Thursday, September 16, 2021

Full Speed Ahead on Overhauling California Recalls

Posted By on Thu, Sep 16, 2021 at 9:33 AM

A Gavin Newsom supporter holds up a sign against the recall election at a campaign event at the IBEW-NECA training center in San Leandro on Sept. 8, 2021. - PHOTO BY ANNE WERNIKOFF, CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
  • A Gavin Newsom supporter holds up a sign against the recall election at a campaign event at the IBEW-NECA training center in San Leandro on Sept. 8, 2021.
With the wreckage of the failed recall attempt against Gov. Gavin Newsom still smoldering, California Democrats have reached a new consensus: They really don’t want to do that again.

On the morning after voting ended and recall candidates conceded, the chairpersons of the election committees in the state Assembly and Senate said they’re kicking off a public debate to overhaul California’s recall process.

“Californians are very frustrated that we just spent $276 million on this recall election that, from the looks of it, certified what voters said three years ago and what voters could have said next year,” Assemblymember Marc Berman of Los Altos said at the virtual press conference Wednesday.

In unofficial and partial statewide returns, 5.8 million Californians voted to keep Gov. Newsom in office, compared to 3.3 million who voted to remove him. Newsom, himself, says the recall has been “weaponized.”

“The voters want to see a more democratic process put in place that keeps elected officials accountable, but prevents political gamesmanship,” added Sen. Steve Glazer of Orinda.

Berman and Glazer said they plan to hold joint hearings as soon as next month. They also want the discussion to be bipartisan.

The Little Hoover Commission, a nonpartisan, independent state oversight agency, also announced this week that it would be looking into possible changes to the state recall.

But it’s not clear if any Republicans, who put so many electoral chips on the recall, will get on board.

“Democrats continuously try to manipulate the rules to support their political interests, so it’s not surprising to see them trying to do it again at the expense of voters they were elected to serve,” California GOP Chairperson Jessica Millan Patterson said in a statement. “They wouldn’t have to worry about a recall if they were doing their jobs and addressing wildfire prevention, homelessness, crime, taxes and fixing the broken unemployment department. You want to prevent a recall, do your job.”

Republican Kelly Seyarto from Murrieta, vice chairperson of the Assembly election committee, was non-committal. “I am looking forward to participating in these hearings to ensure that we have a recall process that continues to hold elected officials accountable and protects the rights of voters to participate in our democracy,” he said in an emailed statement.

GOP political consultant Dave Gilliard is skeptical that any members of his party will ultimately back a change to the recall rules. “There is zero chance any Republican will go along,” said Gilliard, who worked on the successful 2003 campaign to recall Democrat Gray Davis, as well as this one.


Follow the news on the 2021 California recall


Sen. Josh Newman, a Democrat from Brea who in 2018 became the most recent state official to be removed from office by recall, also doubts whether any recall reform will be bipartisan. “I would be tickled pink if any member of the Republican caucus on either side of the Legislature stepped up to support meaningful changes to the recall at this point,” said Newman, who was elected again in 2020.

On Wednesday, Newman said he will introduce two constitutional amendments to change the process: One to make it more difficult for recalls to qualify for the ballot, and a second that would replace a recalled governor with the lieutenant governor.

The recall’s unusual rules

Once a rarely used — and to many voters, thoroughly obscure — provision of the state constitution, California’s recall is now the subject of unprecedented scrutiny. That’s because though the state’s last Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was elected via recall in 2003, this year’s attempt put some of the system’s quirks into sharp relief.

“California laws should not allow an elected official to be recalled and then replaced by someone else who receives far fewer votes.”

Assemblymember Marc Berman of Los Altos

Unlike in 2003, when Davis was polling in the mid-20s, Newsom faced a recall despite remaining broadly popular with California voters. That’s convinced many Democratic legislators that the law makes it too easy to put a recall on the ballot.

And unlike in 2003, when Schwarzenegger won with 48 percent of the vote and had more support than the 45 percent who wanted to keep Davis, there was no such frontrunner this year. Given the quirky two-questioned structure of the recall, 2021’s fragmented field could have produced a candidate like Larry Elder who became the next governor after winning fewer votes than were cast in defense of Newsom.

“California laws should not allow an elected official to be recalled and then replaced by someone else who receives far fewer votes, and I really look forward to hearing from a bipartisan group of experts about how California’s recall process should be reformed,” said Berman.

On the Democratic side, momentum for change has been building for months. Earlier this summer, California Secretary of State Shirley Weber said the state’s recall rules deserve a “second look.” More recently, former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown called the process “awkward and cumbersome and certainly a distraction” while Davis, the state’s only recalled governor, has his own ideas for reform.

“It’s a process that was put in place about a century ago and it certainly bears looking at,” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said in a television interview Tuesday night.

There are two reasons that Democrats will likely have an easier time changing the rules after this recall than they did in 2003, said UC San Diego political scientist Thad Kousser.

“One, the Democrats won by the rules of the game and now they can change those rules without looking like sore losers,” he said. “And two, they have the votes.”

As for Californians themselves, a recent UC Berkeley survey of registered voters found that an overwhelming majority, 75 percent, look upon the electorate’s recall powers favorably. But a consistent majority also favor making tweaks to the process.

The call for legislative hearings is only the first step in a long process. Any serious alterations would require constitutional amendments. That means getting two-thirds of both legislative chambers on board to put the question to voters. That won’t happen until 2022 at the earliest.

While Democrats have enough votes in both the Assembly and Senate to put constitutional amendments on the ballot, it would likely take some independent voters, as well as Democrats, to win approval statewide — thus at least the window dressing of a bipartisan recall reform effort.

Glazer and Berman said they were “open minded” about the range of changes up for debate. Here’s a short list of possibilities, ranked from more minor tweaks to outright nixes:

Increase the requirements for recalls

A recall election against a governor qualifies for the ballot if its supporters can gather signatures equivalent to 12 percent of the turnout in the prior gubernatorial election. This time around, that number was just shy of 1.4 million; recall proponents collected more than 1.7 million.

