Will Laphonza Butler run in California’s 2024 election?

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La October 3, 2023
Presented by New California Coalition and California Water Service

Will Laphonza Butler run in California’s 2024 election?

Gov. Gavin Newsom did not make his pick to replace the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein promise not to run for a full term in 2024.

So as Laphonza Butler prepares to get sworn into office today, that’s the big question hanging over her — and the U.S. Senate race next year.

As CalMatters’ new politics reporter Yue Stella Yu explains, the interim appointment complicates an already complex campaign. For one thing, there will be a special election to decide who serves the final two months of Feinstein’s term, and it will be held at the same time as the regularly scheduled election. So voters will have two U.S. Senate decisions in March, and again in November.   

And if Butler does run, it will throw another wild card into the campaign, in which three big-name Democrats —  U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee — are already vying to push aside Republican candidates and make the top two for next November’s general election.

At the latest, Butler has until Dec. 8 to decide, but she’ll likely face immense pressure to announce her plans before then. Butler spokesperson Matt Wing told CalMatters Monday that she “is focused on respecting and honoring Sen. Feinstein’s legacy…. Politics can wait.”

As for the other three Democratic candidates, they do stand to gain some benefits should they run in the special election. If they win, they get seated sooner and accrue seniority over other newly elected senators. Running in both elections would also allow them to double campaign contribution limits. 

Meanwhile, Newsom effusively praised Butler in his first public remarks about his appointment.

  • Newsom, to reporters on Monday: “I had an extraordinary number of incredibly qualified people, and Laphonza was one of them…. She understands organizing is bottom-up, not top-down. She understands moral authority, as I said, not just formal authority. I mean, she’s next-level qualified…. She’s more qualified than the vast majority of folks in elected office.”

The governor also addressed criticism from Republicans who pointed out that she doesn’t currently live in California. (In a statement Sunday, Assembly GOP leader James Gallagher of Chico said “Californians deserve real representation, not a political favor for a well-connected campaign operative who doesn’t even live here”). 

The governor dismissed those concerns, noting that Butler is re-registering to vote in California: “She literally took that job at EMILYs List, still has a house out here and re-registered. And we were transparent about that.”

Butler will be sworn in today by Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black U.S. senator to represent California and the most recently-elected Black woman to the Senate. For more about how Butler could reshape the U.S. Senate race, read Stella’s story.


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1 Clock is ticking on bills

Gov. Gavin Newsom during a press conference where he signed new gun legislation into law at the Capitol Annex Swing Space in Sacramento on Sept. 26, 2023.
Gov. Gavin Newsom during a press conference at the Capitol Annex in Sacramento on Sept. 26, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

Speaking of the governor, he still has to decide the fate of more than 700 bills, and he’s already halfway through his month-long signing period.

Still up in the air: a bill to decriminalize psychedelic drugs, another to ban caste discrimination, another to add paid sick days and still others to increase health care workers’ wages and let legislative staffers form a union. Also yet to be decided are several key bills on affordable housing and renter’s rights and measures on clean energy.    

One high-profile measure on his desk: Assembly Bill 418, or what was known earlier in the year as the “Skittles ban.” As CalMatters’ health care reporting intern Shreya Agrawal explains, the initial bill would have banned the sale, manufacturing and distribution of five food additives: red dye 3, propylparaben, brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate and titanium dioxide. These chemicals, though approved by the Food and Drug Administration, are thought to be harmful to the health of people who eat them, and are already banned in the European Union.

Food manufacturers, however, successfully lobbied to have titanium dioxide dropped from the measure, focusing on the fact that the FDA has said the additive is generally safe to consume in small quantities. That’s the chemical in Skittles candy. 

The food and beverage associations that oppose the bill argue that banning additives that are FDA-approved undermines the agency and creates inconsistent requirements. But consumer advocates say manufacturers can comply with the measure by reformulating their products. (PepsiCo, for example, changed its use of brominated vegetable oil in Mountain Dew and certain Gatorade flavors after it became controversial.)

If Newsom signs the bill, it would take effect Jan. 1, 2027 and violators could be fined up to $10,000 for repeated offenses. Read more about the bill in Shreya’s story.

CalMatters is tracking Newsom’s calls on other key bills before his Oct. 14 deadline. Bookmark this page for updates.

2 Big day for CARE Courts

Annette Mugrditchian, deputy director, speaks to community members about CARE Court, a new program that will be implemented in October of 2023, at the Behavioral Health Training Center in Orange County on Aug. 17, 2023. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters
Annette Mugrditchian, deputy director, speaks to community members about CARE Court at the Behavioral Health Training Center in Orange County on Aug. 17, 2023. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters

For seven California counties, Monday marked the start of Gov. Newsom’s controversial program known as CARE Courts — a new system for people with untreated schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses. San Francisco, San Diego, Orange, Riverside, Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Glenn counties are the first to test the program, which aims to help California’s dual homelessness and mental health crises.

  • Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, in a statement: “Today’s rollout is an important step forward in California’s efforts to move people suffering from severe mental health and addiction disorders into treatment. For decades, those most in need of behavioral health interventions were unable to access them because of totally outdated standards. Now the tide has shifted…”

The program is targeted to treat residents with such a narrow set of diagnoses and circumstances that local officials are attempting to manage expectations and make it clear that the scope of CARE Courts is limited from the outset. The state estimates between 7,000 and 12,000 people will qualify for the program. Wiener’s office estimates that more than 1,000 San Francisco residents will be eligible.

Despite concerns from civil rights groups that CARE Courts may funnel more people into restrictive conservatorships, public support appears positive. A poll by the Bay Area News Group and Joint Venture Silicon Valley found that 86% of respondents were in favor of CARE Courts, reports The Mercury News.

The rollout comes during a time when another bill, which would make involuntary treatment easier, is currently awaiting Newsom’s decision. SB 43 expands the legal definition of “gravely disabled” to include whether a person faces a substantial risk of serious harm by failing to provide for their own medical care or personal safety. In addition to mental illness, the measure would take into consideration substance use disorder and chronic alcoholism. And in March, Californians will vote on a ballot measure and bond issue to create housing for homeless people with mental illnesses.

Los Angeles County will be the next to launch its program on Dec. 1, and the remaining 50 counties have until December 2024.

3 Kaiser strike would hit CA hard

Kaiser Permanente health care workers strike outside a Kaiser facility in Sacramento on July 25, 2023. Workers are on the picket lines to protest patient care crisis and unsafe staffing at Kaiser hospitals. Photo by Rahul Lal for CalMatters
Kaiser Permanente health care workers strike outside a Kaiser facility in Sacramento on July 25, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal for CalMatters

With its outsized footprint in California, a looming strike at the health care giant Kaiser Permanente has the potential to affect 9.4 million members, dozens of hospitals and more than 500 medical offices in the state, writes CalMatters’ health reporter Kristen Hwang.

But let’s back up: On Saturday, the contract between Kaiser and a coalition of eight unions expired. The unions represent 75,000 workers in multiple states (though more than 90% of the coalition’s workers are in California) and include a variety of professions, such as pharmacists, phlebotomists, licensed vocational nurses and support staff. 

Besides more support for staffing shortages, union members want a 24.5% raise over four years and a $25 hourly minimum wage for all workers across the U.S. Kaiser has offered between 12.5% to 16% raises over four years and a $21 minimum wage for most of its workers (California workers were offered $23).

  • Rolando Medina, a behavioral health worker at Kaiser Simi Valley who has worked at Kaiser for 13 years: “It’s become very difficult to make a living without having to look for a second job. Wages haven’t kept up with what inflation is.”

Kaiser argues that it has one of the lowest attrition rates in the industry and that it offers the highest salaries compared to its competitors. Thousands of temporary workers have been hired in preparation for the potential strike. 

Negotiations are expected to continue until midday today, but if an agreement isn’t reached by then, workers are ready to walk off starting Wednesday. The strike is expected to last until Saturday. For more on what’s at stake, read Kristen’s story.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The Legislature settled a fight over the fast food industry, but the clash over car dealers is still raging.

California should increase juror pay to ensure that juries are representative of their communities, writes Newton Lam, a retired former deputy public defender and San Francisco Superior Court judge. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s most lasting accomplishment may be the generations of staffers she molded, writes Alexis Podesta, principal of Podesta Company and Feinstein’s scheduler for five years.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

California Republicans have House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s back, for now // Politico

PG&E’s $6B plan to bury lines to prevent wildfires in peril with regulators // Wall Street Journal 

SF system for housing homeless is broken, service providers say // San Francisco Chronicle

12 LA County cities sue to postpone new zero-bail policy // Los Angeles Times

LA housing department proposes increasing residential hotel enforcement // Capitol & Main

This CA city started from scratch 20 years ago. Here’s how it turned out // San Francisco Chronicle

The Hollywood writers strike is over, but the actors strike could drag on. Here’s why // NPR

After 30 years in CA prison, Patrick Acuña begins a new life at UC Irvine // EdSource

5 things to know about San Jose’s interim homeless housing strategy // The Mercury News

Deadline passes with no deal for Fresno Unified teachers. Strike vote looms // Fresnoland

See you tomorrow


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