Cohen-Chen standoff intensifies in controller’s race
Ahead of California’s November general election, some races are cooling off and others are heating up.
Here’s a look at what went down Wednesday:
- The race for California insurance commissioner got a lot less exciting. Democratic Assemblymember Marc Levine of San Rafael conceded second place to Republican Robert Howell, who will now face off against Democratic incumbent Ricardo Lara in November. That avoids what could have been the only Democrat-versus-Democrat battle for statewide elected office this year — and deescalates a nasty fight between the two men that saw Levine accuse Lara of not doing enough to protect Californians living in fire-prone areas from losing their home insurance and Lara’s campaign send out mailers attacking Levine’s voting record on labor issues. As of Wednesday, unofficial returns showed Lara had the first spot in hand with 36%, followed by Howell at 18.1% and Levine at 18.0%. “Taking on an incumbent in a statewide race was always going to be an uphill battle,” Levine wrote in a Facebook message to his supporters, noting that there aren’t enough remaining uncounted ballots to change the outcome of the race.
- Tensions heightened in the California state controller’s race. Democrat Malia Cohen slammed Republican Lanhee Chen for saying he “supports women’s reproductive freedoms” and didn’t vote for former President Donald Trump, views he revealed publicly for the first time last week in an interview with CalMatters. “Let’s be clear,” Cohen tweeted, “@lanheechen has spent his career advancing the right-wing agenda that got us to this point. That includes working for Mitt Romney who supported the appointment of Trump’s 3 conservative Supreme Court judges that are denying women their fundamental freedoms. I am the only candidate in this race that is unequivocally pro-choice.” That prompted a clapback from Chen: “Let’s be clear, the Controller is our state’s fiscal watchdog and should account for every dollar we spend. Rather than talking about what the Controller actually does, @MaliaCohen spends all her time deflecting from her record of failure.” Today, Anne Marie Schubert, a Republican-turned-independent whose attorney general bid fizzled out, is expected to announce her endorsement of Chen.
- Another Republican candidate disavowed Trump. Articulating stances similar to Chen’s, GOP attorney general candidate Nathan Hochman told Politico that he didn’t vote for any presidential candidate in 2016 or 2020 — and describes himself as always having been “pro-choice.” Hochman will face Democratic incumbent Rob Bonta in November.
- Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón could soon be on the hot seat. Supporters of an effort to oust the progressive prosecutor from office said they had submitted 716,000 signatures to the county registrar of voters — more than the approximately 567,000 valid signatures required to qualify the recall for the ballot. If enough signatures are verified, Gascón could face a recall election as soon as November — not long after his counterpart in San Francisco, Chesa Boudin, was kicked out of office.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 9,500,376 confirmed cases (+0.7% from previous day) and 91,795 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.
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1 COVID rates skyrocket amid BA.4, BA.5
California’s seven-day COVID-19 test positivity rate hit 15% on Monday, according to the state Department of Public Health — a rate approaching the record-high 22.5% logged in January during the height of the omicron surge. Although CalMatters’ tracker shows that hospitalizations have remained fairly stable and low — as have death rates — experts are raising concerns about the ultra-contagious omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, which have become the dominant COVID strains nationwide and are infecting people who are fully vaccinated and boosted and those who previously tested positive.
- Dr. Bob Wachter, chair of UC San Francisco’s Department of Medicine, tweeted: Although vaccinations and boosters are still “hugely valuable” in protecting against hospitalization and death, “one of the biggest implications of BA.5: a prior infection — including an Omicron infection as recent as last month — no longer provides robust protection from reinfection.”
- Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County’s public health officer: “People are just wanting the pandemic to be over and acting accordingly. What I want to say as a motivator: You’re not protected from long COVID. And I don’t know about you, but if I can do my best to prevent something that will give me brain fog, that’s why I wear my KN95″ face mask.
In other coronavirus news:
- The California Department of Public Health recently unveiled updated COVID guidance for K-12 schools. One key takeaway: There is no statewide school mask mandate for the 2022-23 school year, but districts can implement tougher restrictions if they so choose.
- Meanwhile, a superior court judge on Tuesday struck down Los Angeles Unified School District’s student vaccine mandate, saying only the state — not school districts — can require kids to get the shots to attend in-person classes. But the move has no immediate effect, as the district delayed implementation of its mandate until July 2023 to align with the state’s own postponed timeline.
2 Study: Food, farm employers didn’t keep workers safe
Speaking of COVID, California’s food production and farm employers violated COVID-19 guidelines for worker safety set by Cal/OSHA, the state’s workplace safety agency, more often than most other industries between April 2020 and December 2021, according to a new report from the California Institute for Rural Studies. But although those companies had among the most violations — researcher Dvera Saxton said Cal/OSHA cited food production employers four times more than any other California industry during the first year of the pandemic — their average penalty was less than $23,000, CalMatters’ Lil Kalish reports.
- Saxton: “We know that the food production employers — and the companies they’re producing for — have very powerful legal teams to reduce the fines.”
- Leo Brutocao, director of vineyard operations for Brutocao Vineyards, which was fined $3,710 in September 2020: “We provided the masks, and (the workers) just didn’t wear them.”
- Cal/OSHA said in a statement: “Cal/OSHA recognizes and appreciates the importance of this issue, and is reviewing (the) report and recommendations.”
3 A longer life for Diablo Canyon?
In the latest sign that California may extend the lifespan of its last remaining nuclear power plant to avoid future episodes of rolling blackouts, PG&E, the operator of the Diablo Canyon plant, confirmed Tuesday that it plans to apply for federal funding to help keep the facility open past its scheduled 2025 closure date. PG&E has until Sept. 6 to apply for the money. At the behest of the utility and the Newsom administration, the Biden administration changed some federal requirements to ensure Diablo Canyon’s eligibility and extended the original application deadline by 75 days.
- PG&E spokeswoman Suzanne Hosn told the San Diego Union-Tribune: Given Newsom’s “request that we take steps to preserve Diablo as an option to promote grid reliability, we expect to submit an application for the (federal) funding.”
PG&E could also be in line for some state money. As CalMatters’ Nadia Lopez has reported, Newsom recently signed into a law a controversial bill negotiated by his administration and approved by lawmakers that allocates a reserve fund of as much as $75 million to prolong the operation of aging power plants scheduled to close.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Is Gavin Newsom eyeing the White House?
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