“How can anybody with a straight face argue that it’s too easy or it’s being abused when it’s happened twice in 108 years?”

GOP political consultant Dave Gilliard

Of the 19 states that allow voters to put a recall on the ballot, only Montana makes it easier, with a 10 percent threshold. Other states put the requirement between 15 percent and 40 percent.

The current cutoff may have made sense in 1913 when the recall was introduced as a popular check against the political influence of railroad interests, Newman said. But in the age of social media, he said he’d like to see the requirement set at “something more rigorous” to “adjust for political inflation.”

Gilliard, however, dismissed the suggestion that it’s too easy to put a recall on the ballot.

“In 108 years, two gubernatorial recall elections have qualified for the ballot,” he said. “How can anybody with a straight face argue that it’s too easy or it’s being abused when it’s happened twice in 108 years?”

UC Berkeley Law school Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, who has argued that the state’s recall may be unconstitutional, countered that Californians live in a more polarized political environment in which Republican activists are more likely to use the recall to win in low-turnout off-year elections when they can’t succeed in regularly contests.

“We should realize that we may be in an era where there’s going to be more and more efforts to use recalls if changes aren’t made,” he said. “I hope that this is not going to be a situation where people breathe a sigh of relief and just forget about it until the next time this happens.”

Add a ‘cause’ requirement

In the governor’s office, as in any job, California is an at-will employment state. Any governor can be recalled at any time for any reason. No justification required.

While no-cause recalls are the norm, that isn’t true in every state. Rhode Island, for example, requires that the governor have broken a law or gotten into trouble with the state’s ethics commission before booting them from office.

Without weighing in on the idea directly, Berman said the debate over whether “criminal misconduct or malfeasance should be a kind of threshold issue is something that we’re going to discuss.”

Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis waves to the crowd as she walks toward the podium at an anti-recall campaign event for Gov. Gavin Newsom at the IBEW-NECA training center in San Leandro on Sept. 8, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis waves to the crowd as she walks toward the podium at an anti-recall campaign event for Gov. Gavin Newsom at the IBEW-NECA training center in San Leandro on Sept. 8, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Make the lieutenant governor the replacement

Unlike the ballot pairing of candidates for president and vice president, the lieutenant governor is elected separately and serves independently.

Newman, for one, favors elevating the lieutenant governor if a governor is removed and going without the second question on replacement candidates.

“We have a number two constitutional officer in California,” he said. “If you think the governor’s malfeasant, by all means, let’s have a plebiscite and remove him or her from the office. But let’s not use that as the pretext for getting a hidden ball trick do-over.“

Unlike some more expansive reform proposals, this one would only apply to recall efforts against the governor.

Go beyond ‘yes’ or ‘no’

As many confused California voters only recently learned, Newsom was not listed among the candidates vying for office on the recall ballot. That wasn’t an oversight; election law doesn’t allow an incumbent to run as his or her own replacement.

Sen. Ben Allen wants to change that. He introduced a constitutional amendment last year in response to Newman’s recall that would nix the first question altogether. If a recall qualifies, the state would go straight to a snap election. The idea: Avoid the counter-intuitive possibility that a recall winner could earn fewer votes than those cast to keep the incumbent in office.

A potential downside: There would be no requirement that the winner receive a majority. In a large field of candidates, like the 46 on this year’s recall ballot, the next governor could win with a sliver of the vote.

So why not hold a run-off election between the top two vote-getters, as in regular elections?

“Two rounds of recall elections on top of our regular election cycle?” asked Allen. “It would certainly be fairer than the current model, but I’m not sure that it would be particularly satisfying. In this case we would have had Elder versus (Democrat Kevin) Paffrath — would that really have solved everyone’s problems?”

Just get rid of the recall

Maybe one gubernatorial election every four years is enough?

This proposal isn’t likely to go anywhere, no matter what some political commentators might say. The recall remains popular as a general concept, even if there’s criticism of the specifics.

“Neither of us,” Glazer said with Berman, “are suggesting that the recall process be eliminated.”

CalMatters reporter Laurel Rosenhall contributed to this story.

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The California Recall: The 2022 Campaign Starts Now

Posted By on Wed, Sep 15, 2021 at 5:12 AM

Gov. Gavin Newsom gives a speech following his projected victory in the recall election at the California Democratic Party headquarters in Sacramento on Sept. 14, 2021. - ANNE WERNIKOFF, CALMATTERS
  • Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters
  • Gov. Gavin Newsom gives a speech following his projected victory in the recall election at the California Democratic Party headquarters in Sacramento on Sept. 14, 2021.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is poised to keep his job after months spent lambasting the recall as a Republican power grab; feverishly fundraising, wooing likely supporters and wrangling fractious progressive activists; sweating the odd, unexpectedly close poll; fusing policymaking and politicking; and calling upon big-name D.C. Democrats to come stump out west

And after all that, it wasn’t especially close. After initial returns showed the recall failing by a nearly 70 percent to 30 percent margin, the Associated Press and TV networks called the race for Newsom.

Now begins a new contest: To spin the results most favorably for the 2022 election — which starts right now. 

For Gov. Gavin Newsom and his political team, the last six months of campaigning offer an electoral blueprint to seek four more years. 

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , ,

Friday, September 10, 2021

California Recall Candidates Stretch the Truth on COVID, Climate Change and More

Posted By on Fri, Sep 10, 2021 at 6:26 AM

  • Image via iStock
Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts.

That holds true for politicians, including the candidates in California’s Sept. 14 recall election and Gov. Gavin Newsom. Campaigning during a resurgent COVID-19 pandemic and deadly, unprecedented wildfires, their approaches to the state’s problems can vary.

