Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Dozens Attend March For Our Lives Event in Arcata

Posted By on Tue, Jun 14, 2022 at 11:46 AM

Sunny Brae Middle School student Nova Vaur held a sign asking, "Who's next?" at Saturday's March For Our Lives in Arcata. - PHOTO BY MARK MCKENNA
  • Photo by Mark McKenna
  • Sunny Brae Middle School student Nova Vaur held a sign asking, "Who's next?" at Saturday's March For Our Lives in Arcata.

The Arcata Plaza was flooded with people Saturday afternoon in solidarity with nationwide March For Our Lives protests to demand lawmakers work to enact new gun control measures in the wake of yet another mass school shooting.

The local march, which was organized by March For Our Lives Arcata chapter leads Jasmine McKnight, Astreya McKnight, Natalie Lehman and Natalie Dreyer, drew dozens of people, many holding signs emblazoned with slogans like, "Protect Kids, Not Guns," "Gun Safety Now" and "Just Say No To Assault Rifles." The group gathered at the Arcata Plaza and marched to the Creamery Building, where a number of speakers addressed the crowd. Local photographer Mark McKenna was there and shared the following slideshow.

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Monday, June 13, 2022

Topsy-turvy Top-two: Is California Primary System Keeping Its Promises?

Posted By on Mon, Jun 13, 2022 at 11:38 AM

If you need an example of just how befuddling California’s top-two primary system can be, consider the case of the $50,000 mailer sent to voters across 13 California counties in early June.

The mailer’s message: In the crowded race for a state Senate district that sprawls from Modesto to Truckee to the Owens Valley, the only “Democratic choice” — the one with a “progressive agenda” — was local labor leader Tim Robertson, not school administrator Marie Alvarado-Gil.

“We Trust Only Tim Robertson,” the mailer blared in large type.

There’s nothing unusual about campaign material touting one Democratic candidate over another. Except that this one was funded by a Republican. And not just any Republican, but GOP state Senate leader Sen. Scott Wilk.

There were six Republican candidates running in that central Sierra district, but none were the beneficiaries of Wilk’s outside political spending. Nor were any championed by another independent expenditure committee that poured $17,000 behind Democratic Party-endorsed Robertson after receiving nearly $50,000 from Wilk’s account.

Though ballots are still being tallied at registrar’s offices across the district, now it’s clear what Wilk was trying to do.

In the Republican-leaning 4th state Senate district, 59 percent of voters in the most recent count checked their ballots for one of the half-dozen GOP candidates. But they diced up the vote into smaller slivers. The two Democrats, Robertson and Alvarado-Gil, only got 22 percent and 19 percent of the vote, respectively. But that was enough to put them in first and second place as of Sunday.

The top Republican, former U.S. Rep. George Radanovich, is barely ahead of two others at 17 percent and insists the race is far from over. “We fully expect to be in the runoff,” said campaign manager Joe Yocca. “There are plenty of votes still left.” (In the nine counties completely in the district, about 163,000 ballots have been counted, with an estimated 62,000 to go.)

Under California’s unusual top-two primary system, all candidates are listed on the same ballot and only the first- and second-place winners move on to the November general election, regardless of party affiliation.

By backing Robertson and knocking Alvarado-Gil as insufficiently progressive, Wilk was trying to concentrate the district’s Democratic voters on one candidate, thus pushing the second Democrat’s support beneath that of at least one Republican.

If the current results hold, he failed.

Wilk said he decided to fund the mailer after seeing “scary” polling numbers a couple weeks before the June 7 primary suggesting that the Republican candidates were at risk of cannibalizing the GOP vote. Earlier in the year, he tried to persuade some of those Republicans to drop out to avert exactly this scenario, he said.

But by early June, it was too late. One strategy would be to pick a favorite Republican and spend money to persuade right-of-center voters to get behind them. But that went against a promise Wilk said he made not to put his “thumb on the scale” for any one of the Republicans.

So, as a last resort, he tried putting his thumb on the scale for a Democrat.

Comparing the results to those early polling numbers, Wilk said Robertson’s vote share ticked up slightly. “So it worked a little bit, but obviously it didn’t work enough,” he said.

Oddly enough, the California Democratic Party also landed on the same strategy in the final weeks of the campaign. It spent roughly $50,000 boosting Robertson, believing that Alvarado-Gil was already safely in the top two. That Wilk seized on the same approach hoping to achieve the opposite outcome either speaks to a strategic miscalculation or terrifically bad luck.

