In summary

YouTuber “Meet Kevin” Paffrath, the best-known Democrat running in the Newsom recall, is trying to take down the governor.

Tonight, four of the prominent Republicans seeking to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom in the Sept. 14 recall election will gather in Sacramento for the campaign’s second major gubernatorial debate.

Some of the biggest names in the race, however, declined invitations to participate. They include conservative talk show host Larry Elder — who’s consistently led other recall candidates in the polls — and Newsom himself. The top-polling Democratic challenger, Kevin Paffrath, said he wasn’t invited to attend. The 29-year-old real estate broker, investor and YouTuber recently made headlines in CNBC, Business Insider and New York Magazine after two polls, including one released Sunday by CBS/YouGov, put him at or near the top of the 46 candidates vying to replace Newsom.

Paffrath has complicated Newsom’s efforts to characterize the recall as a Republican-led effort by — literally — riding the governor’s coattails. In addition to hosting his own events, Paffrath attended Newsom’s weekend rallies in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, working to depict himself as a desirable Democratic alternative and diverting reporters who may have otherwise focused solely on the governor.

Paffrath told me in a Monday interview that his strategy was “not very well received” by the Newsom campaign, which has instructed voters to vote “no” on the recall and leave the second question — which allows voters to choose a replacement candidate — blank. Paffrath characterized that approach as “selfish.”

  • Paffrath: “I think deep down, folks realize we really should have a backup Democrat. … Basically, Newsom’s saying, ‘Look, if we can’t have me, then you get no one.'”

When I asked Paffrath if he would rather see Newsom defeat the recall or have a Republican take office, he paused. “I don’t want to say that I would rather have a Republican,” he said, but “Newsom’s got to go. … A Newsom loss, I think, opens the field up for maybe some new ideas in 2022.”

Newsom, meanwhile, continued his offensive against Elder during a Monday campaign stop in San Jose. He also said he looks forward to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris potentially coming to California to campaign against the recall, and dismissed the idea that the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan could cause the president’s endorsement to backfire.

Also Monday, Attorney General Rob Bonta and Secretary of State Shirley Weber — both Newsom appointees — reminded Californians of their voting rights and urged them to make a plan to cast their recall ballots, while emphasizing the press conference was nonpartisan. They also said they’re “monitoring” a new federal lawsuit alleging the recall process is unconstitutional — an argument two UC Berkeley law professors made in a recent New York Times opinion column.

Confused about the recall? Check out CalMatters’ brand-new voter guide — as well as five key takeaways and a video from our recent interview with GOP candidate John Cox. Interviews with other candidates will be coming shortly.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 4,033,659 confirmed cases (+0.3% from previous day) and 64,194 deaths (+0.02% from previous day), according to state data.

California has administered 45,379,645 vaccine doses, and 64.5% 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. Pandemic drags on as schools reopen

Students were waiting in line to get through the health check at 9am at the Los Angeles High School campus on August 16, 2021. Monday was the first day of in-classroom School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. For some students, this was their first time on campus in more than a year. PHOTO BY David Crane, The Orange County Register via AP
Students wait in line to get through the health check at the Los Angeles High School campus on Aug. 16, 2021. Photo by David Crane, The Orange County Register via AP

A rapid-fire succession of Monday announcements signaled the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over in California. Hours after Newsom’s office said a fully vaccinated staff member had tested positive for COVID-19, the state Assembly announced a vaccine mandate for all staff members, a policy the state Senate is also considering. Then, the state Department of Public Health recommended providers offer a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to the approximately 800,000 Californians who are immunocompromised. Then, citing a 700% increase in COVID hospitalizations over the past two months, Newsom signed an executive order to expand California’s health care workforce and facility space. Lastly, the state Department of Public Health issued a new order requiring hospitals to accept transfer patients from facilities with limited ICU capacity.

Newsom’s executive order also gives schools more flexibility to fill short-term staffing shortages — a gap on display Monday, when hundreds of thousands of students returned to campus in San Francisco and Los Angeles Unified school districts. But that wasn’t the only complication: Due to tech snafus with a health check app, many Los Angeles students were forced to wait in long lines outside campus, with some missing their first class of the day. LAUSD students and staff must also take weekly COVID tests regardless of vaccination status — a herculean effort involving 500,000 weekly tests at a cost of $350 million, 1,000 health care technicians and two daily plane trips to deliver the samples to a Northern California lab, the Los Angeles Times reports.

2. Power shutoffs could converge with drought

Orinda Theatre remains dark as vehicles make their way down Moraga Way in Orinda during a PG&E power shutdown on Oct. 10, 2019. Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo, Bay Area News Group
Orinda Theatre remains dark as vehicles make their way down Moraga Way during a PG&E power shutoff on Oct. 10, 2019. Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo, Bay Area News Group

Around 39,000 PG&E customers in 16 counties could see their power shut off tonight, the utility warned Monday, noting the move could reduce the risk of the monstrous Dixie Fire spreading amid powerful dry winds and triple-digit temperatures. The shutoffs could pose yet another political hurdle for Newsom, who’s frequently accused of being unable to keep California’s lights on and whose relationship with PG&E is the subject of a scathing new investigation from ABC10.

Also Monday, the federal government said a reservoir on the Colorado River — which provides water to 40 million people — had fallen to record lows, the latest evidence of the devastating drought gripping the West. Although the Golden State is spared from immediate water cuts, the news was a “wake-up call” for Southern California, which relies heavily on the reservoir.

  • Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California: “This shortage announcement moves the river into a new era and reinforces the need for Southern Californians to use less water to preserve this critical supply … that is so vital to seven states and two countries.”

3. Kimchi, bubble-bath day in California?

Kimchi. Image via iStock

Nov. 22 could officially become Kimchi Day in California if state lawmakers pass a resolution honoring the increasingly popular Korean dish, which is not only the subject of fierce geopolitical debate but also “an excellent source of probiotics, folate, beta-carotene, choline, potassium, calcium, and vitamins A, C, and K,” according to the resolution. South Korea also celebrates Kimchi Day on Nov. 22 — though California lawmakers may be asked to change the date so it doesn’t coincide with the anniversary of former President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. According to the resolution, the United States is home to the world’s largest Korean diaspora, 32% of whom live in California and 15% in Los Angeles County.

Meanwhile, Angelyne, a Los Angeles “billboard icon” and one of the 46 candidates seeking to replace Newsom in the recall election, told the New Yorker she would institute a “mandatory bubble-bath day” in California if elected.

  • Angelyne: “I think politics is a dumb circus.”

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s six million public school students have been used and abused during the COVID-19 pandemic.

California needs smarter permitting: The very regulations intended to slow or prevent environmental degradation are now hindering work to expand ecosystem restoration, argue Letitia Grenier of the San Francisco Estuary Institute and Jeffrey Mount of the Public Policy Institute of California.

The key to slowing climate change: California must double down on programs that reduce methane, more than 50% of which is generated by livestock, writes Chuck Ahlem, former undersecretary of the California Deparment of Food and Agriculture.

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Other things worth your time

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Bay Area home wealth surges during COVID-19. // Mercury News

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California drought takes toll on world’s top almond producer. // Associated Press

California fishermen say a new air quality rule could put them out of business. Here’s why. // Sacramento Bee

Reid Hillview: Will unleaded fuel prevent the San Jose airport’s closure? // Mercury News

How the gas industry got its way at Los Angeles, Long Beach ports. // Los Angeles Times

Stolen skulls and racist views: The ‘father of modern medicine’ is under scrutiny at UC San Diego. // San Diego Union-Tribune

A new refuge in the California desert could help the Owens pupfish survive. // New York 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...