But the facts behind some of those issues don’t change. We look at some of the claims being made on the campaign trail and how they match up with reality:

COVID-19 masks

What the candidates said:

Larry Elder: In press conferences and interviews, he has said that young people are less likely to contract COVID-19, and that even if they do, their symptoms are likely to be mild: “The idea that we’re requiring children to wear masks, to me, is against science.”

Kevin Kiley: In an Aug. 25 debate, said that the harms of masks to a child’s development “far outweigh any benefits, and those benefits aren’t even very clearly established.”

The facts:

Earlier in the pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there was a lower incidence of COVID among children, but that was likely due to less exposure with schools closed and to less testing. But more recent studies once schools reopened show that infection rates can be comparable, and in some settings higher, than in adults. According to the CDC, about 1 in 3 children hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S. were admitted to the intensive care unit — similar to the rate among adults.

Studies cited by the CDC show that masks and physical distancing have helped limit the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

COVID-19 vaccines

What the candidates said:

John Cox: In the Aug. 25 debate and in an interview with CalMatters, he said that COVID is 99.9 percent survivable and that vaccines work, so “if I’m vaccinated — which I am — do I really care if someone is unvaccinated?”

Cox also told CalMatters that natural immunity from having COVID-19 might be better than being vaccinated: “There’s a whole number of studies … that say that natural immunity is possibly superior to the vaccines.”

The facts:

The death rate from COVID-19 depends on a number of factors, including underlying health conditions and exposure levels based on where one lives or works. The World Health Organization cautions that estimating survival rates can be complex, given differences in how governments report coronavirus cases, plus asymptomatic cases that are never reported.

What we do know: There have been 4.5 million reported deaths worldwide out of nearly 220 million known cases, or about 2 percent of cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

And according to a CDC study in Kentucky, unvaccinated people were more than twice as likely to contract COVID-19 a second time, compared to those who had gotten COVID-19 one time and were fully vaccinated.

Medical assistant Letrice Smith fills syringes during a community COVID-19 vaccination clinic run by Ravenswood Family Health Network at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park on April 10, 2021.
Medical assistant Letrice Smith fills syringes during a community COVID-19 vaccination clinic run by Ravenswood Family Health Network at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park on April 10, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

Kiley: In the Aug. 25 debate, said California was the only state with a vaccine mandate.

Kiley also said that Gov. Gavin Newsom cast doubt on the COVID vaccines last October to score political points by saying he would not “take the FDA’s word for whether the vaccine is safe.” Kiley cited the U.S. Senate Health Committee chairperson as criticizing Newsom for “discouraging Americans from taking the vaccine” and “costing lives.”

The facts:

At least a dozen other states had announced vaccine mandates at the time of the debate, though not all were in effect.

Newsom’s comments last October came before FDA emergency use approval; the governor said California would do its own review. Sen. Lamar Alexander did call on Newsom to stop second-guessing the FDA, but he said that “could delay approval, discourage Americans from taking the vaccine and cost lives.”

Gavin Newsom: An ad from the anti-recall committee says that voting yes means electing an “anti-vaccine Trump Republican.”

The facts:

The highest polling replacement candidates — Republicans Cox, Elder, Kiley, Kevin Faulconer and Caitlyn Jenner, plus Democrat Kevin Paffrath — all say they oppose state-imposed vaccine mandates.

But they have also said they are all vaccinated, and encourage Californians to get the shot.

Climate change

What the candidate said:

Cox: In an interview with CalMatters, Cox said: “China and India have produced more pollution than the rest of the world combined.”

He proposed reducing their use of fossil fuels by shipping those nations liquefied natural gas produced in California. He also said: “The burning of natural gas does not significantly produce greenhouse gas.”

The facts:

According to the Global Carbon Project, China’s 2019 emissions were 11.2 billion tons a year, followed by the U.S. at 5.8 billion tons, the European Union at 3.2 billion tons and India at 2.9 billion tons. That means China and India together would total 14.1 billion tons per year, compared to 49.1 billion for the rest of the world.

On the impact of natural gas, the U.S. Energy Information Association says that while it is a relatively clean-burning fossil fuel, methane leaks from natural gas wells, storage tanks, pipelines and processing plants are a strong greenhouse gas.

Crime and justice

What the candidates said:

Faulconer: In an Aug. 4 debate, said that Newsom has “enabled the ‘defund the police’ movement.”

The facts:

Newsom has said that he wants to see police reform, but hasn’t said he supports defunding the police. In June 2020, he said he “supports legislation to track excessive use of force by police, and to require more training on implicit bias.”

In a July 2021 interview, he reiterated his position: “Don’t ever confuse me with the defund police movement.”

Elder: In an interview with The Sacramento Bee editorial board and in a Sept. 2 press conference, said that he doesn’t believe the police disproportionately use deadly force against Black people: “This business about the police engaging in systemic racism is false, it’s a lie. There have been many studies showing, if anything, that the police are more hesitant, more reluctant, to pull the trigger on a Black suspect than a white suspect.”

The facts:

A 2019 study found that Black men were 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men, according to data from 2013 to 2018. For black women, the rate was 1.4 times more likely. And a study of data between 2015 and early 2020 showed that police shootings of unarmed Black people in the U.S. were three times higher than that of white people

Elder: In the CalMatters interview: “During this coronavirus pandemic, 20,000 convicted felons have been released under early release, presumably for compassionate reasons. I think it’s one of the reasons why crime has gone up.”

Cox: At a May 4 press conference, said Newsom “let 76,000 inmates out of jail with almost no warning.”

The facts:

While the state is giving 76,000 inmates — including 20,000 inmates who are serving life sentences and violent and repeat felons — the opportunity to reduce their sentences, they aren’t all being released.

“These changes do not result in the automatic release of any incarcerated individual,” Dana Simas, a state corrections spokesperson, told PolitiFact. “This is not an early release program.”

