Your guide to California policy and politics
BY Emily Hoeven August 17, 2022
Presented by Sutter Health

School board races emerge as GOP election focus

“Red state governors, they talk a big game, don’t they, about providing parents with education choice,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a Monday video post on Truth Social, the social media company founded by former President Donald Trump.

“But when it comes time to walk the walk, they’re absent.”

The governor’s post — in which he contrasts Alabama’s decision to spend some of its federal pandemic relief money on two new prisons with California’s choice to funnel some of it into college savings accounts for low-income students and newborns — suggests education policy could prove pivotal in the November general election, and perhaps even in a later election when Newsom himself might seek higher office. (It also earned him a clapback from Alabama Governor Kay Ivey.)

  • Newsom: “Alabama chose to invest in prison and punishment. California chose to invest in education and the future. That’s the California way. America, it’s time to make your choice.”

But when it comes to preparing for the election in California, the state Democratic and Republican parties have already made their choice.

The California Democratic Party, which boasts nearly twice as many registered voters as its GOP counterpart, is largely targeting state and federal races, as it has done for the past two decades.

But the California Republican Party, which hasn’t won a statewide race since 2006, is zeroing in on local school board races, betting that it can capitalize on the frustration from parents opposed to pandemic policies and controversial curriculum including sex education, ethnic studies and a revamped math framework to win big, CalMatters’ Sameea Kamal reports.

One candidate who’s received GOP guidance: Sonja Shaw, who was motivated to run for a seat on the Chino Valley School Board after campuses shut down amid the pandemic and “parents were exited out of the school system.”

The ultimate goal of the “Parent Revolt” program, which GOP officials say is their most tailored school board recruitment and training program ever: Mobilize re-energized Republicans and newly attracted independent voters to win not only school board seats, but eventually also more legislative and congressional races.

  • Shawn Steel, a former California Republican Party chairperson who’s helping lead the school board effort: “You see the schools are just in great freefall and chaos. Parents don’t want to send their kids there. So this is the time to get people that are otherwise angst-ridden, upset, powerless. … I think there’s a real demand that this power structure is challenged and overturned, and that’s what we’re seeing right now. We don’t lead it. We don’t own it. But if we can help inspire people, particularly newcomers…”
  • Rusty Hicks, chairperson of the California Democratic Party: “Ultimately I think parents want the best education for their kids. And is banning books and punishing teachers and those kinds of activities — is that top of mind for parents? No, I don’t believe so. … While Republicans in California are trying to throw everything at the wall and hope something sticks — to keep people angry and to frankly, in my view, destroy a traditional free public education in California — Democrats have been focused on the most important things.”

Coming soon: CalMatters dives into the local races where school board candidates are contending with a polarized political landscape.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 10,146,137 confirmed cases (+0.4% from previous day) and 93,517 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 79,191,867 vaccine doses, and 71.8% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

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1 Get ready to conserve energy

PG&E power lines photographed in Fremont on Oct. 9, 2020. Photo by Anda Chu, Bay Area News Group

Californians are facing a statewide call for voluntary energy conservation today from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. — the result of California’s electric grid operator issuing a Flex Alert on Tuesday warning that energy supplies could be strained as residents blast their air conditioners amid a sweltering heat wave that’s pushed temperatures above 100 degrees and brought the threat of dry thunderstorms and lightning-sparked wildfires.

The Flex Alert comes as state lawmakers consider a suite of controversial proposals that the Newsom administration has said will help shore up California’s fragile energy grid — including giving PG&E a forgivable loan of as much as $1.4 billion to continue operating Diablo Canyon, the state’s last nuclear power plant.

And it follows a busy day for addressing climate change in California. On Tuesday:

  • California avoided — for now — federally imposed cuts on the amount of water it pulls from the rapidly desiccating Colorado River, though Arizona, Nevada and Mexico weren’t so lucky, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. But the seven states that depend on the Colorado River still haven’t reached an agreement for slashing their water use, intensifying the looming threat of complex legal battles.
  • President Joe Biden signed into law the sprawling Inflation Reduction Act, which includes billions of dollars for fighting climate change and bringing down the cost of health care and prescription medication. “The significant funding that will flow to states like ours is essential to protecting people from the worst impacts of climate change and accelerating our transition to a clean energy future,” Newsom said in a statement.
  • Newsom and California U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla were among the elected officials and environmental leaders who gathered in Nevada for the 26th Annual Lake Tahoe Summit to discuss past efforts to restore the Tahoe Basin, current challenges facing the surrounding communities, and new preservation and protection programs, according to Padilla’s office. The summit came the day after Nevada and California environmental agencies published a report that found the world-famous clarity of Lake Tahoe has largely stabilized over the past two decades after a period of steep decline, though it continues to decrease “at a significant rate” during the summer. One of the primary threats: wildfires.
  • And a nine-month investigation from CapRadio and The California Newsroom found that a stalled U.S. Forest Service project could have protected a California town from being destroyed by last year’s Caldor Fire, whose smoke and flames also clouded Lake Tahoe.

2 New group forms to combat hate crimes

Demonstrators attend a rally against anti-Asian hate crimes outside City Hall in Los Angeles on March 27, 2021. Photo by Ringo Chiu, Reuters

From CalMatters politics intern Ariel Gans: A new organization bent on stopping hate crimes in California will debut today at the state Capitol in response to a 74% surge in reported incidents from 2019 to 2021. Former state Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff and his wife, Mei Mei Ho Huff, founded the Act Against Hate Alliance after they received a grant from the California State Library’s “Stop the Hate Program” to provide support and services to victims and survivors of hate crimes.

