Your guide to California policy and politics
BY Emily Hoeven June 6, 2022
Presented by California Cattle Council, NextGen Policy, and California Water Service

California’s primary is 1 day away. Do voters care?

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I’m back from a vacation made all the more sweet by CalMatters’ showing at the California Journalism Awards! Many thanks to Ben Christopher for his incredible job guest-hosting the newsletter.

‘Twas the night before California’s primary election, when all through the state / Barely a creature was stirring, even with the high stakes.

My adaptation of a classic poem may be of questionable quality, but it nevertheless captures what will likely be a defining feature of Tuesday’s primary election: low voter turnout.

Although a whopping 81.5% of eligible Californians were registered to vote as of May 23 — the highest percentage heading into a gubernatorial primary election in 68 years — just 13% had returned their ballot as of Saturday, per a tracker from Political Data Inc.

  • If this trend continues, California could potentially break its low-turnout record, set during the 2014 primary election, when just 25.17% of registered voters cast ballots, the Los Angeles Times reports. That’s despite every active registered voter receiving a mail-in ballot — and also having the option to vote in person.

Why the apparent apathy? Well, when the races for state controller and insurance commissioner are among the most exciting on the ballot, it’s understandable why many Californians aren’t chomping at the bit.

Indeed, for many voters, the statewide primary seems to be a largely perfunctory affair. The biggest takeaway from a Friday poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies and the Los Angeles Times: The incumbents in three major races are light-years ahead of their challengers, and will likely easily gather enough votes to secure one of two spots in the November general election.

Let’s take a deeper look at those two races:

  • In a 90-minute interview with CalMatters, gubernatorial candidate Shellenberger spills the beans on why he left the Democratic Party, how he would handle California’s homelessness crisis and why he changed his mind on drug policy. CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff has the highlights, including Shellenberger’s unique political philosophy: “I’m a liberal in my compassion for the vulnerable. I’m libertarian in my passion for freedom. I’m conservative in my belief that civilization is required for both.”
  • And, as criminal justice debates intensify, attorney general candidates are divided on a new law requiring the California Department of Justice to investigate police shootings of unarmed civilians, CalMatters’ Nigel Duara reports.
What Californians need to know to prepare to vote
Go to Voter Guide

Narrowing the field of candidates seeking to fill an unusually high number of vacant seats in the state Legislature has high stakes: As Los Angeles Times editorial writer Laurel Rosenhall put it, “Turnover in the Legislature is your chance to shape how California handles the most important issues of our time.” Yet national attention is largely fixed on a handful of other Tuesday races. They include:

What to know about the 2022 elections in California
All Election Coverage
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 8,989,279 confirmed cases (+0.4% from previous day) and 90,815 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 76,475,034 vaccine doses, and 75.4% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1 If you tweet it, will it happen?

Democratic Assemblymember Robert Rivas on the floor on May 31, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

From CalMatters political extraordinaire Ben Christopher: A funny thing happened a little after noon Friday: As if prompted by a Robert Rivas-shaped bat signal, a handful of Democratic lawmakers jumped on Twitter at roughly the same time to cheer on the Salinas Democrat for attaining the presumptive role of next Speaker of the California Assembly.

Emphasis on the word “presumptive.”

Rivas attempted to secure an agreement from current speaker Anthony Rendon that he would soon step down and Rivas would replace him. But Rendon declined to offer that assurance, prompting Rivas’ supporters and Rendon’s loyalists to scrum behind closed doors for six hours last week.

  • The result: Rendon acknowledged that Rivas had secured “the support of a majority of the current Democratic Caucus.” But he did not specifically agree to a transition plan and vowed to keep his job until “at least” the end of the legislative session. 

Some of Rivas’ backers seem to have come to a different understanding — or are least hoping to tweet his future speakership into existence. 

  • At 12:19 p.m. Friday, Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry of Woodland posted her congratulations
  • Three minutes later, Costa Mesa’s Cottie Petrie-Norris proclaimed Rivas “Speaker-elect,” a title traditionally reserved for a member who has actually been elected by the full Assembly.
  • Then came a “congratsfrom San Diego’s Akilah Weber, before Santa Rosa’s Jim Wood closed things out with a more cautious tweet: “Sincerely wish them both the best for a smooth & peaceful transition.”  
  • Meanwhile, Rivas told Fox 11’s Elex Michaelson that he and Rendon “will begin meeting weekly” starting this week.
  • The catch: Rendon’s office has yet to confirm the meetings will focus on a transition plan or take place regularly. “I don’t have more information on that meeting right now or whether it’s reoccurring,” Rendon spokesperson Katie Talbot told me Sunday.