Instead, it’s an expansion of an existing program that allows inmates to reduce their time served by one-third instead of one-fifth, which has been the law since 2017, for good behavior and for participating in rehabilitation programs.

Other claims

What the candidate said:

Kiley: In an interview with CalMatters, he said a lot of Californians live in “energy poverty,” which he defined as when 10 percent or more of one’s income is spent on energy.

The facts:

Energy poverty” is more broadly defined as “insufficient access to affordable energy.” What Kiley is referring to — the percentage of income a household spends on energy costs — is known as the energy burden. According to 2019 data from the Department of Energy, that number in California is closer to 4 percent to 6 percent.

What the candidate said:

Paffrath: In an interview with CalMatters said, “It’s unfortunate that we have a governor that is more interested in himself or consolidating power in his office. Look at SB 7 as a perfect example, it was supposed to accelerate housing efficiency and it just consolidates $15 million developer projects into his office.”

The facts:

SB 7, signed into law in May, was proposed by state Senate leader Toni Atkins so it wasn’t quite a consolidation of power by Newsom. While the legislation does allow the governor to expedite certain projects, it’s not a new concept. It builds on a 2011 law that relaxed strict California Environmental Quality Act regulations for eligible housing, clean energy and manufacturing projects by lowering the threshold to include projects of more than $15 million.

What the candidate said:

Elder: In an interview with CalMatters said: “The reason we’re having a net migration out of California for the first time in our state’s history — and we’re 170 years old — is that middle-class people, people making between $50 and $100K, are leaving.

The facts:

This isn’t the first time California has seen negative net migration, or out-migration. There has been out-migration between 1992 and 1996, and between 2004 and 2010, according to the Public Polling Institute of California. In 2020, the state recorded its first population decline in at least 120 years, according to Census data.

What the candidate said:

Elder: In a campaign ad, said Newsom “closed tiny stores, but kept big chains open.”

The facts:

Newsom ordered strict lockdown measures early in the pandemic in March 2020, but, by July of last year, allowed some to reopen with safety measures in place. The businesses were reopened based on industry and COVID-19 transmission rates, not size. But as a result, many smaller businesses were shut down longer.

What the candidate said:

Elder told the Sacramento Bee that he agreed President Joe Biden was elected “fairly and squarely.” One week later, he tweeted that he believed there were “shenanigans in the 2020 presidential election.”

The facts:

The 2020 elections were found to be “the most secure in American history,” according to a statement from a coalition of government and election industry officials.

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, August 27, 2021

Register to Vote by Monday to Get a Recall Ballot in the Mail

Posted By on Fri, Aug 27, 2021 at 1:03 PM

The last day to register to vote in order to receive a mailed ballot for next month’s recall election is Monday, according to the Humboldt County Elections Office.

The Sept. 14 vote will determine whether Gov. Gavin Newsom, who took office in 2019, keeps his job. Voters are being asked two questions on the ballot. First, should Newsom remain as governor and two, if removed, who should replace him. (Read more about the recall process here.)

California residents who are already registered to vote should have received a ballot in the mail. Those not yet registered but who do so by Monday will be mailed a ballot.

Residents can register online at RegistertoVote.ca.gov or via a registration form available at post offices and the Office of Elections, with the later needing to be postmarked no later than Aug. 31 in order to be mailed a ballot.

“After the 31st, you will still be able to register at the Humboldt County Office of Elections and receive your ballot there,” a news release from the office states. “Starting Sept. 11, you will also be able to go to your Voter Assistance Center and register and vote a Conditional Ballot.”

Read the full elections office release below:

Monday, August 30, 2020, is the last day to register to vote in the September 14 Election and receive your ballot in the mail.

Register to vote online at RegistertoVote.ca.gov. Register to vote using the registration form that you can find at post offices or at the Office of Elections. If you plan to mail it, make sure that it is postmarked no later than August 31 so that you can be mailed a ballot.

After the 31st, you will still be able to register at the Humboldt County Office of Elections and receive your ballot there.

Starting September 11, you will also be able to go to your Voter Assistance Center and register and vote a Conditional Ballot.

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , ,

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Newsom Recall Election: How to Cast Your Vote (with Video)

Posted By on Thu, Aug 19, 2021 at 12:47 PM

To keep Gov. Gavin Newsom or not to keep Gov. Newsom? That is the question.

Upset by the progressive governor’s policies, his handling of the pandemic and his infamous maskless dinner at the French Laundry, about 12 percent of the number of Californians who voted in the last election for governor signed petitions to force a recall election.

On Sept. 14, registered voters will decide if the governor holds onto his job or not.

All active registered voters in California get their ballots in the mail about a month before the election.

The Newsom recall vote is a two-fer, asking voters:

  1. Should Newsom be removed?
  2. Who should replace him?

If you want Newsom to stay in office, vote no.

If you want to remove Newsom, vote yes.

Either way, you can vote for a candidate on the second question, or skip it.

If more than half of voters opt to replace Newsom, whoever has the most votes among the replacement candidates will be sworn in as the new governor in late October — even if that person doesn’t get a majority, and even if that person gets fewer votes than those cast for Newsom on Question No. 1.

You can write in a name, but it will be counted only if it’s someone who filed by Aug. 31 to appear on the certified write-in list.

So who’s running?

It’s a long list of 46 people, including some Trump-supporting Republicans and a few Democrats who have never held elected office. There are also celebrities, professors, a rapper and a pastor. Here are the top candidates:

  • Larry Elder, a Republican talk-show host from South Central Los Angeles
  • John Cox, a Republican businessman who lost to Newsom in 2018
  • Kevin Faulconer, the Republican former mayor of San Diego
  • Kevin Kiley, Republican assemblymember from Rocklin
  • Caitlyn Jenner, Republican, Olympian turned reality-television star
  • Kevin Paffrath, a Democrat YouTube star and real estate broker and investor from Ventura

If Gov. Newsom were to be replaced, you could expect to vote again, soon. The regular election for governor is in 2022. Although theoretically, Democrats could begin the process to recall Newsom’s replacement long before that.