“When you’re in the minority, you gotta think outside the box a little bit,” Wilk told CalMatters.

2022 Election News from CalMatters What to know about the 2022 elections in California

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Wilk may have messed up, and too many Republicans may have entered the race. But in a broader sense, the upside-down results are the product of California’s decade-long experiment with a nonpartisan primary system — the top two.

Approved by voters in 2010 and rolled out for the first time statewide two years later, the system has changed state politics in many of the ways that its proponents promised at the time — and a few ways that they didn’t.

As supporters of the system claim, it’s offered an avenue for moderate members of both parties to amass more political power in the Legislature, while also giving “no party preference” voters — Californians who don’t belong to any party at all — a chance to participate in every major stage of the electoral process.

The ascendancy of the “Mod Caucus” — “a whole cohort of centrist Democrats” in the state Legislature — is thanks in part to the top two, said Dan Schnur, who worked as spokesperson for Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona, before leaving the GOP and becoming an independent.

Political polarization remains, and sometimes the system produces odd results, but “I think it might be unfair to ask one political reform to solve all problems,” he said.

Supporters also assured voters that the top two would increase voter participation overall by engaging a broader range of voters, not just partisans. The truth is a bit of a mixed bag: Political independents can now freely participate in the primary, but many partisan voters are turned off if top-of-the-ticket races don’t include a member of their party. And there’s no evidence that non-voters are drawn to the polls by the state’s primary system, even while a series of other changes have made it much easier to register to vote. The percentage of eligible Californians who are registered to vote, at 85 percent, is the highest in 68 years. And since 2020, ballots have been mailed to every registered voter.

Still, like any electoral system, it’s not without its drawbacks. Critics say it too regularly produces head-scratching outcomes, like the apparent result in Senate District 4; limits voter choice; makes primary races more expensive and thus dependent on big spending by special interest groups; and is uniquely ripe for well-funded “shenanigans.”

Theory versus practice

In an old-fashioned partisan primary, Democrats and Republicans vote in separate elections, and the winners secure a spot on the general election ballot. The critique of that arrangement, made forcefully by supporters of top two, is that any candidate hoping to make it past the primary has to appeal to the party’s base. Those voters disproportionately occupy the ideological extremes, the argument goes, so partisan primaries lead to more extreme candidates and officeholders, which leads to gridlock.

“We have hyperpartisan on one side, hyperpartisan on the other, and we can never come together to do the people’s business in California,” then-Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, the man responsible for putting top two on the ballot, told voters in 2010.

By putting all candidates on the same ballot where they have to compete for votes across the ideological spectrum, top two encourages politicians to move toward the political center, the argument goes.

Since most legislative and congressional districts in California are overwhelmingly Democratic, the top two candidates in many districts are likely to be two Democrats — often a progressive and a moderate. And that gives voters in those districts a more meaningful choice that better reflects that district’s political preferences.

Or as FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver explained as California was considering the change, if every state helds its primaries this way, “we’d have a Senate full of Susan Collinses — and Joe Liebermans,” referring to two New England moderates.

That’s the theory. A decade into California’s electoral experiment, not everyone thinks it’s worked so well in practice.

In last week’s primary, the fantastically expensive five-way competition to be state controller resulted in a victory for Republican Lanhee Chen and, it appears, progressive Democrat Malia Cohen. Steve Glazer, among the most conservative Democrats in the state Senate who could serve as poster boy for the top two, didn’t make the cut. The polarized outcome more or less reflects what one might expect from a partisan primary.

Likewise, in the races for governor and attorney general, voters in November will not see the liberal Democratic incumbents square off against moderate Democrats or independents, but against long-shot Republicans.

After legislative primaries in Democratic strongholds in Sacramento, Hayward, Inglewood and San Diego, voters will see two Democrats square off in November. But from San Mateo to Milpitas to San Luis Opisbo; from Palmdale to Moreno Valley; from Norwalk to Anaheim, many of the state’s solidly blue legislative districts eschewed picking Democrats in the top two, instead opting for traditional partisan standoffs pitting a Democrat versus a sacrificial Republican.

“This system is not delivering on all the promises of providing opportunity for middle-ground candidates,” said Rob Stutzman, a GOP consultant who has run campaigns for moderate Republicans and political independents.

A portrait of Marie Alvarado-Gil
Marie Alvarado-Gil, Democratic candidate in state Senate District 4

But Alvarado-Gil, one of the apparent top two Democratic finishers in the Senate District 4, considers herself a “middle-ground candidate.” A charter school administrator who described herself as a “proponent of less government,” she seems as surprised as anyone in the California political establishment at her success.

