Can a new California legislative caucus make a dent in poverty?

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La July 19, 2023
Presented by Dairy Cares, Southern California Gas Company, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and Politifest 2023

Can a new California legislative caucus make a dent in poverty?

At the state Capitol, legislators meet in specific groups on environmental issues, mental health and renters’ rights and also gather around their common identities. As my colleague Sameea Kamal reported recently, there are more than 20 caucuses at the Legislature.

Add another one — the End Poverty caucus.

As first reported by Politico, it is being launched by Assemblymember Isaac Bryan, the new Democratic majority leader in the lower house, and by Michael Tubbs, famous for a guaranteed basic income experiment as Stockton mayor, an adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom and founder of a new nonprofit of the same name as the caucus. 

The pair had previously connected in February 2022, when Bryan was appointed chairperson of a select committee on poverty and economic inclusion in association with Tubbs’ nonprofit.

Ending poverty in California seems like a lofty, if not unattainable goal. Reminder: California has the nation’s highest poverty rate, when cost of living is taken into account. Another reminder: That income number is far below what many consider a “living wage.”

The caucus was officially unveiled Tuesday night with the premiere of a 45-minute documentary. In it, Bryan — whose office did not respond to multiple requests for comment — said he believes “it takes everybody,” including the 40 million residents in California, to enact sweeping change.

  • Bryan, in the documentary: “I see it largely as my part to try and… find ways that we can uplift the conditions of life for everybody and move people out of poverty and into economic opportunity and kind of build the kind of community examples that didn’t exist previously.”

According to the nonprofit, initial caucus members include Sens. Nancy Skinner, Lola Smallwood-Cuevas and Scott Wiener, as well as Assemblymembers Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, Matt Haney, Ash Kalra, Buffy Wicks, Mia Bonta and Luz Rivas.

The documentary mostly features Tubbs, who is shown attending listening sessions with various advocacy organizations across the state, discussing how housing, immigration and mass incarceration contribute to poverty in California.

Tubbs told Alejandra Reyes-Velarde of CalMatters’ California Divide team that he hopes he can open a line of communication between legislators and activists.

  • Tubbs: “My role will be helping to convene, helping to bring other folks to the table when called upon by the elected, to help sort of be that squeaky wheel, to remind them, when it gets tough or when they’re busy or when it’s no longer a fun issue to talk about, that this is something we’re committed to do.”

CalMatters turns 8: It’s our birthday! On Tuesday, CalMatters marked eight years of informing Californians about policy and politics and holding officials accountable. We have done award-winning work and more is on the horizon. Read more and watch a TikTok from our engagement team. And if you support us now, you can double your donation.


1 Hot congressional races for 2024

Congressional candidate Rudy Salas speaks to a crowd of volunteers at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Bakersfield
Congressional candidate Rudy Salas speaks to a crowd of volunteers in Bakersfield on Oct. 15, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

While much of the attention in California’s 2024 elections will focus on the U.S. Senate race and which Democrat will replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who wins the 52 U.S. House districts (40 held by Democrats) could be far more consequential in helping determine control of Congress — and the country’s direction.

Indeed, two of the nine hot congressional districts that CalMatters identified for the 2022 election — in which voters ultimately flipped control of the U.S. House to Republicans and handed the speaker’s gavel to Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield — could easily be ultra-competitive again as Democrats try to retake the House in 2024.

With the March primary coming up fast, these two Central Valley races drew key candidates on Tuesday.

In the 22nd District, a Latino-majority district, Democrat Rudy Salas declared a rematch with Republican David Valadao, a moderate who voted to impeach President Trump and who eked out a win last November.

In his campaign launch video, Salas portrays Valadao as a puppet of “Trump lackey” McCarthy, hits the Republican on issues including health care and veterans and depicts himself as a son of Latino farmworkers.

  • Salas: “We know the path to a better Democratic majority runs through this Valley.”

Meanwhile, in the 9th District, much of which lies in San Joaquin County, Republican Stockton Mayor Kevin Lincoln announced he’s running by stressing his roots in the city and track record on crime, jobs and homelessness as mayor. Another Republican, Brett Dood, quickly ended his campaign and endorsed Lincoln.

Lincoln, who unseated a Democrat — Tubbs, actually — to become mayor in 2020, is trying to unseat Democrat Josh Harder, who, after redistricting, successfully moved from representing a neighboring district in Congress. Lincoln says Harder votes the party line too often in support of President Biden. The respected Cook Political Report moved the race from “solid Democratic” to “likely Democratic.”

In his campaign kick-off video, Lincoln highlights his bipartisan instincts and says that D.C. is broken and that both parties are to blame.

  • Lincoln: “I refuse to let Washington neglect our Valley any longer.”

2 Hotline success a mental health concern?

Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock
Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock

Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of the nationwide 988 mental health crisis hotline. Since the hotline’s launch, California has answered more than 280,000 calls, chats and texts — more than any other state, and twice as many as the state with the second most, New York, writes CalMatters’ criminal justice intern Anabel Sosa

Though the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Helpline number was established in 2005, the federal government launched 988 last July as an easy-to-remember alternative, pouring $500 million to get the program up-and-running in every state. 

With $19 million set aside for the next fiscal year to fund the program in California, the state currently has 1,116 crisis counselors fielding calls in 12 crisis centers. In later years, the state expects to spend $12.5 million a year. 

Despite — or because of — the high volume of calls, advocates for the program say the hotline is doing what it’s supposed to do. That is, provide residents who are experiencing a mental health crisis support, without the fear of police involvement. About 98% of the crisis calls in California were able to be resolved without the need for police or medical intervention.  

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness, and suicide rates have increased, despite a two-year decline in 2019 and 2020.

As the program continues in its second year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that 988 will provide text and chat services in Spanish. Call centers are also working towards directing callers to more local resources for help, as well as boosting the number of staff members.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters is away and will return July 24.

Judges can experience trauma as they hear about crimes in the courtroom, and need mental health care, too, writes Tim Fall, a Yolo County Superior Court judge.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

Rep. Barbara Lee’s PAC launches rescue mission for her US Senate campaign // Politico

Anti-Asian hate attacks are down, but some are worried // Los Angeles Times 

CA Supreme Court rejects US high court decision on labor law // San Francisco Chronicle

State wage theft investigators say staffing crisis is hurting the agency // KQED

In-N-Out bans employees from wearing masks // Los Angeles Times

CalPERS board gives update on hack that exposed retiree data // The Sacramento Bee

Lawsuit asks if California schools hurt poor kids during COVID // San Francisco Chronicle

Transitional kindergarten, child care compete for California’s youngest // Los Angeles Times

Fatal Tesla crash in California draws federal investigators // AP News

Sacramento DA to investigate city’s homeless enforcement // Sacramento Bee

Number of newly homeless people outpaced number housed in June // The San Diego Union-Tribune

Silicon Valley family exposes need to reform conservatorship law // San Jose Spotlight

SF Health Department changes its tune as overdoses surge // The San Francisco Standard

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao rejects pay raise after public criticism // San Francisco Chronicle

Oakland Police Commission may be coming apart at the seams // East Bay Times

See you tomorrow


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

Subscribe to CalMatters newsletters here.

Follow CalMatters on Facebook and Twitter.

CalMatters is now available in Spanish on Twitter, Facebook and RSS.