As Shakespeare perhaps prophesied: Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more?

This article was originally published by CalMatters.
  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , ,

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Who’s Running in Newsom Recall? Politicians, Activists, Californians of All Stripes

Posted By on Sun, Jul 18, 2021 at 10:56 AM

  • Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom

California’s second gubernatorial recall election in history is shaping up to be pretty different from the first.

Just 41 candidates filed all the paperwork necessary by the 5 p.m. Friday deadline to run to replace Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in the Sept. 14 recall — a field that includes GOP politicians, a reality TV star, a YouTube personality, a retired detective, several business owners, activists and even a new-age shaman. 

What it doesn’t include: Anyone with the star power that actor and body builder Arnold Schwarzenegger enjoyed when he disrupted the political scene in 2003 and ousted then-Gov. Gray Davis. It also doesn’t include any prominent Democrats who might be seen as a viable alternative to Newsom by California’s overwhelmingly blue electorate.

That’s good news for Newsom as he fights to keep his job, said the man who managed Davis’ unsuccessful campaign against the 2003 recall. 

“The biggest problem was Arnold getting in and galvanizing the recall vote. And the second biggest problem was (Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz) Bustamante getting in,” said Democratic consultant Garry South.

“In this current field, there is nobody who can have that kind of impact.”

Continue reading »

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , ,

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

California Mask Mandate Likely to End Soon

Posted By on Wed, May 12, 2021 at 1:46 PM

  • Shutterstock
If you’re looking for a sign that California is approaching the end of the pandemic, here it is: The state may soon ease workplace rules that require employees to wear face masks and physically distance from each other.

Next week, California’s workplace safety agency is set to consider proposed changes to its emergency coronavirus standards adopted in November, the Sacramento Bee reports. The suggested revisions would on Aug. 1 lift a mandate requiring most workers to maintain six feet of distance at all times. They would also permit fully vaccinated workers without COVID symptoms to forgo masks outdoors as well as indoors, as long as everyone else in the room is also fully vaccinated and doesn’t have symptoms.

But it also appears the changes could come even sooner — and be more widespread. Gov. Gavin Newsom told Fox LA’s Elex Michaelson on Tuesday that he envisions eliminating California’s mask mandate by June 15, the state’s target date for a full reopening.

  • Newsom: “Only in those massively large (indoor) settings where people from around the world … are convening and where people are mixing in real dense spaces” would masks be required. “Otherwise … no mandates in businesses large and small.”

Other signs that California could soon return to pre-pandemic life: The Golden State’s coronavirus positivity rate is at a record low of 1 percent, three more counties moved into less restrictive reopening tiers on Tuesday, and a swath of large counties will likely enter the loosest yellow tier next week.

Meanwhile, a vaccine safety workgroup is meeting today to decide whether to authorize the Pfizer vaccine for Californians ages 12-15, for whom appointments could begin Thursday. The Bay Area appears to be on the cusp of herd immunity, and Los Angeles predicts 80 percent of its residents will have received at least one shot by mid- to late-July. And in yet another bright spot, there is growing scientific consensus that existing vaccines are effective against virus variants.

Still, political challenges remain. The state’s proposed workplace rule changes, for instance, would seem to require that employees show proof of vaccination in order to go maskless. California is already incentivizing businesses to require customers show proof of vaccination, but these so-called “vaccine passports” are being met with staunch opposition in some parts of the state, such as Orange County.

This article first appeared on CalMatters Network and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

California Loses Congressional Seat for First Time

Posted By on Tue, Apr 27, 2021 at 9:59 AM

  • Illustration by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters. iStock
For the first time in its 171-year history, California’s political voice is about to get a little quieter.

After months of delay, the U.S. Census Bureau on Monday released new population estimates for each state. The bad news for California: It loses a seat in Congress, down from 53 House districts to 52.

The worse news: Not only does that mean the state will have one fewer representative in the House, it also means one fewer vote in the Electoral College that decides the presidency and proportionately less of the $1.5 trillion in federal money distributed by population each year. 

Maybe the hardest news to take of all: While California is seeing its national stature shrink ever-so-slightly, that power is being shunted to our faster-growing rivals, Texas (which adds two seats) and Florida (which gets one). In all, seven House seats will shift among 13 states, the smallest change since 1941.   

The federal government is required to conduct the census every ten years. That data is used to dice the country up into 435 roughly equally sized congressional districts. 

“It’s a fixed pie, and California did not grow as fast as the rest of the nation,” said Hans Johnson, a demographer at the Public Policy Institute of California, speaking today at a UC Riverside webinar on the new census data.

Between 2010 and 2020, the national population increased by 7.4 percent to 331.4 million, according to the bureau’s new figures. That’s the second smallest increase in the 24 decades the census has been done. California’s population grew by even less, just 5.9 percent, from 37.3 million to 39.5 million residents.

Census officials said that while California recorded more births than deaths over the decade and the state added international residents, more people moved to other states than came here. There’s another potential factor: Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to allow the Trump administration to place a question about immigration status on the 2020 census. Still, activists and Democratic elected leaders said the high-profile effort might discourage undocumented immigrants from participating and lead to an undercount in states with large non-native born populations like California. 

The loss of a congressional seat is also likely to fuel a narrative peddled by conservatives that Californians are fleeing an expensive Democratic-governed state in search of cheaper, less regulated climes.

Though the number of new Californians has been slowing for decades, a Public Policy Institute of California analysis found that rising net migration from California to other states has become an increasingly significant “drag on the state’s overall population growth.”

An analysis of the new data conducted by the state Department of Finance and shared by department spokesperson H.D. Palmer disputed the notion that outward domestic migration was to blame for California’s lost seat and instead pointed the finger at former President Trump’s nativist immigration policies.