“I’m on quite the ride right now,” she said in a phone interview. “I don’t know if there’s a word to describe this other than, ‘Wow!’”

Alvarado-Gil said it wasn’t until two weeks before the primary that she heard from a politically-connected friend that she was polling surprisingly well for a candidate with less than $10,000 in her campaign account and no — literally zero — endorsements. When the Wilk-funded mailer attacking her landed in her mailbox, she knew her success in the polls was no mere rumor.

“I was just thrilled because they had a great picture of me,” she said.

Flourish logoA Flourish chart

Now that the results are in, she acknowledged the “paradox” of the apparent double-Democratic win in a district where Republicans outnumber Democratic voters by more than three percentage points and where Donald Trump narrowly defeated Joe Biden in 2020.

“I have many Republican friends, and I am willing to earn the vote of Republicans who believe that a moderate representing their district is a solid choice,” she said.

Robertson, the Democrat in first place so far, declined to comment in detail on the results or on Wilk’s involvement, saying that he is focused on his own campaign.

Shutout dread

The fate that apparently befell Republicans in Senate District 4 isn’t especially novel in California. Almost every year, the prospect of one party getting shut out from the November ballot, because an overabundance of candidates splits the primary vote, sends activists and political strategists into flights of panic.

In 2018, the terror was on the Democratic side. With hordes of fresh-faced candidates motivated to run in competitive congressional seats by a shared distaste for then-President Trump, party leaders warned of an “overpopulation problem.” In the end, the fear was overblown. Democratic candidates made it to the top two in all seven of the California congressional seats targeted that year — and went on to flip them all.

In fact, it was the GOP that suffered a surprise shutout that June when Democrats claimed first and second in a toss-up Assembly district in San Diego — thanks to an overly crowded Republican field and some last minute Dem-friendly misinformation about the top GOP candidate.

In 2020, it was Democrats’ turn to crowd themselves out of a possible legislative victory. Five little-known liberals entered the field against two Republicans in an Assembly district in Southern California. The two Republicans came first and second, despite securing less than half the total vote.

Election workers sort through election ballots at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters in Sacramento on June 7, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Election workers sort through ballots at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters on June 7, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

No wonder that back in 2010, both major political parties, preferring to have more influence over the candidates who run under their banners, found common ground in opposing the top-two measure. California’s smaller parties also opposed the idea, as did some political independents, who argued — correctly it turns out that — that in the vast majority of cases the top two slots will be monopolized by Democrats and Republicans.

With 10 years of California election data to work with — plus the experiences of Washington and Nebraska, also top-two states — the top-two system does seem to result in the election of more moderate candidates, but only by a bit.

“It’s not that it doesn’t have that effect, it’s just pretty small,” said Eric McGhee, a political scientist and researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California. “It’s not going to get us back to the 1970s or something,” an era with much more ideological overlap between Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

One complication that McGhee found is that voters often have a difficult time distinguishing between different ideological factions within the same party, so centrist candidates don’t always prevail even in districts where they would be expected to win.

“It’s asking a lot of the typical voter,” said McGhee.

Voters seem to like the system anyway. A statewide PPIC poll conducted in May found that 62 percent of likely voters say top two has been “mostly a good thing” for California.

The new lawn sign

But as voters have grown accustomed to the top-two primary, so have California’s political consultants and strategists, who have fine-tuned the art of gaming the system.

The consummate example might be in 2018, when Democrat Gavin Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign went out of its way to “attack” Republican John Cox, elevating his name recognition and conservative cred with GOP voters. That came at the expense of former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a moderate Democrat who likely would have been a more formidable opponent to Newsom in a general election. Arguably, the two would have represented a more representative choice for California’s overwhelmingly Democratic electorate. But Newsom’s plan seemed to work, and he easily defeated Cox in November.

A voting sign at Cal State Los Angeles in Los Angeles on June 7, 2022. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
A voting sign at Cal State Los Angeles in Los Angeles on June 7, 2022. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

This year, a similar strategy played out when supporters of Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta began touting the conservative bona fides of his Republican opponents, while doing their best not to mention the name of his no party preference opponent, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. As of Saturday, Republicans Nathan Hochman and Eric Early were battling for the second spot on the November ballot, both far ahead of Schubert.