While the group aims to address all types of hate crimes, spokesperson Bill Bird said it may focus initially on crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islanders, since the couple has spent years working with that community in Southern California. (The Golden State has also seen a sizable uptick in anti-Asian hate amid the pandemic. San Francisco police this week announced four suspects — aged 11, 13, 14 and 18 — in the brutal assault and robbery of a 70-year-old Asian American woman. Three of the suspects have been arrested, and authorities are still determining whether they will be charged with hate crime enhancements.)

  • Bird: “I want to make sure that this does not get confused with some groups that are calling for — ‘Defund The Police’ movement, things of that nature. We’re not doing that. Our goal is to find a solution to hate crimes in California and implement that solution.”

Today’s event will feature several speakers, including California State Treasurer Fiona Ma, Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita; Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat; and Sen. Steven Bradford, a Gardena Democrat.

The nonpartisan group is also open to those outside of politics. “We’re looking to gather as many folks in this organization as possible as we move forward,” Bird said. “We are just getting started.”

3 Monkeypox vaccine scarce in Central Valley

Luna Lockhart poses for a photo in downtown Fresno on Aug. 11, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

As monkeypox cases continue to proliferate across California, not all counties are able to respond equally to the virus that so far has disproportionately affected gay and bisexual men and transgender people. San Francisco has 27 doses of monkeypox vaccine per 1,000 residents, the highest per-capita rate in the state. That number drops to 4 in Los Angeles — and 1 across all 19 Central Valley counties, CalMatters’ Kristen Hwang reports. In late July, Fresno County, which has 1 million residents, had only 20 vaccines to distribute — meaning just 10 people could be fully immunized with a two-dose shot.

  • Tracy City Councilmember Dan Tavares Arriola, the city’s first openly LGBTQ elected official who contracted monkeypox in late July: “Unfortunately, a lot of the resources do go to San Francisco and Los Angeles … We need to remember that there are LGBTQ people in every part of the state.”
  • Luna Lockhart, a Fresno resident who drove to San Francisco to get vaccinated against monkeypox: “They aren’t giving out monkeypox vaccines in Fresno. We decided just to be proactive.”

The divides between different parts of the state were also made clear in a Tuesday report from the Public Policy Institute of California, which analyzed U.S. Census data on population shifts within, into and out of the state and found that “a geographic polarization of income may be occurring — with income differences growing between regions but shrinking within each region. California is slowly sorting into a higher-education, higher-income state — and within the state, people are leaving higher-income regions in favor of lower-income ones.”

CalMatters Commentary


CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Assuming Newsom is serious about addressing climate change — and not just trolling for election year publicity — he must go beyond setting lofty paper goals and tell us in some detail how he would actually accomplish them.

Stopping COVID sick pay is misguided: Incredibly, California’s workplace safety officials are considering throwing out the requirement to pay sick employees to stay home even as they instruct employers to keep positive COVID cases out of the workplace, writes Stephen Knight, executive director of Worksafe.

Other things worth your time


Some stories may require a subscription to read

California becomes first state to break down Black employee data by lineage. // NPR

Gimme Shelter Podcast: The limits of emergency housing vouchers in California. // CalMatters

Sacramento activists sue city to pull homeless camping measure from November ballot. // CapRadio

Gavin Newsom keeps angering environmentalists. // Sacramento Bee

Homeowners sue utility PacifiCorp over McKinney Fire, worst California wildfire of 2022. // Sacramento Bee

FBI arrests former California Rep. T.J. Cox on dozens of fraud charges. // Politico

Inland candidate isn’t registered to vote in Assembly district he wants to represent. // Press Enterprise

Anaheim council members head into election while investigating campaign contributions. // Voice of OC

Devin Nunes has to turn over details on his job for Trump’s company in lawsuit he started. // Sacramento Bee

Caruso touts support of Hollywood, while his firm battles studio expansion near the Grove. // Los Angeles Times

San Diego man sentenced to 8 months for selling Japanese pesticide as COVID-19 killer. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Bakersfield doctor surrenders license after medical board allegation. // Bakersfield Californian

Nearly 50,000 students absent on first day as LAUSD deals with chronic absenteeism. // Daily News

Back-to-school in San Francisco: Data shows severity of teacher shortage, absenteeism, low reading scores. // San Francisco Chronicle

San Diego Unified won’t require masks districtwide for now. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Bill for student cards to cover meals when school isn’t in session fails in Legislature. // Los Angeles Times

Healthier options on the menu as California begins providing free meals for all students. // EdSource

California high court eases criteria for immigrant youth seeking legal status. // San Francisco Chronicle

San Jose church doesn’t have to pay pandemic violation fines, appeals court says. // San Francisco Chronicle

Apple sets return-to-office deadline after COVID delays. // Bloomberg

Amazon warehouse workers walk off job at Southern California air hub. // Los Angeles Times

Remote workers have stayed in Truckee, but not the local workforce. // Marketplace

Spaghetti sauce is under threat as California water crisis slams tomatoes. // Orange County Register

California’s giant sequoias are burning up. Will logging save them? // Washington Post

Monkey business behind 911 call from California zoo. // Associated Press

See you tomorrow

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

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