“Domestic flows out to other states were more than offset by international migrants,” the analysis reads. “However, federal immigration policy decisions in the last half of the decade, accompanied and perhaps exacerbated by an officially pronounced federal view of immigration overall, slowed California’s migration-related growth.”

Much of the federal funding distributed to the various states is also based on census data. Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps, highway construction and affordable housing vouchers are among the federal programs split up on a per-person basis. Now California will be getting a bit less.

The news also makes a thorny political problem even thornier for the state’s independent redistricting commission, which must now draw new congressional maps with one fewer district. That will water down the political representation of hundreds of thousands of voters somewhere in the state and could potentially deprive an incumbent of his or her seat.

It’s still too early to say who is going to lose out in that process. But today’s announcement raises the stakes of what was already a very high-stakes job.

“The highly debated question regarding where we will lose a congressional seat remains unanswered,” the commission said. “The commission will use the census data in conjunction with input from communities on the ground to create a full assessment of the representational needs of the state.” 

Because the bloc of states that stand to gain House districts skew more purple and red than the states that are losing seats, today’s shuffle also raises questions over control of the House. Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco regained the speaker’s gavel after the 2018 election; Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield wants to become speaker.    

While census officials said that states will get redistricting data by Aug. 16, elections officials across California have also been sounding the alarm that the delay in census data will make it much harder for the redistricting commission to draw up the state’s new electoral maps in time for the 2022 midterms. 

Even if the commission is able to do the work on time, the crunched timeline could jeopardize “the ability of the public to participate in the process,” said John Dobard with Advancement Project California, a racial justice advocacy group, speaking at the webinar.

Today’s news also removes an easy alternative if the commission runs out of time to finish its maps, said political consultant Matt Rexroad. 

With California losing a seat, “there is no legal remedy to just run the old seats,” he said. “You don’t have that off-ramp anymore.”

This article first appeared on CalMatters Network and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Democrats Have Newsom's Back as Recall Campaign Ramps Up

Posted By on Wed, Mar 17, 2021 at 1:30 PM

Gov. Newsom waves to virtual guests during the State of the State address at Dodger Stadium on March 9, 2021. - PHOTO BY SHAE HAMMOND FOR CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Shae Hammond for CalMatters
  • Gov. Newsom waves to virtual guests during the State of the State address at Dodger Stadium on March 9, 2021.
Gov. Gavin Newsom officially launched a campaign Monday against the effort to oust him from office, as fellow Democrats closed ranks to support him and his opponents plan this week to submit the last batch of signatures needed to trigger a recall election.

Since Newsom’s flashy State of the State speech last week that looked like an unofficial campaign kickoff, prominent Democrats across California and the nation have thrown their weight behind the governor and against the attempt to recall him. Their strategy in this deep-blue state that twice resoundingly rejected Republican former President Donald Trump: Portray the recall as a MAGA-inspired movement full of QAnon conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers and try to unify Democrats against it.

Whether Newsom’s game plan will work will likely depend on how quickly California bounces back from the coronavirus pandemic that’s shuttered many businesses and schools — as well as who steps up to try to replace Newsom on the recall ballot. His campaign launch seemed designed to thwart potential challengers from the left, featuring support from progressive national Democrats including U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and former Georgia lawmaker Stacey Abrams.

Warren promoted the new anti-recall website and told her 5.7 million Twitter followers that “extreme right-wing Republicans” are trying to recall Newsom “because he dares to listen to scientists and fights to put power in the hands of working people.”

“Let’s have Gavin’s back,” Warren added.

The California Democratic Party dumped $250,000 into the anti-recall effort Monday and Newsom took to friendly national TV shows to hammer the message the GOP-led recall is a “partisan political power grab.” 

On MSNBC, Newsom highlighted the Proud Boys and other white supremacist groups that took part in the January insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and that he said are supporting the recall. “I’m taking it very seriously,” said the governor, who is scheduled to appear today on “The View.”

California Democrats, meanwhile, went to work trying to unite the party’s diverse constituencies.

“If the recall should qualify, we will organize a statewide campaign to ensure that African-American voters understand that recalling Governor Gavin Newsom is not in our interest,” said Los Angeles Rep. Karen Bass, one of several Black Democrats who participated in a Zoom press conference to denounce the recall. “We will crush it because we will be united.”

Bass and Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland made clear they’re with Newsom, after many African Americans expressed disappointment that the governor didn’t pick one of them to fill the Senate seat left vacant by Vice President Kamala Harris.

(For good measure, Newsom said in his MSNBC appearance that he will appoint a Black woman to the Senate if Sen. Dianne Feinstein retires.)

LGBT and Asian-American Democrats held similar events in recent days to tout Newsom’s record and attempt to mitigate potential fissures in the Democratic coalition.

State Treasurer Fiona Ma and Controller Betty Yee spoke out in favor of Newsom, after being seen as potential candidates to replace him on the recall ballot. “I stand with my brothers and sisters and ask everyone to spread the word and vote no on the recall,” Ma said at a recent press conference.

She then backed it up with a $10,000 donation to a committee opposing the recall.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon also gave $10,000 to fight the recall — a sign that more money to help Newsom is likely on the way from the Legislature’s supermajority Democrats.

It’s the opposite of what’s happening in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo is now facing an impeachment inquiry over allegations that he sexually harassed several women and covered up nursing home deaths from COVID-19. Cuomo is facing calls to resign from his fellow Democrats, while Newsom’s fellow Democrats — even those who have been critical of his pandemic response — are lining up to support him.

The recall election has not officially been declared.

Election officials must first verify the submitted signatures and determine that at least 1.5 million of them are legit; they’re expected to issue a final count next month. But recall supporters say they’re submitting more than 2 million signatures, so it’s likely to land on the ballot this fall.