In an Orange County congressional race, the Democratic campaign of Asif Mahmood name-checked a right-wing Republican, hoping to elevate him over incumbent Young Kim, though it doesn’t appear to have worked. And in a number of strongly Democratic legislative districts, candidates and special interests alike have toiled to prop up easier-to-beat Republican opponents — including, in one case, a QAnon conspiracy theorist who got some minor support from the California Chamber of Commerce.

In other cases — a Silicon Valley congressional race in 2014, a Stockton state Senate contest in 2020 — candidates have been accused of recruiting less-than-sincere challengers to flood the primary field and dilute the vote of the other party.

What was once a high-concept bit of electoral engineering has gone mainstream, said Paul Mitchell with Political Data Inc., a consulting and analysis firm that works with Democratic campaigns.

“Now you have someone in every little f—ing Assembly race trying to prop up the Republican,” he said. “It’s become a part of the process as much as lawn signs. It’s part of the California campaign war chest.”

Yet, while that tool may “look good on paper,” it’s not clear how often it actually works exactly as planned, said political consultant Andrew Acosta. For instance, Bonta appears likely face the more moderate Hochman rather than the arch-conservative Early targeted by Bonta’s ads.

And back in Senate District 4, Wilk’s effort to elevate one Democrat and pull down the other apparently didn’t work out, either.

Former state GOP Chairperson Ron Nehring blames the “idiotic” top-two system, but Wilk doesn’t. One of the Senate’s more moderate Republicans, Wilk represents a Southern California district that is more Democratic-leaning than any of his fellow GOP caucus members.

“I blame the Republicans candidates because none of them closed the deal,” he said. “I personally like the top two.”

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Friday, June 3, 2022

Grand Jury Report Blasts Auditor-Controller, Auditor-Controller Says it's All Incorrect

Posted By on Fri, Jun 3, 2022 at 5:52 PM

Humboldt County Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez and Assistant Auditor-Controller Jim Hussey at a press conference this afternoon. - THADEUS GREENSON
  • Thadeus Greenson
  • Humboldt County Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez and Assistant Auditor-Controller Jim Hussey at a press conference this afternoon.

The Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury has interjected itself directly into the county's auditor-controller race.

Less than a week before Election Day, the Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury poured gasoline on what was already considered to be the county’s most contentious political race yesterday, issuing a largely scathing report stating  incumbent Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez’s office’s failure to file timely state and federal reports has already caused the county to lose more than $2.3 million in “non-recoverable funds,” while placing more than $9.7 million in funding at “significant risk.” The move of releasing such a report mere days before its subject is up for re-election drew immediately questions, prompting the Grand Jury foreperson to issue a follow-up press release today clarifying that the report is the result of months of interviews and “exhaustive research” and was simply released when done and approved, with the Grand Jury’s actions and decision making at no point “informed by politics.”

In response, acting in her official capacity as auditor-controller but with her campaign videographer set up before her on the courthouse steps (his computer plugged into the generator powering the speaker at her lectern), Paz Dominguez held an hour-long press conference this afternoon, answering “any and all” questions, including some about how voters should view this report. She issued a full-throated denial of essentially all aspects of the report that were critical of her office, saying she is aware of no funds lost by the county due to delinquent financial reports, and that if any funds have been lost, there would be subsequent opportunities for seeking reimbursement. As Paz Dominguez spoke, flanked by the county’s assistant auditor-controller, First District Supervisor Rex Bohn, with whom Paz Dominguez has repeatedly butted heads over the years through a series of cross allegations, sat on the courthouse steps looking on.

Immediately after Paz Dominguez finished the press conference, a process server officially served her with the county’s cross complaint civil lawsuit, which the board directed county counsel to file May 10, while also directing the county’s lawyer not to defend Paz Dominguez in a lawsuit brought by the California Attorney General against both her and the county over delinquent fiscal report filings with the state. (The county's cross-complaint reportedly makes the same allegations as the state's, while also accusing Paz Dominguez of misappropriating public funds when she paid a consultant for coaching services.)

There’s a lot to unpack — and Paz Dominguez has provided the press with scores of documents she says refute assertions in the Grand Jury report, which we have yet to sift through — but we’re going to try to give a brief rundown of the basics we know at this point, with both the Grand Jury’s published report and a version annotated by Paz Dominguez, disputing various claims, at the bottom of this post.

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Friday, May 20, 2022

The Great Culling: Which California Bills did Legislators Kill?

Posted By on Fri, May 20, 2022 at 1:28 PM

The state Capitol building. - CALIFORNIA STATE ASSEMBLY
  • California State Assembly
  • The state Capitol building.
California lawmakers won’t be creating a state Election Day holiday this year. Nor will they be providing grants to local governments to convert public golf courses into affordable housing, or forcing health insurers to cover fertility treatments.

