be the first time the judiciary has reversed the will of the California electorate. In 2008, 52% of Californians voted to ban same-sex marriage and in 1994, 59% voted to ban undocumented immigrants from using most public services, including public education. 

Both laws were struck down.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: As the California Legislature resumes its 2021 session, lawmakers have the opportunity to confront cities that shun low- and moderate-income housing.

A state that can actually respond to climate change: California needs environmental laws and regulations that are nimble and coordinated enough to address climate catastrophe at our door, writes Lester Snow, former California Secretary of Natural Resources.

Exclusionary zoning needs to go: As long as it’s impossible to build duplexes and apartments where most Californians live, homeownership will remain out of reach for an ever-growing share of the state, argue Adam Briones and Robert Apodaca of California Community Builders.

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Other things worth your time

Why didn’t Los Angeles County authorities do more to save 4-year-old Noah Cuatro? // Los Angeles Times

Welcome to the Pyrocene, the planetary fire age of our own creation // Grist

San Francisco has a new vaccine mandate. How’s that going to work? // San Francisco Chronicle

Parents are not okay // The Atlantic 

Why Was San Francisco’s Vicha Ratanapakdee Killed? // New York Times Magazine

Article casting doubt on COVID-19 vaccine most popular post on Facebook earlier this year // Washington Post

California’s climate change nightmare is already here // Sacramento Bee

The 119-year-old love story that fell from Christina Lalanne basement ceiling // San Francisco Chronicle

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Ben covers housing policy and previously covered California politics and elections. Prior to these roles at CalMatters, he was a contributing writer for CalMatters reporting on the state's economy and...