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Your guide to California policy and politics
BY Emily Hoeven January 5, 2023
Presented by Prologis, California Water Service, American Pistachio Growers and Cal Needs Assessment

Why 20 votes matter in California, Washington, D.C.

One shared takeaway from the otherwise very different starts to new legislative sessions in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.: What a difference 20 votes make.

The Legislature that reconvened Wednesday in the California Capitol is the most diverse in state history, with a record 50 women — although there’s still a slim possibility that number could fall to 49 following recounts for a hotly contested state Senate seat representing Bakersfield.

Democratic incumbent Melissa Hurtado, who eked out a 20-vote win over Republican challenger David Shepard in November, has now requested a recount in portions of Kern County not covered by the separate recount request Shepard filed last month. Initial results from Shepard’s recount request — which encompasses Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties — show Hurtado holding onto her seat, though Shepard has gained seven votes, CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff and Sameea Kamal report.

In Washington, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy is also being stymied by 20 votes.

That’s the number of congressional Republicans, 19 of whom are associated with the far-right Freedom Caucus, who have thus far refused to support the Bakersfield Republican’s bid for Speaker of the House — a post recently vacated by San Francisco Democrat Nancy Pelosi. The result: The House adjourned Wednesday after its sixth failed attempt to elect a speaker — rendering it essentially nonfunctional, preventing newly elected members from being sworn into office, and creating what President Joe Biden deemed a “really embarrassing” situation.

  • Representative-elect Ted Lieu, a Los Angeles Democrat, told the Associated Press: “I don’t know what my status is. I don’t know if I have health care, I don’t know if my staff get paid. We’re looking at all of that now because this hasn’t happened for 100 years.”

The House is set to take up the matter again today, and McCarthy has repeatedly expressed confidence that he’ll end up with the necessary votes. But his failure to win the speakership on the first vote — a situation that hasn’t occurred since 1923 — could be yet another sign of the challenges facing the California Republican Party.

Seemingly central to the conundrum of the state GOP is former President Donald Trump: Should politicians denounce him, support him or stay neutral?

Some have tried to sidestep the issue by avoiding mention of Trump entirely. Others, including Lanhee Chen, the Republican controller candidate in California’s November election, have apparently tried to appeal to a broader swath of voters by publicly disclosing they didn’t vote for Trump. But neither strategy has proven to be particularly effective: Chen lost to Democrat Malia Cohen, 55% to 45%. No Republican in California has won statewide office since 2006.

2022 Election

Latest coverage of the 2022 general election in California

McCarthy, meanwhile, has remained loyal to Trump, and Trump has publicly urged House Republicans to back McCarthy’s speakership bid. But, in a possible sign of Trump’s waning influence, Freedom Caucus members don’t seem swayed.

The result could be that California, long used to having one of its representatives hold the top position in the House, may end up with less influence and sway on the national stage — and possibly fewer benefits for its own residents.

Even assuming McCarthy were to replace Pelosi as speaker, California is “mindful that we’re going to have to be more proactive as a state in terms of our efforts in Washington, D.C.,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in November

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1 Amid storm, state’s climate change plan critiqued

A car stops on a flooded Lambert Road off Interstate 5 in Sacramento County on Jan. 3, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

California was battening down its hatches Wednesday as yet another winter storm — this one fueled by a so-called bomb cyclone — hit the state in the late afternoon, bringing with it extremely powerful winds, widespread power outages, fallen trees, mandatory evacuations, school and road closures and flight cancellations. Officials warned of heavy rains that could trigger widespread flooding and threaten critical infrastructure — in addition to people’s lives.

Fairfield law enforcement linked the weather to a fatal crash Wednesday morning, and cities were racing to persuade homeless people to accept offers of shelter before the worst of the storm hit. “We anticipate that this may be one of the most challenging and impactful series of storms to touch down in California in the last five years,” said Nancy Ward, the newly appointed director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. Newsom declared a state of emergency, authorized the mobilization of the California National Guard to support the disaster response, and said the state and federal governments have set up a joint Flood Operations Center.

Here’s more climate news, courtesy of CalMatters environment reporter Nadia Lopez: California’s recently adopted blueprint for tackling climate change has major flaws that could derail the state’s ability to meet its ambitious goals, according to a scathing Wednesday report from the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal advisers. One major issue: Although the plan calls for slashing greenhouse gas emissions 48% below 1990 levels by 2030, California isn’t even on track to achieve the 40% reduction currently required under state law, the Legislative Analyst’s Office found. The office also slammed the blueprint for its “lack of focus” on specific policies, accused it of focusing too much on achieving a long-term goal of carbon neutrality by 2045 instead of the near-term 2030 milestones, and said California’s landmark cap-and-trade program — which allows big polluters such as oil refineries and power plants to buy credits to offset their emissions — isn’t stringent enough to help the state meet its 2030 goal.

