California braces for post-Pelosi future
“We are mindful that we’re going to have to be more proactive as a state in terms of our efforts in Washington, D.C.”
That was Gov. Gavin Newsom’s delicately worded assessment of how California might fare differently under Kevin McCarthy — the Bakersfield Republican positioned to take over as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives after his party won a slim majority in the midterm elections — than it did under Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat who announced Thursday that she plans to step down from a leadership position next year even while remaining in Congress.
During a Thursday press conference in Napa Valley to highlight California’s firefighting investments and announce that peak fire season has ended in most parts of the state, Newsom said “no one has been more consequential in modern American history” as House speaker than Pelosi.
- Newsom: “Don’t take people like Nancy Pelosi for granted. … The amount of things Nancy Pelosi’s done behind the scenes during the Trump years to stop cuts, draconian impacts on the people of the state of California, you won’t have enough tape, even if it’s digital, for me to illuminate and highlight just those few years.”
- He added: “I don’t expect a lot of support coming from the Republican caucus, if past is prologue. We’re gonna have to be creative.”
McCarthy, meanwhile, speculated on Fox Business that Pelosi chose to make her announcement now because “she just doesn’t want to hand me the gavel.” Instead, the incoming Democratic House minority leader — whom some suspect will be New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries — will handle the formal transition of power.
Although Pelosi said she plans to continue serving in Congress — she was just reelected to another two-year term ending in 2024 — her decision to step down from a leadership role is likely to intensify a behind-the-scenes battle among ambitious San Francisco politicians to succeed her.
Also brewing in the background: a fight to replace Dianne Feinstein, another San Franciscan, in the U.S. Senate. Feinstein, who recently became the country’s longest-serving woman senator, has not yet indicated whether she plans to seek reelection after her current term ends in 2024, but officials are already angling for a seat that hasn’t been open since 1992 — especially amid reports of Feinstein’s alleged mental decline.
- Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of Los Angeles, for example, decided not to seek a House leadership post and is instead focusing on a potential Senate bid, according to Politico.
“Don’t ever count her out,” Newsom said Thursday of Feinstein. “I don’t care what the pundits are saying. … She still commands a room, commands our respect, and I don’t expect her to resign.”
During his 2021 anti-recall campaign, Newsom pledged to appoint a Black woman to Feinstein’s seat if she were to resign before her term ended. (He appointed California’s other U.S. senator, Alex Padilla, to replace Kamala Harris after she was elected vice president.) But that backfired among some prominent Democrats, prompting Newsom to walk back his comments.
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 10,573,758 confirmed cases and 96,494 deaths, according to state data now updated just once a week on Thursdays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
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1 California election results, visualized
After an avalanche of attack ads, record-breaking spending on ballot measure campaigns and an influx of independent expenditures seeking to sway legislative races, what does California have to show from its Nov. 8 election? Although the state still has to tally about 1.5 million ballots, some clear patterns are beginning to emerge — and CalMatters’ Ben Christopher visualized them in six easy-to-read charts, maps and graphics. Here’s a peek at some of the key questions he answers — and what they reveal about power and political divisions in the Golden State:
- Just how blue is California?
- How many Republicans were elected to represent districts with majority-Democratic registration, and vice versa?
- Did Republicans or Democrats flip any California congressional seats?
- Did Democrats hang onto their supermajority in the state Legislature?
- How much did ballot measure campaigns spend per vote — and did those investments pay off?
- Which propositions were most popular in different parts of the state?
Latest coverage of the 2022 general election in California
2 COVID cases rising, state health official warns
From CalMatters health reporter Ana B. Ibarra: As the early arrival of the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) strain health systems in parts of California, public health officials are also warning that a rise in COVID-19 cases seems imminent.
Every measure — from case counts and transmission (per wastewater surveillance) to hospital admissions — is increasing, Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary, said in a Thursday call with reporters. California had a 6.3% test positivity rate as of this week, up from 4.3% just a month ago.
What the state experienced in the spring, summer and early fall was manageable, but that’s starting to shift, Ghaly said. “Unlike the past two years when we discussed a COVID and flu collision, this year we’re actually starting to see it,” he said.
In Los Angeles County, these indicators are concerning enough that health officials there are “strongly recommending” that people mask in indoor public spaces again. The county on Thursday reported a 26% increase in COVID-related hospital admissions since last week, and a 54% increase since Nov. 1.
- Dr. Muntu Davis, Los Angeles County’s public health officer: “With multiple respiratory illnesses currently at high levels, we want to stay aware of any increase in COVID cases that can contribute to the strain in our health care system.”
- Davis also noted a cluster of new COVID outbreaks in nursing homes. The virus ravaged nursing homes earlier in the pandemic, with seniors the hardest-hit age group. Davis said 50% of all nursing home residents in the county and 38% of staff have received the updated COVID booster.
Statewide, only about 13% of the eligible population is vaccinated with the bivalent booster. Experts warn that low uptake can contribute to pressure on the health care system.
3 Two controversial water projects clear big hurdles
Water is one of the most politically thorny topics in California in the best of times — but with the state coming off its driest three-year stretch on record and heading into a fourth straight year of drought, tensions are mounting. Two Thursday examples:
- After a 13-hour debate that saw hundreds of people speak and multiple bouts of tears, state regulators approved a highly controversial desalination plant in the Monterey County city of Marina — even after citing its high costs, environmental risks and “the most significant environmental justice issues” the California Coastal Commission has faced in recent years, CalMatters’ Rachel Becker reports. Much of the debate hinged on the fairness of locating a for-profit company’s facility in Marina, which does not need the water and is home to designated disadvantaged neighborhoods. The expensive supply will flow to other communities, including the whiter, wealthy enclaves of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach. The highly anticipated vote comes as California weighs how desalination — the process of turning seawater into drinking water — will fit into its increasingly dry future. The commission in May rejected a contentious desalination plant in Huntington Beach, but in October approved a smaller, less expensive facility in Dana Point.
- Federal regulators signed off on what’s set to be the largest dam demolition project in U.S. history — the removal of four aging dams along the Klamath River spanning the California-Oregon border, which will be paid for in part by California taxpayers. The news marks a significant win for Native American tribes and environmental justice advocates, who say it will help restore revered salmon runs and natural habitats. “The Klamath salmon are coming home,” Joseph James, chairperson of the Yurok tribe, said in a statement. “The people have earned this victory and with it, we carry on our sacred duty to the fish that have sustained our people since the beginning of time.” Nevertheless, some local residents oppose the demolition, which they say could hurt property values and reduce power supply. “The citizens of California are losers in today’s hearing so the green movement could claim a symbolic win,” Republican U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, who represents the affected region, told the Sacramento Bee.
Will Newsom put his popularity to use? The governor should leverage his historic electoral success to unite constituencies and improve some of California’s most intractable problems, argues Timothy Perry, a private attorney and co-chair of Newsom’s 2018 “Defending California Values” policy committee.
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