2 Addressing gun violence, 3 ways

Gov. Gavin Newsom, flanked by state lawmakers, discusses the recent mass shooting in Texas during a press conference in Sacramento on May 25, 2022. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

A sampling of recent headlines underscores that California, despite having the strictest gun laws in the nation, is not immune from the threat of gun violence: A San Jose Safeway employee was fatally shot Sunday. A second-grade student recently brought a loaded gun to a Sacramento school. Three Lake Elsinore graduation ceremonies were cancelled after authorities received a tip that some students planned to bring firearms. Police arrested a teenage boy for allegedly trying to recruit other students to “participate in a mass shooting and/or bombing” at a Berkeley high school. And, following last week’s mass shooting at a Tulsa, Oklahoma, medical building, two nurses and a doctor were stabbed Friday at a Southern California hospital.

Here’s a look at how California is responding to the violence and vitriol:

But some say more needs to be done. Survivors of sexual and domestic violence and their advocates denounced the lack of funding for violence prevention programs in the Legislature’s placeholder budget framework.

  • The California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, VALOR, the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, and the Culturally Responsive Domestic Violence Network said in a statement: “After numerous incidents of violence have dominated news headlines in recent weeks, we have heard California leaders making calls for actions that can prevent future violence. … To see those proclamations … not being met with investments in programs proven to prevent violence is outright irresponsible and ignores the overwhelming demand for prevention, innovative interventions, and holistic support.”

3 COVID, monkeypox spread in California

Commuters wearing face masks exit and board a train at MacArthur BART station in Oakland, Alameda County, on April 13, 2022. Photo by Ray Chavez, Bay Area News Group

As California’s COVID-19 test positivity rates continue to rise — the statewide seven-day average passed 8% last week — masks are coming back with a vengeance. Starting today, Sacramento City Unified School District will once again require them for all students and staff, and face coverings have already been mandated at most indoor spaces in Alameda County, Berkeley Unified School District, UCLA and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Alas, suspected monkeypox cases are also on the rise in California. San Francisco reported its first suspected case Friday, a day after Los Angeles County reported one. Meanwhile, Sacramento County officials have confirmed three monkeypox cases. For more, check out CalMatters’ tracker of confirmed and suspected monkeypox cases in California, nestled within our explainer on symptoms, transmission and treatment.

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CalMatters Commentary


CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Four towns and four stories frame California’s housing crunch.

Unjust sentencing law overdue for reform: Californians shouldn’t be sentenced to death or life without parole if they didn’t kill anyone or intend for anyone to die, argues Yvette McDowell of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership.

Other things worth your time


Some stories may require a subscription to read

California ballot tracker: Interest groups prepare for expensive November fights. // Politico

Democrats target California drought of Black men in Congress. // Los Angeles Times

California mystery: Why does a small rural county vote like San Francisco? // Los Angeles Times

Shasta County’s far-right hope to win 2022 primary election. // Los Angeles Times

Pope Francis elevates San Diego ‘progressive’ bishop after San Francisco archbishop denies Pelosi Communion. // San Francisco Chronicle

Infant’s death prompts accusations in Riverside County D.A.’s race. // Los Angeles Times

Claims that five San Diego State football players raped a girl followed by months of silence. // Los Angeles Times

The Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy-gang crisis. // New Yorker

Justice delayed leads to California judge’s retirement. // Associated Press

Double murderer Jamon Buggs sentenced to life behind bars as judge rules D.A. Todd Spitzer violated Racial Justice Act. // Orange County Register

He killed an Oakland courthouse guard to start a civil war. Now he’s going to prison. // San Francisco Chronicle

S.F. police, Pride Parade reach deal to allow limited number of officers to march in uniform. // San Francisco Standard

How politics threw San Dieguito High School District into turmoil. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Legislature disagrees with Newsom on how to spend additional billions for education. // EdSource

California lawmakers try again to extend bar hours to 4 a.m. // Los Angeles Times

California regulators approve state’s first robotic taxi fleet. // Associated Press

California’s housing crisis and the fight over 20 townhomes. // New York Times

Drought resurrects plan for controversial reservoir in California. // Los Angeles Times

As California’s big cities fail to cut their water use, rural communities are already tapped out. // CNN

San Diego wants exemption from California’s emergency drought rules. State officials disagree. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Will California’s Central Valley stop sinking? // Los Angeles Times

Could Central Coast get 3 new reservoirs to generate power by pumping water between lakes? // Sacramento Bee

Warm, dry weather set to return after storms drop much-needed rain over parts of Bay Area. // Mercury News

9th Circuit Court blocks permits for fracking off California coast. // Los Angeles Times

Gas hits nearly $10 a gallon in Northern California town. // SFGATE

See you tomorrow

Tips, insight or feedback? Email emily@calmatters.org.

Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven

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