Two Californians at the center of a historic day in D.C.

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La October 4, 2023
Presented by New California Coalition and California Water Service

Two Californians at the center of a historic day in D.C.

From CalMatters politics reporter Yue Stella Yu:

Two Californians made history Tuesday in our nation’s capital — one starting a new job, the other losing theirs.

Laphonza Butler took the oath of office as a U.S. senator, succeeding the late Dianne Feinstein and becoming the first Black and openly LGBTQ woman to serve in the Senate. It is the first time in California history that both U.S. senators are people of color.  

Two hours later, Kevin McCarthy lost the speaker’s gavel — the first to be ousted by a vote of the House. 

Both moments were dramatic, in very different ways.

Butler was escorted into the Senate chamber by Sen. Alex Padilla of California and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York. Vice President Kamala Harris administered the oath while Butler’s wife, Neneki Lee, held the Bible. After she took the oath, Butler was greeted by cheers and applause.

During his floor speech, Schumer called Butler’s appointment to the Senate a “historic moment.” 

“I can’t help but think how proud Senator Feinstein would be seeing someone as brilliant, as accomplished, as history making as Laphonza Butler,” he said. “She is going to be one great senator.”

Schumer said he plans to speak at Feinstein’s memorial service in San Francisco on Thursday. Other speakers include San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Harris, U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Feinstein’s granddaughter, according to The New York Times.

Butler has not said much about whether she will try to keep her new office in the 2024 election — a decision that could change the dynamics of the Senate race. On Monday, she told the Los Angeles Times that she was surprised to be appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and had not considered running for public office before. But she wanted to honor Feinstein’s legacy before deciding on the race, she said. 

Butler said much the same thing to the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday, and said she plans to focus on abortion rights and gun control while in the Senate.

  • Butler, in the Chronicle interview: “It’s day one, and while it has been an incredibly exciting day one, I am just so focused on making sure that I’m able to honor the legacy and life of Sen. Dianne Feinstein.”

At the same time as Butler’s swearing-in, on the other side of the Capitol, the House was debating whether to oust McCarthy. It eventually voted 216-210 to do so (eight Republicans and nearly all Democrats in the majority) — the first time in history a speaker has been removed by a House vote.

The Bakersfield Republican took the speaker’s gavel from another Californian, Democrat Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, just in January after 15 rounds of voting and after Republicans flipped seats in California, helping the party take control of the House.

While a hard-right Republican faction led by Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida called for McCarthy’s ouster, his GOP defenders criticized the move. “We need to be the no-drama option for America,” said Rep. Mike Garcia of Santa Clarita.  

That isn’t happening. There will now be drama until a new speaker is chosen, and beyond. 


Tell us what you think: We’re doing a survey of WhatMatters readers to make it even better and more useful. It’ll only take a few minutes. Fill it out here.

Get CalMatters text chats: We can send you our latest investigations, and you can send us story tips, comments and feedback. Sign up here.


1 Cal State students vote to unionize

Students walk through the Fresno State campus in Fresno, on Feb. 9, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela for CalMatters
Students walk through the Fresno State campus in Fresno, on Feb. 9, 2022. Photo by Larry Valenzuela for CalMatters

With Kaiser Permanente employees readying themselves to start a three-day strike today, and union members representing Hollywood actors bargaining with studio executives this week (more on that later), it’s clear that labor disputes are spilling past the summer

One group that’s close to joining the fray: student assistants at California State University. As Helena San Roque of CalMatters’ College Journalism Network explains, students who not only attend classes at Cal State but work as student assistants took a key step toward forming a union Tuesday.

  • Diana Perez, a graduate student at California State University, Los Angeles and a student assistant of six years, during an online press event: “We will be the largest non-academic student worker union in history. And when we win, we will fundamentally shift the balance of power into the hands of students like me. We look forward to holding CSU accountable to their own mission statement and opening the doors for working class Californians.”

Student assistants say they often carry out the same tasks as full-time employees, but make minimum wage. They’re seeking to unionize to negotiate for better pay, paid sick time and health insurance benefits. 

