Your guide to California policy and politics
BY Ben Christopher May 31, 2022
Presented by California Cattle Council, NextGen Policy, and California Water Service

California’s next Assembly speaker. Maybe.

KEEP TABS ON THE LATEST CALIFORNIA POLICY AND POLITICS NEWS

Et tu, Rivas?

Late Friday, just as legislators — and everyone else in the state — were preparing to check out for the long holiday weekend, an earthquake rocked the California political world: Assemblymember Robert Rivas, a Salinas Democrat, announced that he had “secured enough votes” to become the next speaker of the California Assembly.

That immediately raised some questions: Is that actually really true? When would this hypothetical leadership change occur? How does the current speaker, Anthony Rendon, feel about all of this?

Rivas made the declaration via a press release which, unhelpfully, neglected to answer any of these questions. And though reporters have been peppering Rivas, Rendon and their respective offices with requests for elucidation, all parties involved have kept emphatically mum. 

In a series of tweets on Monday, Rivas restated that he had the necessary support, that it was “time to unite the caucus and determine a thoughtful, reasonable transition period” and that he wanted to ensure the “transition is a respectful one.” The audience for that thread could be the entire Democratic caucus. But then again, it could also have been a message meant specifically for Rendon: It’s over.

But then again, maybe not. Within minutes, Rivas deleted the tweets. Meanwhile, Rendon seemed to be enjoying his weekend.

Here’s what we do know:

  • Rendon is termed out of the Legislature in 2024, creating a definitive expiration date on his position at the top.
  • This probably isn’t the first time a member has taken a crack at unseating the leader. Last year, Rendon unceremoniously stripped Cupertino Democrat Evan Low of a coveted committee leadership role in what was rumored to be retaliation for an attempt at Rendon’s job.
  • Low is a Rivas ally and could be well positioned with his friend in the top spot.
  • There was trouble within the Democratic ranks last week when a handful of moderate Democrats attempted to force a vote on a bipartisan gas tax suspension proposal — a direct challenge to Rendon’s control of the chamber.
  • If there is to be a change of leadership, first there has to be a majority vote from the Assembly’s 58 Democrats, followed by a vote of all 78 Assembly members (two seats are vacant). Such a vote could happen as soon as today. Sources who asked not to be named said that 34 Democrats had signed cards pledging their support to Rivas, who would need 41 votes to become speaker.

Here’s what we don’t know:

  • Rivas stated in his news release that he had “begun discussions on a transition” with Rendon, but is this a hostile takeover? 
  • If Rivas really does have the support of 34 Democrats, is that backing firm enough to last until the caucus votes — especially if Rendon is lobbying against it?
  • And when would that potential vote take place? What about the actual change of leadership? What would it mean to have a changing of the guard just two weeks out from the constitutional deadline to pass a budget?
  • Palace intrigue aside, would a Rivas-led Assembly make a difference from a policy perspective? Rivas, first elected in 2018, noted that he would be the first speaker of the “modern era to represent a rural district.” He does have more agricultural connections than South Gate’s Rendon. But ideologically, he votes with the bulk of other Democrats and he touts support from the Assembly’s progressive caucus. Key interest group give the two similar ratings.

For Rivas, it’s a high-risk gamble, as Low can attest. 

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

D

Robert Rivas

State Assembly, District 30 (Salinas)

State Assembly, District 30 (Salinas)

How he voted 2019-2020
Liberal Conservative
District 30 Demographics

Race/Ethnicity

Latino 68%
White 23%
Asian 5%
Black 2%
Multi-race 2%

Voter Registration

Dem 52%
GOP 20%
No party 23%
Other 6%
Campaign Contributions

Asm. Robert Rivas has taken at least $529,000 from the Labor sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 18% of his total campaign contributions.

D

Anthony Rendon

State Assembly, District 63 (South Gate)

State Assembly, District 63 (South Gate)

How he voted 2019-2020
Liberal Conservative
District 63 Demographics

Race/Ethnicity

Latino 76%
White 10%
Asian 6%
Black 7%
Multi-race 1%

Voter Registration

Dem 56%
GOP 14%
No party 24%
Other 6%
Campaign Contributions

Asm. Anthony Rendon has taken at least $2.8 million from the Labor sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 27% of his total campaign contributions.