“Newsom has got to be held accountable for what’s happened the last 12 months,” said Dave Gilliard, a Republican consultant working on the recall campaign.

He pointed to California’s slow vaccine rollout, fraud-plagued unemployment system and delays in reopening most schools — as well as Newsom’s infamous French Laundry soiree. Gilliard said 65 percent of the people who signed the petitions are Republicans, 9 percent are Democrats and 25 percent are registered without a party preference.

Funding for the recall campaign has largely come from Republicans, including the California GOP, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and businessman John Cox, who lost to Newsom in 2018. Cox and Kevin Faulconer, the Republican former mayor of San Diego, have said they will run to replace Newsom.

But the recall is not only backed by Republicans.

Silicon Valley executives David Sacks and Chamath Palihapitiya, independents who have previously supported Democrats, also donated to the recall campaign. Some parents who said they voted for Newsom in the past are supporting the recall because they’re angry about school closures.

So a key question in the coming months is whether a candidate will emerge who could attract support from Democrats, or liberal independent voters.

“The Republicans are in favor of the recall regardless of which candidate they put up and the Democrats are still with Newsom, but there is a weaker support for the governor among younger Democrats, and if a fresh new face emerges on the left that could be a game-changer in Newsom’s Democrat support and a boost in the recall effort,” Spencer Kimball, director of polling at Emerson College, said in a statement.

Progressive tech investor Joe Sanberg — who’s flirted with running for office in the past — said during a press conference Monday with legislators supporting a wealth tax that he opposes the recall. But he didn’t explicitly rule out running.

In a new poll from Emerson and Nextstar Media Group, 38 percent of California voters said they would vote to recall Newsom and 42  percent said they would vote to keep him in office. The poll showed a heavy split along party lines, with recall favored by about 12 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of Republicans. But 39 percent of independents favored a recall, indicating that the big fight for both camps will probably be for voters who aren’t registered with either party.

A major wild card that will shape the race is how many people throw in their names to replace Newsom.

The rules of a recall election are different from a regular election because there is no run-off. Voters are asked two questions: If they want to recall the governor, and who they want to replace him. If more than 50 percent  of voters say “yes” to the first question, the person who gets the most votes on the second question wins.

With votes split up among dozens — or even hundreds of candidates — it may not take many votes to win. It’s even possible that the winner could get fewer votes than Newsom.

CalMatters reporter Ben Christopher contributed to this report.
  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Who Will Pay for All of California's Unemployment Fraud?

Posted By and on Tue, Feb 23, 2021 at 6:34 AM

A 1-year-old in Fresno raking in $167 a week. An ex-state employee stealing $200,000 from California’s unemployment system, some by impersonating Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Another $1.2 million swindled by a rapper who bragged about it on YouTube, $1 billion drained in the name of state prisoners, and $2 billion in jobless benefits siphoned off state-issued debit cards.

If doing the math on unemployment fraud in California during the pandemic isn’t dizzying enough, add the untold numbers of workers still fighting for funds that they say were stolen in unauthorized transactions at faraway ATMs, casinos and convenience stores.

“You’ve already been robbed once, and now it feels like they’re doing it again,” said Kori Chase, a 60-year-old housekeeper in Humboldt County living in her car while she tries to claw back more than $3,000 from state unemployment payment contractor Bank of America. “I feel like I’ve been thrown in the sewer, pretty much.”

The state is just beginning to tally how much of the $110 billion paid out in unemployment since March has disappeared in what law enforcement officials say is the biggest fraud investigation in California history.

As the state’s own unemployment fund falls deeper into debt and Congress finalizes a new stimulus bill to restart $300-a-week supplemental payments, a battle is already underway over whether taxpayers might ultimately be asked to pick up the tab for fraud.

Some argue that the fraud panic has already swung too far toward criminalizing out-of-work Californians caught up in crackdowns this fall, when the state Employment Development Department temporarily stopped processing claims and some 350,000 debit cards were cutoff.

But federal officials warn that 1 in 10 unemployment insurance dollars paid during the pandemic could be linked to fraud, which in California would total some $11 billion — more than the state spends annually on community colleges, workforce development and homelessness. “

About 10 percent of UI payments are improper under the best of times,” Scott Dahl, former inspector general of the U.S. Department of Labor, told Congress this summer. “And we are in the worst of times.”

Now, fraud losses are poised to collide with a state unemployment system in financial free fall. In less than a year, California’s Unemployment Insurance fund bankrolled by employer payroll taxes has gone from a surplus of $3 billion to a projected $48 billion deficit by 2021. That’s even after the federal government stepped in during the pandemic to fund benefits for contract workers and provide temporary $600 and $300 weekly supplemental payments.

With the new stimulus bill in Washington poised to flood the strained system with more cash, the coming weeks will test whether the state can strike a balance between paying benefits out quickly and securely. It’s a challenge that increasingly pits the Employment Development Department against its own payment contractor, Bank of America.

Experts say any state missteps could prove costly for the public, despite a 2010 contract with the bank that states that the agency “shall not be liable for overdrafts, fraud, misuse, and lost or stolen debit cards.”

“If it turns out that California should not have approved all these claims,” said Mason Wilder, a research specialist at the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, “then regardless of what their agreement says with Bank of America about debit cards, I would think that ultimately the taxpayers are going to be on the hook for California’s errors.”

A web of fraud

Unemployment fraud is not new. “Imposter fraud,” or using someone else’s personal information to apply for benefits, has been a threat since the days when unemployment was paid out of cash boxes at local field offices. From the 1960s to 2010, paper checks had their own vulnerabilities.

With California’s current system almost solely reliant on prepaid Bank of America debit cards, officials must keep up with a widening array of fraud: forged online applications, large batches of debit cards ordered to central drop houses, intercepted mail, social media scams, debit card skimming and more.

