The divisions among California Democrats were on display during the party convention, including tensions with labor and progressives.
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When Gov. Gavin Newsom delivers his annual State of the State speech on Tuesday, he’ll face the same challenge that confronted the California Democratic Party at its convention this weekend: uniting many fractured groups under one umbrella.
However, Newsom is in a more politically stable place than he was last year, when he used his State of the State address to kick off his campaign against the recall attempt that he soundly defeated. But despite their iron-clad grip on state politics, the same can’t be said for California Democrats, who are rushing to energize voters ahead of key midterm elections expected to result in Republicans gaining control of Congress.
Here’s a look at a few key takeaways — and controversies — from the convention, some of which illuminate the political fissures that can make or break a bill’s fate in California’s supermajority-Democratic legislature:
- Labor leaders clashed with party leaders on numerous fronts. Andrew Meredith, president of the powerful State Building and Construction Trades Council, accused the party of forgetting its “blue-collar roots,” adding, “We must refrain from being the mouthpiece for unrealistic policy goals that hurt the working class or hurt the working poor” — an apparent reference to certain housing and environmental policies.
- Meanwhile, Art Pulsaki — the outgoing leader of the California Labor Federation — slammed some Democrats for being influenced by corporate interests: “They don’t just count on Republicans to carry their water anymore. They turn to Democrats to do their dirty work,” he said.
- And tensions are still running high with the party’s progressive wing over policy and political donations: “The Party exercised every opportunity … to silence progressive voices and the policies supported by the majority of Californians,” tweeted Amar Shergill, who leads the progressive caucus. “In the coming months, (we) will chart an organizing path outside of the Party where progressive activists are valued.”
- Rusty Hicks, chairperson of the California Democratic Party, told CalMatters political reporter Alexei Koseff: “I’m not focused on the things that we solely disagree on. I’m focused on those things that unite us. … Some make too much of the rambunctious nature of a democratic institution when people disagree with one another on approach or direction or objective.”
Your guide to the 2022 general election in California
Meanwhile, as San Francisco political columnist Joe Garofoli notes, few top Democrats addressed issues top of mind for many voters, such as crime, homelessness and rising inflation rates that pushed California’s average price for a gallon of gas to a record $5.29 on Sunday.
- One notable exception: Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta, who denounced his “right-wing opponents” — including Republican Nathan Hochman and no party preference candidate Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, who recently secured endorsements from powerful law enforcement groups — for refusing to say whether they support strengthening gun control laws or protecting abortion rights.
The party also approved endorsements for the June 7 primary, including for some closely watched Dem-on-Dem races:
- Incumbent Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara narrowly secured the endorsement over Assemblymember Marc Levine of San Rafael.
- Malia Cohen, chair of the state Board of Equalization, squeaked out the endorsement for state controller over Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin.
- Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia narrowly missed the endorsement threshold for a hotly contested Southern California congressional seat also being sought by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia of Downey.
- And delegates overwhelmingly voted “no endorsement” in a special election runoff between Supervisor Matt Haney and former supervisor David Campos for a vacant state Assembly seat representing part of San Francisco.
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Other stories you should know
1. UC Berkeley drama intensifies
The UC Berkeley enrollment saga escalated over the weekend, as fallout became more clear from the California Supreme Court’s Thursday refusal to strike down a lower court order directing the university to slash its fall enrollment by as many as 3,050 students. Here’s a rundown of what happened:
- On Friday, UC Berkeley estimated that it will actually be able to enroll all but approximately 150 of those undergraduates, though fewer students will be on campus: The university will ask roughly 1,000 to take online classes in the fall and another 650 to defer enrollment until spring 2023, CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reports. It also plans to prioritize in-state students for in-person attendance in the fall.
- On Saturday, Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods — the community group that secured the enrollment cap by suing UC Berkeley under the state’s premier environmental protection law — said it would agree to a temporary, partial settlement allowing 1,000 more in-person students, if at least 90% of them are from California and UC Berkeley stops trying to avoid the enrollment cap via legal or legislative action. (Lawmakers are “on the case” for a legislative fix, Democratic Assemblymember Kevin McCarty of Sacramento told Mikhail.)
- The decision to accept or reject the offer ultimately rests with the Legislature, the UC Board of Regents and the office of the UC president. But it’s a nonstarter as far as UC Berkeley is concerned, campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof told Mikhail on Sunday.
- For more, check out the latest episode of “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast,” in which CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias and the Los Angeles Times’ Liam Dillon talk about the case with Phil Bokovoy, the president of Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods, and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin.
- The situation has further complicated UC’s enrollment challenges: Though Newsom and lawmakers want the system to grow enrollment of California undergraduates by more than 7,000 students this fall, UC says it may only be able to accept 2,000 more in-state students, EdSource reports.
2. Details emerge in Castro settlement
The UC Berkeley back-and-forth isn’t the only news roiling California higher education: Joseph Castro, who resigned last month as chancellor of the California State University system over accusations that he mishandled sexual assault and workplace intimidation claims against a former colleague while president of Fresno State University, will receive a salary of $401,364 until February 2023, sick leave and benefits including vacation time, and a $7,917 monthly housing allowance for six months, according to a settlement agreement CSU released Friday.
- CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn reported last month that under CSU policy, Castro would be eligible for about $400,000 in compensation and a professorship in the Cal State system. Indeed, the settlement agreement gives Castro the option to become a faculty member at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo next year.
- The California Faculty Association, which represents more than 29,000 CSU employees: The settlement “sends a message that the CSU Board of Trustees endorses rewarding bad behavior when it comes to our administrators. Trustees are more interested in business as usual and damage control than they are in addressing severe and systemic harassment and abuse across the CSU.”
- The CSU Board of Trustees plans to revise its policy on retreat rights, which allows administrators, even those who are fired, to “retreat” back to their prior role as faculty members, the Los Angeles Times reports. It’s also launched two additional investigations — one into Fresno State’s handling of the sexual assault claims against former Castro colleague Frank Lamas, and another assessing the system’s Title IX policies protecting against sex-based discrimination.
In other higher-education news: For CalMatters’ College Journalism Network, Stanford undergraduate Itzel Luna spoke to first-generation students across the state about the challenges and misconceptions they face on campus.
3. Is California’s jobless fund broken?
California owes the federal government nearly $20 billion for unemployment benefits paid out to jobless workers during the pandemic — a sum about as large as the combined debt owed by all other states. The stunning figure illuminates what experts say are the problematic tax policies underlying California’s unemployment insurance fund — earning it the distinction of the least progressive and most fiscally irresponsible system in the nation, CalMatters’ Grace Gedye reports. Indeed, before the pandemic, the federal government rated California’s unemployment fund as the least financially responsible of all 50 states.
- For more on the changes California could make to strengthen its jobless fund, check out Grace’s report.
- Mark Duggan, a Stanford economist who studies unemployment insurance: “It’s frustrating when you study economic policy to see really idiotic policies persist because of the nature of the political process.”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Los Angeles’ housing conundrum — not enough land and not enough money — is a microcosm of California’s housing problems.
Legislature must prioritize access to legal cannabis: Lawmakers should approve Newsom’s budget proposal to create a grant program to help local governments get legal cannabis businesses off the ground, writes Alexis Podesta, former secretary of the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency.
State Bar recommendations would worsen justice gap: They invite disaster for Californians least able to recover from substandard legal services — seniors, non-native English speakers and low-income communities of color, argues Lorraine López, a senior attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty.
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