Not to brag but…

…okay, maybe to brag just a little: On Friday, CalMatters won first place for “general excellence” in the 2021 California Journalism Awards. That’s along with five other first-place awards and 17 awards. That includes specific call-outs for our investigative, enterprise, land use, education and election reporting. 

So that’s pretty neat.

Thanks very much to you, dear reader, for helping us do what we do — by sharing our work, contributing financially, subscribing to this newsletter or just generally staying informed about California through our reporting. 

Here’s to a generally excellent 2022.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Friday, California had 8,896,174 confirmed cases (+0.5% from previous day) and 90,612 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.

California has administered 76,146,348 vaccine doses, and 75.3% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1 Election roundup: T-minus 7 days

Malia Cohen, a Democratic candidate for state controller, gives an interview at CalMatters in Sacramento on April 5, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

Just one week to go before California’s primary Election Day. Here are few notable developments to keep you up to date:

Now, the backers of Malia Cohen, another Democrat in the race, are going even bigger.

On Friday, a committee funded by the state’s largest teachers’ union and the Service Employees International Union reported another $444,193 in spending to boost their preferred candidate. That adds up to more than $900,000 in pro-Cohen spending from the group this month, compared to the $650,000 of business cash behind Glazer.

This is a familiar battle in California politics: The union-backed, Democratic Party-endorsed Cohen is squaring off against Glazer, a relative moderate who has long drawn the ire of organized labor

The union-backed committee is dividing its cash between celebrating Cohen and flogging Lanhee Chen, the Republican in the race who they depict as anti-abortion. Never mind that Chen has said he has no interest in changing abortion law in California and that the duties of the state controller have little to do with reproductive health. The split screen is aimed at tickling the partisan instincts of loyal Democrats to Cohen’s benefit.

  • Villanueva on ‘Big Philanthropy:’ Speaking of campaigning on issues that have little to do with the office one is seeking, this weekend Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva released a glossy 19-minute video lambasting the “homeless industrial complex”  — the network of nonprofits aimed at alleviating the region’s homelessness crisis, which the video accuses of “profiteering” and wielding undue control over local democracy.

Villanueva is a Democrat, but his campaign is an example of how local politics, particularly the law-and-order variety, can scramble partisan labels. The sheriff has endorsed Republican attorney general candidate Nathan Hochman and Orange County GOP Rep. Michelle Steel. 

Meanwhile, some of the financial backers and political allies of Newsom and Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta are spending hundreds of thousands against the incumbent sheriff. 

  • Low energy? The governor’s race is pretty boring this year. So is the contest for U.S. Senate. Even the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction, an obscure position that has nonetheless come to reliably serve as a proxy battle between teachers unions and charter school advocates over the last decade, is surprisingly snoozy

And that, according to a Los Angeles Times report, could be good news for the GOP: “The low-intensity vibe threatens to suppress turnout and boil down the June electorate to habitual voters and hardcore partisans, a result traditionally favoring Republicans.”

We’re already starting to see hints of that electoral lethargy in the data. According to Democratic political analyst Paul Mitchell, who tracks the early returns of ballots, at this point before last year’s gubernatorial recall, voters had already cast 5.4 million ballots.

As of Monday, the statewide total hadn’t even cracked 2 million.

Though perhaps that’s just because this year’s much longer, more complicated ballot takes longer to research and fill out. If you’re still trying to make sense of yours, may I humbly suggest checking out our voter guide?

What Californians need to know to prepare to vote
Go to Voter Guide

2 Newsom tests positive

Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses the next phase of the state’s COVID-19 response at a press conference in Fontana on Feb. 17, 2022. Photo by Alisha Jucevic for CalMatters

On Saturday, exactly 800 days after Newsom issued the state’s first stay-at-home order, the governor tested positive for COVID. Double-vaccinated and double-boosted, the governor is isolating and taking Paxlovid, an antiviral. According to his press office, Newsom only has “mild” symptoms.  

The announcement came a day after the governor met with New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, to tout a new bilateral climate change pact. Ardern contracted COVID earlier this month and has since recovered.