All of these proposals were victims of the seasonal culling of bills known as the suspense file. This stately and secretive process, led by the Senate and Assembly appropriations committees, serves as a final fiscal review before any legislation expected to have a significant cost to the state is sent to the full chamber for a vote.

In fast and furious hearings on Thursday that stretched for two hours, the committees ran through the fates of nearly 1,000 bills, offering no explanations for their decisions and, in many cases, no formal announcement at all that a measure was held.

The results had already been determined in private deliberations. The suspense file, among the most opaque practices at the Capitol, allows legislative leaders to not only shelve proposals that are too expensive, but to also more quietly dispatch those that are controversial or politically inconvenient, particularly in an election year.

About 220 bills were shelved. The bills that made it through — more than 700 of them — now face another looming deadline next week to pass out of their house of origin. If successful, they will move to the other chamber for further consideration.

Here are some of the notable measures that are not advancing this session:

Election Day holiday

Five times Assemblymember Evan Low, a Campbell Democrat, has tried to create a state holiday for the November election, closing schools and giving public employees paid time off to vote. And five times the bill has been held on the Assembly suspense file, including again this year.

Assembly Bill 1872 was slightly different from several of its predecessors in that it would have swapped out Presidents’ Day with an Election Day holiday in even-numbered years, rather than simply adding another day off, thereby lowering its cost. But with every California voter now being mailed a ballot in every election, the urgency for such a plan has diminished considerably.

A separate measure to create a state holiday for Juneteenth, Assembly Bill 1655 by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Los Angeles Democrat, advanced to the floor, however.

Affordable housing

If a powerful interest group swings hard enough at a bill, they just might kill it. That’s what happened when nearly 80 local, regional and national golf groups, as well as several organizations that favor local control over housing development, coalesced against Assemblymember Cristina Garcia’s Assembly Bill 1910

The measure targeted the state’s hundreds of municipal golf courses, many of which are operating at significant financial losses, as prime locations to help the state build its way out of its housing shortage. It would have offered grants to local governments to convert their golf courses into housing, at least a quarter of which would have to be affordable to low-income families. The result wasn’t too surprising: everyone wants affordable housing, until it threatens to come to their backyard — or local golf course.

— Manuela Tobias

Fertility treatment

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks’ push to require health insurers to cover fertility treatment, including costly in-vitro fertilization, fell short for the third time in four years.

Unlike 17 other states, California does not require health insurers to pay for fertility treatments. A round of in vitro and the accompanying medication can cost upwards of $20,000, deterring some people from having children and leaving others in exorbitant debt.

Photo via iStock
Photo via iStock

Assembly Bill 2029 by Wicks, an Oakland Democrat, was opposed by health insurance plans and other business groups, which noted the high price tag: an estimated $715 million that would be fronted by employers and health plan enrollees largely in the form of increased premiums. 

— Ana B. Ibarra

Salary transparency

Assembly Bill 2095 by Assemblymember Ash Kalra, a San Jose Democrat, was a first-in-the-nation bill that would have required large companies to report a broad swath of data on their workforce, including how much they are paid and what benefits they receive. The state could have used that information to provide the public with easy-to-understand measurements of how companies treat their employees and to give top performers certain perks, like tax credits. 

But the bill faced ardent opposition from business groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce, which put the bill on its “job killer” list — the collection of measures it lobbies against most aggressively each year. The Chamber argued that the data would create unfair comparisons between companies or be taken out of context. 

Legislators did advance another workplace transparency proposal on the “job killer” list: Senate Bill 1162 by Sen. Monique Limón, a Santa Barbara Democrat, which would require companies to make some pay data public, including salary ranges in job posting, passed with a few amendments, including one that exempted companies with 15 or fewer workers.

— Grace Gedye

Community college professor pay

Part-time community college faculty are having a mixed moment in Sacramento. A pending $200 million health care fund they’ve championed has the support of the governor. But a bill to match the wages of part-time community faculty with full-time faculty for similar levels of work died on the suspense file.

Assembly Bill 1752 by Miguel Santiago, a Los Angeles Democrat, would have increased community college costs by an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars annually. That the cost is so high speaks to the enormous wage gap between part-time faculty — who are typically paid only for the hours they teach, but not for other related work like lesson planning and grading — and their full-time salaried peers. 

