How California is dealing with 3 elections at once
Most of the remaining loose ends from California’s Nov. 8 election were tied up Monday — though at least one especially close race appears to remain unresolved and election battles from 2020 and 2024 continue to intensify.
First, Democrat Christy Holstege conceded her bid for an open state Assembly seat stretching across Riverside and San Bernardino counties to Republican Greg Wallis, who was promptly sworn into office. A mere 87 votes separated the two candidates — making it one of the closest Assembly races in history — and although Holstege had previously said she was considering asking for a recount, she backed away from that Monday.
- Holstege said in a statement: “It is clear that by the very thinnest of margins, we have fallen just short of victory, coming the closest this district has ever come to electing a Democrat to State Assembly. With slightly better turn out, we would have flipped this district blue. … If anybody ever tells you their vote doesn’t count, tell them about this Assembly race.”
Theoretically, the contours of the state Legislature are now complete — and not much has changed, with Democrats still holding roughly 3 out of 4 seats in both the Assembly and Senate. But, even though Democratic incumbent Melissa Hurtado of Bakersfield was sworn into the state Senate over the weekend after coming out 20 votes ahead of Republican David Shepard, the race has yet to reach a full resolution.
Shepard’s campaign over the weekend said it was assessing whether to ask for a recount, a stance that hadn’t changed Monday, according to campaign spokesperson Ryan Gardiner. But Gardiner said the campaign is first trying to address another issue: ballot curing, the process of allowing voters to fix their mail-in ballots if they made a mistake.
- Shepard said in a Saturday statement: “Several members of my team were personally told by employees of the Fresno Registrar of Voters that the deadline to cure ballots had been extended. Our team continued to cure ballots until the provided deadline and they were accepted by the Fresno ROV, therefore we fully expect the Fresno ROV to count those ballot cures. Until this matter is further clarified from Fresno County, my resolve will remain the same.”
Even as next moves in that race remain murky, another election-related matter cleared up: The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined a last-ditch bid from the tobacco industry to block California’s law banning the sale of certain flavored tobacco products, which is set to go into effect next week after voters upheld it by an overwhelming margin in November. The tobacco industry had already secured a two-year pause on the law by qualifying the referendum for the ballot, an increasingly common move among business groups.
Latest coverage of the 2022 general election in California
Meanwhile, other referendum battles loom on the horizon: I’ve learned that today, oil industry groups will announce having submitted 978,000 signatures to county elections officials to overturn a new state law banning new oil and gas wells near homes, schools and hospitals. They need 623,212 valid signatures to qualify a referendum for the 2024 ballot; some Californians have accused them of using illegal signature-gathering tactics.
- Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association, the group leading the referendum effort, said in a statement: “California-produced oil is the most climate-compliant oil in the world. … But by strangling our domestic supply, Governor Newsom is promoting greater greenhouse gas emissions generated in other parts of the world and making our gasoline more expensive.”
And California still isn’t done with the 2020 election. Today, a San Francisco state appeals court is set to hear arguments in a case appealing a ruling that declared unconstitutional Proposition 22, a voter-approved measure that exempts Uber, Lyft and other gig-economy companies from a controversial state labor law requiring them to classify their workers as employees rather than independent contractors. Gig workers are set to rally in front of the courthouse both in favor of and in opposition to the measure.
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1 A cyberattack, and other Capitol updates
Here’s a quick look at Monday news coming out of the California Capitol:
- The state finance department was hit with a “cybersecurity incident.” The news, first reported by KCRA, comes ahead of a Jan. 10 deadline for Gov. Gavin Newsom to unveil his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. The California Cybersecurity Integration Center, which is investigating the “intrusion,” offered few details but said in a statement it had been “proactively identified through coordination with state and federal security partners,” adding that “no state funds have been compromised” and the finance department is continuing work on Newsom’s budget blueprint. According to the tech publication Cyberscoop, a notorious ransomware operation called LockBit claimed responsibility for the attack and said it had stolen 76 gigabytes of data from the state finance department, which it plans to publish if the agency doesn’t meet unspecified demands by Dec. 24. The breach comes not long after Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest school district, was hit with a ransomware attack, exposing schools’ cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
- Newsom took a quick trip to Mexico. The governor briefly visited a state-funded COVID testing, vaccination and resource center near the California-Mexico border and toured a migrant shelter in Mexicali with Marina del Pilar Ávila Olmeda, the governor of Baja California, according to Newsom’s press office. The trip came about a week before the expected expiration of Title 42, a federal policy implemented amid the pandemic that allowed U.S. officials to turn away migrants caught at the border without giving them the chance to claim asylum. Newsom also called for more federal action on immigration reform and migrant support, saying California “can’t do it alone” and accusing Republicans in Congress of exploiting the situation at the border for political gain “instead of working on real reforms.”