Newsom is, unfortunately, a Californian in good company. The share of tests coming back positive has been steadily inching up for weeks. So have new confirmed cases per capita, which is now at its highest point since mid-February. That is almost certainly an undercount, given how many people use at-home tests and do not report their results.

Hospitalizations and deaths still remain relatively low, though there is some regional variation. In San Francisco, the number of COVID patients in intensive care units is ramping back up.

Maybe you saw the news last week that school districts in Sacramento, Berkeley and San Diego are reconsidering new mask mandates? Perhaps a sign of things to come.

3 Private colleges push for more police power

Alessia Milstein graduated this spring from Pitzer College, in Claremont. She was involved in abolition activism on campus. May 25, 2022. Photo by Raquel Natalicchio for CalMatters

From the annals of obscure and somewhat puzzling California state laws:

  • Someone who trespasses onto a K-12 school or public university campus could be arrested, fined and even see jail time.
  • Someone who trespasses onto a private university campus could get themselves…a sternly worded letter

As CalMatters College Journalism Network fellow Elina Lingappa explains, the state Legislature is now considering a new bill that would give campus police at private colleges such as the University of San Diego a few more tools to respond to unwelcome visitors. 

  • Lingappa: “A recent example involved a homeless man. He had barricaded himself in a campus bathroom, wouldn’t come out, and threatened to return again after police told him to leave.”

The police response: Give the trespasser a letter “barring them from campus.”

But some students say they worry that giving school law enforcement more authority to penalize perceived outsiders could lead to racial profiling and other forms of abuse. 

Though the bill passed the Senate 34-0 earlier this year, the conversation around policing on campus is a fraught one. Across the UC system, some students say that state policy needs to be moving in the opposite direction, pushing to strip public school campus cops of their powers or abolishing the departments entirely.

More criminal class disruption in the news:

On Thursday, the state Senate passed a bill that would give school principals more discretion over whether to call the police on students who engage in “willful disturbance,” which could include physical fights, threats or drug and alcohol use.

Written by San Pedro Democratic Sen. Steven Bradford and supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, the proposal is intended to keep classroom discipline in the hands of teachers, rather than police, unless absolutely necessary. 

The bill passed and is now on its way to the Assembly, but not before Republicans, invoking the scourge of school shootings, objected to the idea that school officials would no longer be required to call the cops in response to threats of violence.

  • Bradford: “If you’re talking about speaking out in class, not having your homework, all those things that…lead to Black and brown kids being expelled or having police called on them, yes, I want to give teachers greater discretion.”
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CalMatters Commentary


CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: As drought continues to plague California, some are reconsidering old water rights. But change would be highly controversial.

Who should receive reparations? California’s reparations task force could exclude many Black Californians, reprising arbitrary mistakes eerily reminiscent of the past, writes Loyola Marymount University law professor Eric J. Miller.

Other things worth your time


Some stories may require a subscription to read

Paul Pelosi, husband of Nancy Pelosi, arrested on suspicion of DUI after crash in Napa County // San Francisco Chronicle

The ‘Fat Leonard’ scandal ended Navy careers. But many names of those involved were kept secret — until now // San Diego Union Tribune

Taiwan’s political divide fueled a gunman’s rage. It also splits my family. // Los Angeles Times

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy-Gang Crisis // The New Yorker

Yosemite to treat mobile homes outside park as abandoned after forcing homeowners to leave // Sacramento Bee

With key Anaheim figures ousted, is political change on the way? // OC Register

Napa man pleads guilty to conspiring to destroy CA Democratic Party headquarters // KQED

Greenville was destroyed by wildfire. Can it be rebuilt to survive the next one? // Los Angeles Times

Why the Inland Empire’s Asian population grew 36% in 10 years // Press Enterprise

Opinion: In Orange County, an Assembly seat fight for the future of Latino politics // Los Angeles Times

The Pacific Crest Trail may become ‘all but impossible’ to hike as climate change intensifies // San Francisco Chronicle

Man sued for ‘most egregious case of unlawful crabbing activity in San Francisco’s history,’ D.A says // SFGate

See you tomorrow

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