A majority of community college faculty are part-time, earning on average $20,000 per year. Labor unions backed this bill while the organization representing community college executives opposed it, arguing that they were already struggling to meet staffing obligations in an era of declining student enrollment.

— Mikhail Zinshteyn

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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

‘Bad Optics’ Hang Over Auditor-Controller Contract

Posted By on Wed, May 18, 2022 at 8:49 AM

Karen Paz Dominguez. - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • Karen Paz Dominguez.
Within weeks of the Humboldt County Auditor-Controller’s Office issuing almost $12,000 in payments to a local consulting firm earlier this year, the firm’s owner, who up until December served as chair of the Humboldt County Central Democratic Committee, voted in favor of the committee’s endorsement of Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez’s re-election bid and made a non-monetary contribution to her campaign reportedly valued at $1,144.

While none of this seems to run afoul of state campaign finance or conflict of interest laws, according to a pair of government ethics experts interviewed by the Journal, an elected official granting a contract to someone with whom she has a “friendship” who then works to advance her political career does raise questions.

“It certainly has bad optics, whether it complies with the law or not,” said Michael Shires, an associate dean for the Pepperdine School of Public Policy. “The question is whether the auditor-controller followed the procedures in place for such a contract.”

Shires clarified that while there is no conflict of interest, as Paz Dominguez did not stand to personally benefit financially from the contract in any way. But, he said, the part that “looks bad is whether there’s a quid pro quo going on? Did they award the contract so they would get the endorsement and support?”

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Friday, May 6, 2022

California Democrats Lean into Abortion Rights as ‘Defining Issue’

Posted By on Fri, May 6, 2022 at 9:19 AM

Erin Sullivan, wearing a pink glove and waving a coat hanger was one of dozens who turned out to support reproductive health at the courthouse on Tuesday. - PHOTO BY MARK MCKENNA
  • Photo by Mark McKenna
  • Erin Sullivan, wearing a pink glove and waving a coat hanger was one of dozens who turned out to support reproductive health at the courthouse on Tuesday.
When a draft Supreme Court ruling that would overturn the constitutional right to abortion leaked Monday night, Democratic leaders in California reacted swiftly with shock, grief and fury.

It didn’t take long for the personal devastation to turn political.

By Wednesday morning, Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is running for re-election this year, had already cut a new campaign ad about “reproductive freedom under attack.” In a tweet unveiling the ad, he framed defeating “anti-choice Republicans” as the “defining issue of the 2022 election.”

As the stark reality has sunk in that the landmark Roe v. Wade decision is unlikely to make it to its 50th birthday, many Democrats are leaning forcefully into abortion rights as a key election issue. With decades of public polling indicating that a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, it could be the party’s most potent counterweight in a campaign cycle in which Republicans seem poised to capitalize on voter frustration over inflation and crime.

“Don’t think for a second this is where they stop,” Newsom said Wednesday outside Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, where he raised the alarm that conservatives would also seek to roll back other rights such as same-sex marriage. “Pay attention, America. They’re coming after you next.”

In his remarks, Newsom called for a stronger Democratic counteroffensive on protecting abortion. He slammed Republicans for claiming to be pro-life while opposing policies to provide more support to women and families after a baby is born, previewing a political attack that could soon be coming to swing districts across the country.

“That’s how extreme the Republican Party is in the United States of America. You want extremism? Rape and incest, they don’t even make an exception,” Newsom said. “Wake up, America. Wake up to who you’re electing.”

Democrats, weighed down by sagging approval ratings for President Joe Biden and in danger of losing control of Congress in the November midterm election, have been struggling to find a message that might motivate liberal voters to show up to the polls and persuade moderates to stick with their governance.

Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College, said the reality of a Supreme Court ruling against abortion rights could provide a significant boost. Though warnings about that potential outcome have not historically driven turnout for Democrats while the Roe decision withstood decades of attacks, Pitney said voters are much more alert to loss.

“The issue has moved from the realm of the hypothetical to the realm of the real,” he said.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Local Candidate Forums Set

Posted By on Tue, May 3, 2022 at 8:48 AM

Election Day is just five weeks away, with much at stake on the local ballot, with countywide races for district attorney, superior court judge, auditor-controller and clerk/recorder, as well as two supervisorial seats to be decided.

It’s a lot. Fortunately, there are a host of opportunities in the coming weeks to get to know the candidates a bit better. Chief among those are three series of candidate forums to be put on by KEET-TV and the League of Women Voters of Humboldt County (LWVHC), the Humboldt County Association of Realtors and 15 local community groups.

