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Your guide to California policy and politics
BY Emily Hoeven July 6, 2022
Presented by Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership, Californians Against Higher Taxes, Save our Capitol and Sutter Health

Newsom finally reveals his whereabouts

Gov. Gavin Newsom is on vacation in Montana visiting family, I was the first to report Tuesday evening.

It was information that the governor’s office appeared loath to disclose. Although the office said Friday the governor had left California to spend time with family, it did not until Tuesday answer questions about where he was or when specifically he would return, a noticeable difference from communication surrounding other recent out-of-state trips. (A spokesperson said Tuesday Newsom hasn’t yet booked his return trip, but that he will return to California over the weekend and be back in the office on Monday.)

The governor’s office didn’t respond to a question about why that information wasn’t initially shared. But one possible reason could be that Montana is among the 22 states to which California has banned state-funded and state-sponsored travel, citing policies it deems discriminatory to LGBTQ+ people.

Montana is also one of the states Newsom’s office has called out for restricting abortion access. His office said in a June 24 press release that Montana will likely ban the procedure following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, though local outlets say abortion is likely to remain legal there for the foreseeable future.

  • Anthony York, Newsom’s senior advisor for communications, told me: “We don’t legislate where people vacation. Never have. The travel ban applies to expending state funds. The Governor’s travel is not being paid for by the state.”
  • Asked if the state is paying for Newsom’s security while he is in Montana, York said: “We don’t comment or provide details on the governor’s security.” A spokesperson for the California Highway Patrol also said the agency “does not comment on details regarding the governor’s security.” However, York later told the New York Times: “On the security side, the law explicitly states there is an exemption for public safety, and the governor has to travel with security.”

The parents of Newsom’s wife, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, own a ranch in Montana and the couple was married there in 2008, according to the Associated Press.

The reluctance of Newsom’s office to share details about the vacation contrasts sharply with clearer communication surrounding other recent out-of-state trips. And it suggests the governor is aware of the politically perilous optics of vacationing in a red state while he attempts to position himself at the vanguard of the Democratic Party — a strategy praised by columnists in national outlets such as the Washington Post and the Atlantic — and he slams Republican-led states for COVID-19 policies and high crime rates, among other things.

For example, when Newsom and his family departed on vacation for spring break, the governor’s office disclosed that they would be in Central and South America from March 30 to April 12. And last year, when Newsom and his family took a trip for Thanksgiving, the governor’s office shared they would be in Mexico from Nov. 22-28.

  • Harmeet Dhillon, California’s Republican National Committeewoman, told me in a statement: “At a time when Californians are still living under a two years and counting state of emergency, our gas taxes were raised (again) July 1 to the highest levels in the nation … Gavin Newsom is running campaign ads in better-run states and refusing to tell the taxpayers where he is or when he will return to his overtaxed, under-served constituents. We’d love to know the gas prices and the COVID emergency status where the Governor is. Most Californians can’t afford to take their normal holidays this year, thanks to Gavin Newsom and his party’s lack of leadership of our state.”

Dhillon was referring to the ads that Newsom’s reelection campaign began airing Monday not in California, but in Florida — which is also on the travel ban list. On Tuesday, Newsom’s reelection campaign followed up with a fundraising email whose subject line read simply, “Florida.”

  • The email reads: “Ron DeSantis (the Republican governor of Florida) likes to talk a lot about ‘freedom.’ He signed a ‘Freedom First Budget.’ His hashtag is #KeepFloridaFree. His team even released a tortuous rock ballad about Florida’s freedom. But the truth is, Freedom is under attack in Florida.”

Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis is serving as acting governor in Newsom’s absence, but it’s unlikely that she will have to take action on any bills. The governor’s office said it isn’t aware of any bills that have a signing deadline this week; according to veteran Sacramento lobbyist Chris Micheli, 55 bills are currently awaiting action on the governor’s desk.

Kounalakis became the first woman to sign a bill into California law during Newsom’s family vacation in March. The bill she signed — which extended statewide pandemic eviction protections for residents waiting for payments from California’s rent relief program — expired on June 30.

Geoffrey Ross, a deputy director for the state Department of Housing and Community Development, told CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias that all eligible rent relief applications had been approved as of July 1. He said the department is still processing about 13,000 applications that are missing documentation or represent an appeal following a denial, and that the state expects to clear all of those pending applications by early August.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 9,431,299 confirmed cases (+0.6% from previous day) and 91,701 deaths (+0.2% 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 77,630,160 vaccine doses, and 75.7% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1 Bonta newsletter under scrutiny

Attorney General Rob Bonta during a confirmation hearing for the California Supreme Court in San Francisco on March 22, 2022. Photo by Eric Risberg, AP Photo

California taxpayers footed the $204,700 bill for Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office to hire an information technology firm to set up the software necessary to send a weekly newsletter to millions of voters — whose emails Bonta’s office obtained from a voter registration database managed by the California Secretary of State, according to a Tuesday investigation from the Sacramento Bee. In the lead-up to the June primary election, the emails rounding up California Department of Justice news began featuring a first-person greeting from and portrait of Bonta, whom Newsom had appointed to the position about a year prior. The Bee’s findings prompted some critics to wonder if Bonta was bending campaign ethics laws to increase his name recognition — though the emails never specifically mentioned that he was facing reelection.

