The year in California politics, as told through Twitter: #2018
Californians suffered from political déjà vu in 2018.
Massive wildfires wreaked unprecedented damage and forced lawmakers to confront an unsettling new environmental normal—again. A Democratic candidate for governor trounced his Republican foe by double digits—again. And for the sixth time in California history, a governor named Brown finished the last year of his term—with some parting ambitions eerily reminiscent of those he harbored decades ago, as he vowed to extend California’s climate vigilance into space.
— Laurel Rosenhall (@LaurelRosenhall) September 14, 2018
If time is indeed a flat circle, then Twitter is the DeLorean racing around it at disorienting speeds, leaving 280-character skid marks for us to piece together into a semi-coherent, semi-dystopian historical record. Here’s a recap of some of the biggest California political stories of 2018, as told through the medium that once again dominated it.
The deadliest fire in state history leads to yet another Trump-California spat
One of the most memorable California videos from 2017….
Not the typical morning commute… pic.twitter.com/kJIOQeqsIK
— A. Mutzabaugh CMT (@WLV_investor) December 6, 2017
was disconcertingly similar to one of the most memorable videos of 2018.
Harrowing footage shows family fleeing from massive #CampFire as flames consumed the Northern California town of Paradise. They managed to escape to safety.
— ABC News (@ABC) November 9, 2018
The Camp Fire that ignited in Butte County in early November was the deadliest in California history, killing 86 people and destroying nearly 14,000 homes. Like the Tubbs Fire that ravaged the Northern California city of Santa Rosa last year, the near total devastation of the Sierra Nevada foothills’ town of Paradise once again threw into stark relief the “new normal” confronting California lawmakers. Virtually everything related to fires is on the rise—acres burned, lives lost, cost to fight the blazes.
Gov. Jerry Brown and most experts blame global warming for creating nearly year-round conditions conducive to wildfires. But in one of the most controversial tweets of the year, President Donald Trump fingered a different culprit.
There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 10, 2018
Lives have been lost. Entire towns have been burned to the ground. Cars abandoned on the side of the road. People are being forced to flee their homes. This is not a time for partisanship. This is a time for coordinating relief and response and lifting those in need up. https://t.co/sAZ3QULV8G
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) November 10, 2018
Trump’s insistence that poor forest management and bad water policy were to blame for the fire provoked outrage from California firefighters and elected officials. And it led to one of the most awkward handshakes in California political history when Trump joined Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom in Paradise later that month.
Pres. @realDonaldTrump says government officials in CA have done “an incredible job” responding to wildfires.
The President told me he just met Gov. Elect @GavinNewsom today but he’s “heard terrific things.”
The Pres. then asked Newsom to come over for a handshake/hug. pic.twitter.com/YqadhrDbTH
— Elex Michaelson (@Elex_Michaelson) November 18, 2018
A single Trump tweet helps seal the California gubernatorial primary—and probably the general election too
This is a list about politics and Twitter, so of course Trump is going to make more than one appearance.
Out of everything the president tweeted about California in 2018—he mentioned the state by name 40 times, not counting any passive aggressive subtweets-—one tweet from mid-May was probably the most politically impactful. With the June primary approaching, the race for governor was still frustratingly muddled for anyone not named Gavin Newsom. The Democratic lieutenant governor and former San Francisco mayor led handily in polls, but the crucial race for second was uncertain.
Under California’s top two primary system, another Democrat could challenge Newsom in the November general election if he or she came in second in the primary. Newsom desperately wanted to avoid a runoff with former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a more moderate Democrat with strong business ties who could have presented a formidable alternative in November. Newsom much preferred to run against a Republican like San Diego businessman John Cox, who would have to overcome a double-digit registration disadvantage in increasingly blue California to beat him.
Cox had pulled into second in most polling by mid-May, but had by no means locked up the runoff. Enter POTUS:
California finally deserves a great Governor, one who understands borders, crime and lowering taxes. John Cox is the man – he’ll be the best Governor you’ve ever had. I fully endorse John Cox for Governor and look forward to working with him to Make California Great Again!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2018
The president’s endorsement helped solidify Republican support behind Cox, buoying him past Villaraigosa and Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen to place second in the June primary. The tweet would also prove to be something of a kiss of death for Cox in the general election. On the campaign trail, Newsom repeatedly and relentlessly tied Cox to Trump, who remains deeply unpopular in California.