  • To address these concerns, the office recommended the Legislature require the California Air Resources Board to submit a report by July 31 detailing specific programs, policies and strategies to meet the 2030 goal. It also suggested sweeping reforms to cap-and-trade, including extending the program past 2030 when it’s scheduled to end. 
  • This isn’t the first time these criticisms have been aired: A 2021 state audit found California wasn’t on track to meet its 2030 emissions reductions goals. And last year, experts told state lawmakers that parts of California’s cap-and-trade program are deeply flawed.
  • Matthew Botill, a division chief who oversees climate programs at the California Air Resources Board, told Nadia: “One of the things that the Legislative Analyst’s Office fails to recognize is really that deep list of programs and policies that the state has already enacted. That’s what we referenced in the scoping plan — the ability for that work that we’ve done in the past to be leveraged to help us, not just hit our 2030 target, but go further than just the statutory target to get us to that carbon neutrality that we need to get to in 2045.” As for cap and trade, “it’s an important policy, but it’s one policy in a big portfolio of policies that the state is pushing.” 

2 State preps to expand Medi-Cal to inmates

James Mackey, program manager for Transitions Clinic Network, is pictured outside the Community Medical Centers administration building in Stockton on Dec. 21, 2022. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters

California prison inmates could soon become eligible for Medi-Cal coverage up to 90 days before their release, with the federal government expected to approve as early as this month a waiver that would usher in the latest significant transformation of the state’s health insurance program for low-income people, CalMatters’ Kristen Hwang reports. California is asking the feds for $561 million to help cover the cost of pre-release assessments and treatment for eligible incarcerated people with chronic health conditions, mental illness, substance use disorders and disabilities, as well as those who are pregnant.

3 Could free transit improve college enrollment?

A Sacramento Regional Transit bus arrives at Sacramento City College on Nov. 30, 2022. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters

Amid collapsing enrollment rates across California’s sprawling community college system, some campuses are seeking to lure back students by waiving fees and adding free perks. One of those is transportation: 75 of the state’s 116 community college campuses currently offer some type of free or reduced fare transit program — as do some California State University, University of California and private college campuses — and early data suggests they’ve had a positive effect on student success, Carmen González reports for CalMatters’ College Journalism Network. Nevertheless, Newsom last year vetoed a bill that would have created a state fund to create or expand free transit programs for college and K-12 students, noting the cost would likely surpass $115 million annually at a time of lower-than-expected state revenues. Nonpartisan analysts estimate California will face a $24 billion budget deficit in the upcoming fiscal year.

But advocates aren’t dissuaded:

  • Eli Lipmen, executive director at Move LA, a nonprofit transit advocacy group: “We’ve been working on a state student transit pass bill for close to a decade now and we’ve been told ‘no’ in great budget years, we’ve been told ‘no’ in bad budget years, we’ve been told ‘no’ in regular budget years. So for us, it’s always been about making the case and having the Legislature prioritize it.”
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CalMatters Commentary


CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Will politicians heed the lessons from California’s wave of massive storms or continue disengaged business as usual?

California must prioritize children in foster care: The state is legally responsible for about 60,000 youth. But too many are left in harm’s way because the state hasn’t fully funded an initiative to transform foster youth services, leaving severe gaps, argues Christine Stoner-Mertz, CEO of the California Alliance for Child and Family Services.

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Other things worth your time


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Alameda County stays silent on how to resolve election error that flipped one Oakland race. // San Francisco Chronicle

California trying to find, compensate sterilization victims as part of reparations program. // Associated Press

Black Tesla workers get a step closer to forcing changes to end alleged discrimination at Fremont plant. // San Francisco Chronicle

California to receive $470 million from CVS in opioid settlement. // Los Angeles Times

California’s school finance ratings: D for adequacy, B for equity, F for effort — but on the upswing. // EdSource

SFUSD’s teacher turnover tied to chronic absenteeism higher than state’s. // San Francisco Examiner

Fresno principal was caught on camera shoving a student. Now child’s guardian is suing. // Fresno Bee

San Diego begins enforcing new contractor transparency rules to fight wage theft, even up playing field. // San Diego Union-Tribune

SF asks court to clarify order barring city from removing homeless people from streets. // San Francisco Chronicle

Inside the LAPD’s secretive, multimillion-dollar private funding arm. // Los Angeles Times

Cisco decides to slash scores of jobs in Bay Area as layoffs mount. // Mercury News

Salesforce lays off around 8,000 in one of tech’s biggest cuts in years. // San Francisco Chronicle

Ouch! SDG&E natural gas bills to double this month, as commodity prices soar. // San Diego Union-Tribune

What if California’s Indigenous women led controlled burns? // High Country News

See you tomorrow

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

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