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Sunday, May 1, 2022

Geopolitics Undermine Energy Authority’s Solar Project

Posted By on Sun, May 1, 2022 at 9:04 AM

When projecting its path to decarbonization by 2030, Redwood Coast Energy Authority's plans depended heavily on Sandrini Solar, a project now derailed by geopolitical forces. - RCEA
  • RCEA
  • When projecting its path to decarbonization by 2030, Redwood Coast Energy Authority's plans depended heavily on Sandrini Solar, a project now derailed by geopolitical forces.
When local politics nixed Terra-Gen’s wind farm energy project near Rio Dell in 2019, regional electricity aggregator Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) turned to a solar project hundreds of miles away to meet its renewable energy goals. Now, world politics have botched up that second choice, according to Jaclyn Harr, client specialist manager with an outside energy procurement consultant, The Energy Authority. If RCEA loses this solar project, it would set the electricity provider back 50 percent of what it projected for its renewable energy supplies toward its goal of full decarbonization by 2030.

Harr told the RCEA board April 28 that a federal Commerce Department investigation into potentially illegal Chinese solar panel imports, as well as supply chain issues, nullified its contract for the Sandrini Sol 1 plant. RCEA had a deal to buy 100 MW for 15 years from the renewable energy development for more than $100 million. The contract is no longer valid because the project is delayed for more than six months. There are no allegations that Sandrini’s developers are involved in illicit imports. Instead, its delay and resultant contract delay appear to be victims of political forces. Sandrini, near Bakersfield, was supposed to begin supplying energy to PG&E’s transmission grid this year. While the Sandrini solar farm still might proceed, Harr told the board that its power wouldn’t be connected until late next year.

While Humboldt may be an island, electricity-wise, it’s not isolated from world economics. Both Chinese solar exports and global demand for Russian natural gas have effects behind the Redwood Curtain.

The U.S. Department of Commerce imposed extra taxes on Chinese solar panels eight years ago to prevent the dumping of too many cheap panels into the domestic market, fearing it would undermine U.S. solar panel production. But domestic solar manufacturers insist the Chinese panels are still getting though via other South Asian countries to circumvent the tariffs. The department kicked off an investigation April 25 into potential solar panel sales through these new, allegedly illicit, routes. The U.S. manufacturers want the Commerce Department to determine whether another round of tariffs — up to 240 percent, according to the solar industry — are warranted to prevent illegal imports.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2022

One Seat, Six Candidates: Arcata City Council Race Makes a Special June Ballot Appearance

Posted By on Tue, Mar 22, 2022 at 12:28 PM

  • File
A former mayor, a consultant, three previous candidates and a Cal Poly Humboldt student are all seeking a single open seat on the Arcata City Council, making for a crowded field on the June ballot.

The top vote-getter of the six candidates — Chase Marcum, Humnath Panta, Dana Quillman, Edith Rosen, Alexandra Stillman and Kimberley White — will serve out the term of former Vice Mayor Emily Goldstein, which runs through November of 2024. Goldstein stepped down March 1 for family reasons.

The four current councilmembers had three choices for filling Goldstein’s seat: call a June special election, appoint a replacement to serve until the November election or simply wait until the November election to have the seat filled as a two-year position with two other four-year terms also up for a vote.

In unanimously selecting the first option at a Feb. 9 special meeting, several cited a sense of urgency to have a full council with major projects in the pipeline, including the controversial Gateway Area Plan, coupled with perception concerns about having two out of five seats appointed rather than elected.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2022

State of the State: Will Gov. Newsom do More to Reduce California Inequality?

Posted By on Tue, Mar 8, 2022 at 10:01 AM

Gov. Gavin Newsom is an unlikely champion of California’s down and out. Yet the wine entrepreneur, who built his political career and fortune with help from the state’s wealthy elite, campaigned on a promise to address California’s disparities – and do so boldly.

From his first day in office in January 2019, Newsom called the manifestations of California’s inequality – homelessness, poverty and rising costs – “moral imperatives,” not just policy priorities. “So long as they persist, each and every one of us is diminished,” he declared.

Those inequalities persisted and were laid bare by two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, a tumultuous time that saw the governor overcome a Republican-led effort to recall him from office last September.

Now with the pandemic receding, the economy rebounding and no major political opposition standing in his way to reelection this year, Newsom has the opportunity to return to his original priority of reducing the stain of poverty on the state.