California to run on 100 percent clean electricity by 2045
2018 saw lots of high profile legislation wind its way through Sacramento. A bill to impose net neutrality on California internet providers earned the governor’s signature and the ire of the Trump administration. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, lawmakers passed a law designed to end the practice of keeping perpetrators’ names confidential in sexual misconduct settlements.
But arguably the bill that garnered the most star power was SB 100, authored by state Sen. Kevin de León, Democrat from Los Angeles.
Huge win for all who have been fighting to push #SB100 across the finish line in California! Congrats to @JerryBrownGov, @kdeleon, & @ClimateReality activists who made their voices heard. Great way to kick off #GCAS2018! https://t.co/fDuXuW81TK
— Al Gore (@algore) September 10, 2018
Congratulations to @JerryBrownGov, @kdeleon, @LorenaAD80, the Legislature, and all Californians on today’s #SB100 signing. California does not wait for anyone. We are building the future. https://t.co/lEu9MsbDfU
— Arnold (@Schwarzenegger) September 10, 2018
— Barbra Streisand (@BarbraStreisand) August 28, 2018
SB 100 requires the state’s utilities to acquire 100 percent of their power from clean energy sources like sun, wind and hydroelectric plants by 2045. While the bill failed to propel de León’s unsuccessful bid to unseat Sen. Dianne Feinstein at the federal level, it helped cement Brown’s legacy on the international stage as one of the world’s leading crusaders against climate change.
The blue wave crests, while red California recedes
It didn’t happen overnight—namely, election night. But days later, after all the votes were counted, the “blue wave” that Democrats had hoped for in the 2018 midterms had materialized into a full-fledged deluge. And nowhere was the GOP more underwater than in California, where it lost seven Congressional seats, including every competitive seat in Orange County.
— Jimmy Gomez (@JimmyGomezCA) November 15, 2018
— Jimmy Gomez (@JimmyGomezCA) November 18, 2018
— Jimmy Gomez (@JimmyGomezCA) November 29, 2018
Democratic gains at the federal level were exceeded by unprecedented majorities at the state level, majorities so big that Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon had to invent a new term for them.
In the California Legislature, Democrats now hold 75% of the seats in the Assembly and nearly the same portion in the Senate. Assembly Speaker @Rendon63rd suggested calling this supermajority a "gigamajority." https://t.co/A1uAmIbtn2 #caleg
— CalMatters (@CalMatters) December 3, 2018
The electoral drubbing returned California Republicans to the kind of existential soul-searching that has dogged the state GOP for years, well before the Trump presidency cleaved deeper divisions in an already fractured party.
From one former Assembly GOP leader:
I was a Reagan Republican…
a Bush Republican…
a Dole/Kemp Republican…
a W Bush Republican…
a McCain Republican…
And a Romney Republican…
The Party has changed, I have not.
— Chad Mayes (@ChadMayes) November 30, 2018
From another former Assembly Republican leader:
— Kristin Olsen (@KristinOlsenCA) November 13, 2018
And one of the highest ranking Republicans in California told CALmatters that she had decided to quit the party:
— Sasha Samberg-Champion (@ssamcham) December 14, 2018
Hello to Gavin, and farewell to Jerry—two very different follows
In one of the most unsurprising election results in California history, Gavin Newsom defeated John Cox to become the fortieth governor of California.
For evidence that Newsom is very different from his predecessor Jerry Brown, in style more than substance, just look how they treat Halloween:
“The things we do for votes,” says Gavin Newsom, aka Batman, as he arrives at a Sacramento child care center on Halloween with Mayor Darrell Steinberg. All part of his campaign bus tour across California as he wraps up his campaign for governor. pic.twitter.com/e3tgoKNasz
— Phil Willon (@philwillon) October 31, 2018
— Arsenio Mataka (@arseniomataka) November 1, 2018
While Brown has characterized social media as problematic “noise”, Newsom is one of the most prolific tweeters in California politics, establishing his progressive bona fides over the last two years with a steady torrent of anti-Trump tweets and subtweets.
Which means 2019 will be similar in at least one way to 2018: There’s a non-negligible chance I’ll have to Google “what does wig mean on Twitter?” as part of my actual job.