In recent years, the state’s “improper payment” rate has hovered around 8 percent. Much of the fraud anxiety in the COVID-19 era revolves around the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, better known as PUA, created by the federal government’s $2 trillion spring stimulus package. The program aimed to quickly establish a safety net for self-employed and contract workers shut out of traditional unemployment, but its rushed application process relied on applicants self-certifying their eligibility.

“Thieves took advantage of a desperate situation and exploited it beyond belief,” said Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert.

Last month, a new law enforcement task force chaired by Schubert warned Gov. Gavin Newsom that fraud linked to state inmates alone may hit $1 billion.

The task force is now attempting to curb fraud by working with the Employment Development Department, which employs only 17 dedicated investigators, plus the California Department of Corrections and other state agencies brought into the fold by Newsom.

“The only way to get our hands around this in an efficient way is to do something like this,” Schubert said.

Law enforcement officials and security consultants emphasize potential links between unemployment fraud and organized rings looking to bankroll serious crimes like human trafficking, drug dealing or gun smuggling. But other analysts say it’s important to keep out-of-work claimants from being overshadowed by fraud, and to distinguish less sophisticated identity theft that could be detected relatively easily by better monitoring social media, foreign IP addresses and identity documents submitted by unemployment applicants.

A September report by a governor-appointed “strike team” criticized the Employment Development Department’s “culture of allowing fear for fraud to trump all other considerations,” while still failing to catch fraud.

“This is an unprecedented period for benefit fraud activity across the country,” the employment agency said in a statement. “At this time, we are unable to provide any estimates on total fraud activity during this pandemic due to an analysis effort still underway to verify identities on suspect claims.”

The new stimulus bill would give states discretion in how to distribute additional federal benefits. A provision grants states authority to claw back pandemic aid, but at the same time, waives repayment if fraud wasn’t the recipient’s fault.

Ultimately, the buck stops with Newsom, who will be judged on how he steers the state through its unemployment crisis.

A financial battle begins

While fraud targeting state unemployment enrollment systems is a widespread concern, it doesn’t explain the problems of people like Kori Chase, who have experienced issues directly with their state-issued debit cards.

Up until October, she thought the odd charges she’d seen over the summer at places she hadn’t visited had been resolved, since the money was credited to her account. But just before Chase paid her October rent, her balance plummeted to negative $3,000.

Bank of America had reversed the fraud credit, she said, leaving her unable to pay $530 for her room in McKinleyville. She hasn’t been able to get the money back since.

“How long do they expect you to just be out here in limbo?” Chase said in mid-December from the silver Chrysler she now shares with her chihuahua. “Don’t they get it? I mean, it’s survival.”

Bank of America declined to comment on how many California unemployment accounts have seen fraud credits reversed, though dozens have shared similar stories and documentation with CalMatters.

A spokesman said the bank has unfrozen some 54,000 accounts after jobless cardholders appealed disputes, and that the “vast majority” of fraud appears related to state enrollment processes.

The Employment Development Department told CalMatters that “Bank of America assesses potential fraudulent charges” involving debit cards.

At the state Capitol, some staffers attempting to remedy constituents’ unemployment woes have grown frustrated with what they say is a lack of cooperation from the bank, aside from a five-page letter sent in response to a letter to Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan from more than 50 state lawmakers.

They question how the bank is flagging accounts for fraud, and whether there are parallels between problems in California and other states with Bank of America unemployment payment contracts, including Arizona and Maryland.

Overhauling unemployment?

The more than 17 million unemployment claims that California’s Employment Development Department has processed since March far exceeds the demand for benefits the state has seen in any other recession. Still, security pitfalls weren’t hard to see coming. The state auditor reported last month that the agency mailed some 38 million letters with Social Security numbers during the pandemic, despite previous calls to stop.

The vulnerabilities have been compounded during the pandemic by large infusions of federal cash with PUA payments and $300-600 weekly supplements. Though many workers badly need the money, it’s doubled as a lure for fraud that could undermine the future of the state’s cash-strapped unemployment fund.

Assemblymember Rudy Salas, a Democrat from Bakersfield, said law
Assemblyman Rudy Salas on the floor on September 12, 2019. - PHOTO BY ANNE WERNIKOFF FOR CALMATTERS
  • Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
  • Assemblyman Rudy Salas on the floor on September 12, 2019.
makers don’t yet know how much unemployment money is missing, let alone whether it came from state or federal coffers. He’s awaiting a broader state audit in January, then will come the tougher question: “How do we backfill that?” said Salas, who has introduced one of several unemployment reform bills, AB 56, that the Legislature is set to take up next year.

As new virus closures once again swell the state’s unemployment backlog, competing priorities are emerging in the onslaught of new reform bills. Republicans have seized on unemployment dysfunction to rail against bureaucratic mismanagement and Newsom’s leadership, while Democrats are introducing more incremental bills to tweak the system.

“We’ve got a lot of messes to clean up,” said Democratic Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, who introduced bill AB 47 to require the state to offer a direct deposit option for unemployment, in line with 47 other states. “Ultimately, we do have to make people whole.”

Assemblymember Jim Patterson, a Republican from Fresno, describes the employment agency as a “rats nest of incompetence.” Patterson made the remark in a press conference where he attacked the state’s much-touted new ID.me automated verification system, citing constituents still stuck waiting months for benefits after promised improvements.

In the meantime, states like Washington have already recovered hundreds of millions of dollars after fraud — something Wilder of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners said could prove much more difficult with California’s scattershot fraud issues.

“Especially if it’s just one-off cases, a bunch of individuals, that means you can’t find somebody that put through a thousand fraudulent claims,” Wilder said. “That’s a thousand separate investigations that the state is going to have to deal with.”
  • Pin It
  • Favorite
  • Email

Tags: , , , , , ,

Recent Comments

Care2 Take Action?


Facebook | Twitter

© 2021 North Coast Journal

Website powered by Foundation