- Newsom appointed a new leader of the state prison system. Newsom nominated Jeffrey Macomber, undersecretary of operations at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, to replace current Secretary Kathleen Allison, who is set to retire at the end of the year. The transition marks the prison system’s third leader in as many years: Newsom in October 2020 tapped Allison to replace retiring secretary Ralph Diaz. “I look forward to (Macomber’s) partnership in advancing resorative justice and our work to end the revolving door of the criminal justice system,” Newsom said in a statement.
- Expect more abortion-related bills when lawmakers return to Sacramento next month. The California Future of Abortion Council, which helped shape the package of abortion legislation Newsom signed into law earlier this year, unveiled its priorities and recommendations for the new legislative session. They include ensuring “proper implementation of actions taken in the past year” as well as addressing “new issues that have been identified … by stakeholders who are directly seeing the impacts of abortion bans on providers, patients, and support networks in California.”
2 Is California’s drought over?
Might the ferocious winter storms that have pounded California so far in December signal the beginning of the end of the state’s drought? Not necessarily: Last year, fierce early storms were followed by the driest January through March in California’s recorded history, and a fourth straight drought year still looms on the horizon. And, although some of the state’s urban water managers expect a surplus in 2023 — the city of Sacramento, for example, reported a 173% surplus to state officials, while Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District expects an 834% surplus — other regions aren’t so fortunate. Indeed, millions of Southern Californians will likely face strict outdoor water restrictions or even bans next year, with a probable exception for hand-watering trees, CalMatters’ Alastair Bland reports.
- Las Virgenes Municipal Water District, which serves 77,000 people in western Los Angeles County, expects a 63% shortage — meaning “if a household normally uses 100 gallons of water, we’ll be able to deliver 37 gallons,” said Mike McNutt, the water district’s public affairs officer.
- This suggests that even as regions take steps to increase their water supply — the city of Los Angeles, for example, plans to massively expand its groundwater resources by cleaning up a contaminated aquifer — more conservation will be needed.
- That could prove tricky, given the conservation strides the state has already made. California’s overall water consumption has remained the same since the 1980s even as its population surged from 30 million to 40 million, Jeffrey Mount, a senior fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California, told Alastair. But as of October, urban residents had slashed their water use just 5.2% compared to the same point two years ago — far short of Newsom’s call for 15% voluntary reductions.
- Meanwhile, other water supplies could be imperiled. A six-year study of four California national forests found that surface water downstream from illegal cannabis grow sites had been contaminated by banned pesticides, according to research by Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations ecologists and other scientists recently published in the Water Quality Research Journal.
3 The potential of nuclear fusion
Did scientists working in a federal lab in California just solve climate change and the world’s energy problems? Not quite — but the news federal officials announced today, first reported by the Financial Times, represents a crucial breakthrough in scientists’ decades-long quest to produce limitless carbon-free energy through nuclear fusion, the process that powers the sun. Scientists working at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory reportedly achieved a nuclear fusion reaction that for the first time produced more energy than it consumed — a development that experts say marks the first step to the world weaning itself off fossil fuels and nuclear power plants that rely on the inverse process, fission.
- U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, a Virginia Democrat who leads Congress’ bipartisan fusion energy caucus, said at a March event: “All of the fossil fuel we burn was created by the light from fusion. Every atom heavier than hydrogen in every cell of our bodies and our world was created by fusion. We are made of stardust. To those skeptics who believe fusion energy impossible, there are 100 billion stars in our galaxy, and two trillion galaxies in our observable universe, and every single one of them is powered by fusion energy.”
- He added: “Fusion is the holy grail of climate change and decarbonized future. Perhaps even more profoundly, fusion has the potential to lift more citizens of the world out of poverty than any idea since fire.”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: As the California Legislature ramps up its regulation of business practices, affected industries are increasingly using ballot measures to block the decrees.
Revised proposal to reform California rooftop solar doesn’t go far enough: The state Public Utilities Commission will vote Thursday on a plan that continues to subsidize higher-income households at the expense of low-income residents, argue John Gamboa of California Community Builders and George Mozingo of the California Senior Advocates League.
Rooftop solar proposal goes too far: By significantly slashing the credit rooftop solar owners with battery storage receive, state regulators are sacrificing Black church sustainability projects on the altar of corporate greed, argues Ambrose Carroll, senior pastor at Renewal Worship Center in Oakland.
Rooftop solar proposal strikes a good balance: It will incentivize Californians to install solar while simultaneously providing affordable rates for consumers and helping with energy reliability, argues Matt Baker, director of the Public Advocates Office.
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