But not all students agree that unionizing would be the right decision. Kristina Agresta, a student assistant at Cal State Long Beach and director of operations at a student media company on campus, didn’t sign her union card. She told CJN it’d be challenging to give higher wages to the student assistants in her division.

  • Agresta: “Frankly, the demands that the union has, I personally can’t afford to bend to if they’re asking for more hours and better pay. I mean, student media would go broke and we would essentially not be able to pay anyone.”

To file a request for a union election, a student assistant organizing committee submitted more than 8,500 signed authorization cards to the state Public Employment Relations Board.

But CSU students aren’t the only ones advocating for more labor rights from universities: In September, a proposal to amend the state constitution and require the University of California to conform to the same labor standards as other public agencies failed to advance out of committee.

As mentioned earlier, the union representing Hollywood actors and performers met with major studios for the first time in more than two months in an attempt to hammer out a new labor agreement, reports the Los Angeles Times. The writers’ union settled with the studios last week. But since July, actors have been on strike, leaving the entertainment industry, and other related industries mostly concentrated in Southern California, at a standstill.

And on Tuesday, members of the California Labor Federation were called to picket in solidarity with members of the United Auto Workers in Rancho Cucamonga. UAW, representing 145,000 autoworkers, has been on strike since mid-Semptember, seeking higher wages from three big three automakers: General Motors, Ford and the parent company of Chrysler. 

2 Newsom repeals COVID misinfo law

Gov. Gavin Newsom during a press conference at the Capitol Annex in Sacramento on Sept. 26, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

While Gov. Newsom has had a busier than usual week, let’s not forget that he still has hundreds of bills left to decide before his Oct. 14 deadline. On Saturday, amid the blowback the governor received from worker groups for blocking two key pieces of labor legislation, the governor quietly signed a law that will repeal another law he signed last year.

The new law outlines a long list of requirements for licensed physicians, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. But tucked into the “otherwise long, dense bill” is language that undoes a short-lived law that went into effect in January, which classifies spreading misinformation or disinformation about COVID-19 as “unprofessional conduct” for doctors — making them liable for disciplinary action

Supporters of that law, which included the California Medical Association, argued that COVID disinformation was dangerous and undermined public health efforts. But since its passage, the measure has been challenged by a series of lawsuits. Its critics — which include religious organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union — have argued that the law was unconstitutional, violating doctors’ right to free speech. 

The new law doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1, but a lawyer with the New Civil Liberties Alliance told the Chronicle it’s unlikely that California’s medical boards would discipline doctors under the old law before then.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Did Gov. Newsom put himself in another political hole by appointing Laphonza Butler, if she runs for a full term?

Before rushing into decriminalizing psychedelic drugs, California should start with safer therapies, writes David E. Smith, founder of the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinics and past president of the California and American Societies of Addiction Medicine.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

CA sees decline in COVID hospitalizations, but will it last? // San Francisco Chronicle

Former LAUSD employees demand jobs back after vaccine mandate ends // L.A. Daily News

Bill seeks to cap orphaned oil wells. Could it backfire? // Los Angeles Times

CA prescribed fire window could shrink with climate change // San Francisco Chronicle

CA prison misconduct probes suffer from delays, report finds // The Sacramento Bee

Caltrans official says she was demoted for objecting to highway expansion // Politico

California home to multiple secession movements // Sacramento Bee

Bay Area poll finds tepid support for public transit // The Mercury News

Claremont McKenna raises $1 billion in fundraising campaign // Los Angeles Times

SF supervisor Peskin says he’s being urged to run for mayor // The San Francisco Standard

SF could ban right-hand turns on red. Could LA soon follow? // Los Angeles Times

Thousands of health care workers filtering into San Diego to replace striking Kaiser employees // The San Diego Union-Tribune

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.

Sign In

We've recently sent you an authentication link. Please, check your inbox!

Sign in with a password below, or sign in using your email.

Get a code sent to your email to sign in, or sign in using a password.

Enter the code you received via email to sign in, or sign in using a password.

Subscribe to our newsletters: