Pelosi attack illuminates four California challenges
Friday’s attack on Paul Pelosi, husband to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, that sent the 82-year-old to the hospital with a skull fracture and other serious injuries has cast a harsh light on the intertwined, deeply ingrained problems facing California and the nation with just a little over a week until the Nov. 8 election.
1. Violence against public officials. The same day that police say suspect David DePape broke into the Pelosis’ San Francisco home and shouted “Where is Nancy?” before attacking Paul Pelosi with a hammer, a Pennsylvania man pleaded guilty in federal court to threatening to kill Democratic U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell of Fremont. Last month, a San Ramon man was convicted of threatening the life of Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco. In June, a California man was charged with attempting to murder U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Meanwhile, many California public health officials who enforced pandemic restrictions encountered violent threats, prompting some to quit. And 15% of local election officials have left their jobs since November 2020 amid persistent harassment and increasing claims of voter fraud, according to a California Voter Foundation report.
- Wiener told the San Francisco Chronicle: “There are so many people who should run for office that don’t because they fear for their safety. That is a tragedy.”
2. Hateful speech and misinformation. California in recent weeks has been reeling from an onslaught of hateful speech, including Los Angeles City Councilmembers’ secretly recorded racist comments, repeated antisemitic remarks from rapper Kanye West and anti-Jewish actions in Los Angeles, all of which drew the condemnation of state officials.
Gov. Gavin Newsom described the assault on Paul Pelosi as “yet another example of the dangerous consequences of the divisive and hateful rhetoric that is putting lives at risk and undermining our very democracy and Democratic institutions.” He added, “Those who are using their platforms to incite violence must be held to account.”
One of those platforms would seem to be Twitter, now led by billionaire Elon Musk. On Sunday, Musk tweeted — and then deleted — what news outlets have described as a conspiracy theory about the Pelosi attack from a website known for spreading misinformation, writing, “There is a tiny possibility that there might be more to this story than meets the eye.”
- Musk was responding to a tweet from former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who shared a Los Angeles Times article that described DePape, the alleged attacker, as “drifting further into the world of far-right conspiracies, antisemitism and hate.” Clinton wrote, “The Republican Party and its mouthpieces now regularly spread hate and deranged conspiracy theories. It is shocking, but not surprising, that violence is the result.”
- After the New York Times ran an article headlined “Elon Musk, in a Tweet, Shares Link From Site Known to Publish False News,” Musk tweeted: “This is fake— I did *not* tweet out a link to The New York Times!”
3. Crime, homelessness and mental illness. While Democratic officials have generally emphasized DePape’s descent into right-wing conspiracy theories, Republicans and other critics of California’s dominant party have focused on his possible mental illness and experiences with homelessness and drug addiction. “If Paul Pelosi can’t be safe in his home in San Francisco, how can anyone be safe?” Nathan Hochman, the Republican candidate for California attorney general, told the Los Angeles Times. “This is a continuum of a spiral of lawlessness. Enough is enough.”
Authorities have said that DePape was targeting Nancy Pelosi and the crime wasn’t random. Nevertheless, the assault comes amid growing concerns over crime and homelessness in California: Also on Friday, a San Francisco supervisor’s home was broken into. And on Thursday, a group of San Francisco shop owners said they’ve been arming themselves with Tasers, bats and stun guns to combat a growing number of break-ins.
4. Increased polarization, partly due to our desire to make simple narratives out of complex situations and prove political points. In a Sunday New Yorker column analyzing the country’s frantic efforts to label DePape as “right-wing” or “left-wing,” Jay Caspian King argues, “The hope, if course, is to draw clean lines of cause and effect: the ideas propagated by Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson, and far-right trolls infect the mind of a mentally ill person in a way that prompts them to … break into the home of the Speaker of the House. But I am deeply suspicious that the world works in such a coherent fashion. … How we ultimately choose to describe these violent men often betrays more about us than about them.”
Time to vote: Find out everything you need to know about voting before California’s election ends Nov. 8 with the CalMatters Voter Guide, which includes information on races, candidates and propositions, as well as videos, interactives and campaign finance data.
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1 Newsom ramps up campaign — for other Democrats
This week, Newsom is set to travel across California to campaign for Democratic candidates in close federal and state races and for Proposition 1, a ballot measure to enshrine the right to abortion and contraception in the state Constitution, according to campaign spokesperson Nathan Click. On Saturday, Newsom was in New Mexico stumping for Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who’s facing a tough reelection bid against a Republican challenger. Ahead of the election, Newsom has funneled more than $6 million to Democratic candidates and causes by tapping his online fundraising campaign’s database of 6 million emails and 1.5 million phone numbers, according to Politico.
The whirlwind of events follows a Friday appearance at the California Economic Summit in Bakersfield, where Newsom talked about the future of the energy industry and touted the state’s economic prowess, writes CalMatters economy reporter Grace Gedye.