  • Rob Stutzman, a Republican political consultant who worked on Anne Marie Schubert’s attorney general bid: “I think public officials should and can communicate to citizens. But when the project is specifically focused on emailing registered voters, that seems like an update to the Political Reform Act would be appropriate.”
  • Bonta’s office: “Attorney General Bonta is proud of (the Department of Justice’s) work to defend Californians’ rights and protect public safety. And he is excited to share updates on that work with Californians on DOJ resources available to the public.”

Conspicuously absent from Bonta’s latest newsletters: mention of a database published last week that inadvertently revealed the full names, home addresses and other personal information of more than 240,000 Californians who had applied for a permit to carry a concealed gun from 2011 to 2021. The state Department of Justice removed the database last Tuesday, and its public data portal has now been offline for a full week.

In other election news:

  • A new Yahoo News/YouGov survey suggests that Newsom would have a better chance than Vice President Kamala Harris of defeating Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential race — and he would also likely beat GOP Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. But with the election so far away and the candidate lineup uncertain — and given the poll’s percentage of undecided voters and margins of error — it’s probably best not to draw too many conclusions at this point.
  • Secretary of State Shirley Weber announced Tuesday that a measure to hike income taxes on Californians earning more than $5 million to fund pandemic detection and protection programs is eligible for the November 2024 ballot.
  • And a November 2022 ballot measure to tax millionaires to fund electric vehicle rebates and charging stations gained a powerful supporter Tuesday: the formidable labor union known as the State Building and Construction Trades Council. The measure “will provide good-paying green jobs to help build the charging station infrastructure we need across the state to reduce emissions and fight climate change,” said President Andrew Meredith.

2 Bullet train to get more oversight

A rendering of the proposed California bullet train. Courtesy of the California High-Speed Rail Authority

“There is nothing but problems on the project. … We need to be vigilant.”

“You can’t have enough oversight on a project like this.”

Those comments — from Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon of Lakewood and Assembly Transportation Committee Chairperson Laura Friedman of Burbank, respectively — underscore legislative leaders’ high expectations for the future inspector general of California’s beleaguered bullet train project, Ralph Vartabedian reports for CalMatters. The new investigative position was included in a deal struck between Newsom and lawmakers as part of the state budget, when lawmakers after a long-simmering dispute agreed to hand over $4.2 billion in bond funds to build a 171-mile track segment from Bakersfield to Merced.

  • Friedman: “They need to deliver something soon that the public understands is a train.” Having the inspector general “will be a very big change for the project.”

3 Electra Fire explodes

Firefighters battle the Electra Fire in Calaveras County on July 4, 2022. Photo by Noah Berger, AP Photo

Despite the relatively mild summer weather that Californians can expect to enjoy until this weekend when temperatures are predicted to start rising again, the Electra Fire that ignited Monday night in Amador and Calaveras counties had exploded to 3,900 acres and only 5% contained as of Tuesday night, according to Cal Fire. About 1,000 people were under evacuation orders and more than 15,000 PG&E customers were without power Tuesday morning, a spokeswoman for the utility told the Los Angeles Times. Hundreds of structures, along with some PG&E assets, were also threatened.

  • On Monday, about 100 people — many of them celebrating Fourth of July at Vox Beach in Amador County — were forced to temporarily shelter in a nearby PG&E facility before being safely evacuated.
  • A PG&E spokesperson told the San Francisco Chronicle Tuesday that the utility believes its equipment wasn’t involved in causing the fire due to when and where it started; local authorities told the Associated Press it may have been sparked by fireworks or a barbecue. The cause remains under investigation.
  • Dave Rice, an Amador County resident, told the Chronicle: “If God pulls the rug out from under our feet” and burns his family’s house down, “then we’re gone” and will likely move to Florida to be closer to his daughter.
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CalMatters Commentary


CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: A new audit will probe California’s dismal record on using information technology to make state agencies more efficient.

California must update water agreements to reflect climate realities: State and federal water managers have drawn down reservoirs rapidly over the past three years to provide water to a small subset of commercial growers, threatening salmon and everyday Californians, argues Tom Stokely of the California Water Impact Network.

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See you tomorrow

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

Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven

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