- Newsom: “We had 7.8% GDP growth last year. Texas, 5.6 — cute.” (Incidentally, a new report from Stanford’s Hoover Institution found that business headquarters left California in 2021 at twice the rate they did in 2019 and 2020, with Texas as the top destination.)
- Despite his focus on energy, Newsom didn’t mention his proposal to levy a new tax on oil company profits. One potential reason: He was in Kern County, which produces 70% of the state’s oil. (Nevertheless, in a Friday press release, Newsom blasted Exxon and Chevron for making “record profits as gas price gouging hit Californians.”)
- When Grace asked Newsom for more details about his tax proposal, he said he’s working them out with legislative staff and they’re “developing something that can withstand legal challenges” ahead of a special legislative session devoted to the issue in early December.
Also looming over the summit: concerns about the state’s ability to respond to a possible recession as revenues continue to come in below expectations. For example, if lots of workers get laid off, more people will need unemployment benefits. But the Employment Development Department, which handles those benefits, saw fraud and a massive backlog of claims during the pandemic.
- Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, an Oakland Democrat: “I think we learned a lot through COVID. My hope is that we are internalizing those lessons and making sure that things like EDD, things like the rent relief program, these safety nets, which are critical, are actually prepared … to deal with the next economic issue.”
2 Checking in on the campaign trail
As we head into the final stretch of campaign season — with Nov. 8 just over a week away — here’s a rundown of election news you should know:
- Newsom isn’t even close to meeting his housing production goals: When running for his first gubernatorial term, Newsom campaigned on building 3.5 million homes by 2025. But, as his first term draws to a close, just 13% of those homes have received a building permit, CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias reports. Newsom has now embraced a less ambitious goal: requiring cities to plan to build 2.5 million homes by 2030.
- What exactly would Prop. 1 do? Opponents of the ballot measure to create an explicit protection for “reproductive freedom” in the California Constitution say that it could be interpreted to permit abortions up until the moment of birth. But that outcome is highly unlikely, legal experts told CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff. One reason why: The measure’s authors have been clear that their intent isn’t to expand abortion access in the final months of pregnancy.
- Endorsements versus money in the Los Angeles mayor’s race: The battle between U.S. Rep. Karen Bass and billionaire businessman Rick Caruso to govern California’s largest, scandal-riddled city continues to intensify. Former President Barack Obama endorsed Bass on Friday, a day after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders rallied with her in Los Angeles, calling on voters to “end a corrupt political system that allows billionaires to buy elections.” That appeared to be a not-so-veiled allusion to Caruso, whose campaign is on track to spend more than $100 million, a record amount on par with “statewide ballot measure spending,” Democratic strategist and political data expert Paul Mitchell told the Los Angeles Times.
- Football money is pouring into Santa Clara elections: Jed York, CEO of the San Francisco 49ers football team — which plays at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara — has dumped more than $3.8 million into the mayoral and city councilmember races amid an ongoing debate over the stadium’s management, prompting some residents to suspect the team is trying to buy off candidates to protect its own interests, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. “I’ve never seen that kind of money spent in a local election in a city the size of Santa Clara,” Lisa Tucker, a Democratic political consultant, told the Chronicle.
Latest coverage of the 2022 general election in California
3 State issues Halloween candy warning
As Californians young and old prepare to go trick-or-treating tonight to celebrate Halloween, the state Department of Public Health is warning parents about the dangers of children eating hemp-derived gummies, brownies, lollipops and candies. These products, which may contain THC or CBD, can “cause adverse reactions such as becoming ill, or in extreme cases, result in death,” the department said in a Friday health advisory. It added that “the number of children who are eating these products is increasing, with higher frequencies of incidents in states where the use of these products is legal.”
The news comes not long after 12,000 fentanyl pills were found in candy packaging at Los Angeles International Airport, prompting law enforcement authorities to warn parents to keep an eye on their kids’ Halloween candy even as they said the dealers of the powerful synthetic opioid weren’t targeting children, according to the Orange County Register. Indeed, despite decades of myths to the contrary, there’s no evidence that children have been harmed by tampered Halloween candy, the Atlantic reported Saturday.
But the danger fentanyl poses to youth is real: Fentanyl was responsible for a staggering one-fifth of the nearly 4,000 deaths among Californians ages 15 to 24 in 2021, a sevenfold increase from 2018, according to a Mercury News analysis of preliminary data from the California Department of Vital Statistics.
- Chelsea Shover, an assistant professor of epidemiology and health services research at UCLA: “We are not trying to scare you. But … the idea that one pill can kill, now that’s true … that changes what we need to be telling kids.”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s chronic housing shortage, explained.
Giving past offenders a second chance: If the goal is to make California safer, the state took a major step in the right direction last month when Newsom signed a law creating the nation’s most comprehensive sealing system to ensure old convictions or arrest records don’t prevent people from turning their lives around, argues Henry Ortiz of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.
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