He is expected to address the issue today in the final State of the State speech of his first term. ​​”There is going to be an explicit call out on inequality, and the stakes,” said an aide, who spoke only if not named because they were not authorized to give a preview of the speech. “One of the themes of the speech is going to be democracy, and tying that to how unchecked inequality undermines democracy.” 

Some experts and advocates say Newsom’s efforts to close the economic divide may determine his legacy – and help set him apart from his predecessor and fellow Democrat, Jerry Brown, who insisted state government could only go so far in closing the divide between rich and poor

“If the comparison is past governors in California, he’s trying to do a lot,” said Chris Hoene, director of the California Budget & Policy Center, a nonprofit that researches policy affecting low-income Californians. “If the comparison is where we were when he took over as governor, and where we are today, he’s facing a ton of headwinds. And the urgency and the need drives expectations about him doing more.”

Nationally, the jobs recovery is in full swing, and though California has lagged other states, it could at last see improvements as mask mandates loosen and the economy returns more to normal. The pandemic – and record state budget surpluses – have given Newsom the opportunity to address the state’s inequalities. The Democratic leaders of the state Assembly and Senate leaders also say they want to use the budget to create a more inclusive recovery and more equitable economy

But Assembly GOP leader James Gallagher of Yuba City said it’s the policies of Democrats that are driving inequality.

“We have a huge surplus because the wealthiest are doing so well,” he said. “That doesn’t tell the story of the middle- and low- income earners in this state.”

For instance, he said, families are getting hammered by the rapid increase in gas prices, which according to AAA has now topped an average of $5 a gallon – an increase accelerated by the Ukraine war. Gallagher and other Republicans also blame the state’s gas tax, which Democrats raised in 2017 under Brown to repair roads and bridges and expand mass transit. Newsom has proposed putting off a scheduled July increase, but the governor has met resistance from his own party in the Legislature. The climate change agenda of California Democrats has also driven up the cost of utilities, further deepening inequality, Gallagher said.

“I think he genuinely cares about this issue, but I think that his policies – the policies of either he, or Democrats in the Legislature – have made the problem worse,” Gallagher said. “The other problem is that the governor has a lack of follow-through. He’s big on pronouncements and announcing new programs, but pretty short on implementation and results.”

What’s Newsom’s record?

In his State of the State speech last year, Newsom returned to the theme of inequality, indicating his belief the pandemic was “widening gaps between the haves and the have-nots.” “California’s most acute preexisting condition remains income inequality,” he said. 

In his three years in office, he has pushed through several significant initiatives: 

  • Newsom has steadily expanded Medi-Cal coverage to include undocumented people until they turn 26 and once they turn 50, and in his January budget proposed covering those previously excluded. But the expansion would still leave several hundred thousand undocumented immigrants unable to qualify because they earn above the program’s annual income thresholds.
  • In 2019, Newsom expanded the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit and the Young Child Tax Credit to help boost the wages of low-paid workers and families. In 2020, he signed a law allowing anyone with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number to qualify for the expanded earned income tax credit. That made undocumented workers eligible to receive hundreds, or thousands of, dollars each year. Last year, he signed a measure giving $600 one-time payments to those who receive the state’s earned income tax credit, along with an extra $600 for certain undocumented taxpayers not eligible for some federal aid.
  • During the pandemic, California expanded eligibility for several safety net programs, including food assistance, allowing for more people to participate. In particular, the state paused the recertification process in the state’s CalFresh program, which provides food benefits to some 2.6 million low-income households. And the state last year created a universal free school meals program, doing away with a previous income requirement.
  • When taking office, Newsom announced plans to assist working parents with a six-month, paid family leave program. He has so far extended the program to eight weeks per parent. In 2020, he signed a bill expanding unpaid family leave to include smaller employers, but in 2021 vetoed a bill intended to extend the program to low-income workers. The governor has also made progress on his goals to expand preschool, with a plan to provide universal transitional kindergarten for four-year-olds by 2025.
  • Experts and activists say making higher education more affordable is important to reducing inequality in the state. Last year, the administration eliminated age and time-out-of-high-school requirements for Cal Grant scholarships to community colleges. But the governor vetoed a bill that would have made Cal Grants more broadly available. Lawmakers last year also signaled the intent to expand a scholarship for middle-class students in the state, as well as more slots in public universities for California students, though lawmakers must agree this year to fund those promises.
  • The governor’s efforts with economic recovery, trying to target funds regionally could help the Central Valley and other parts of the state that are struggling. Such work might not be easy; a legislative effort to retrain oil workers has already sparked a political fight among some of the state’s labor unions.

Still, advocates say the state could be doing more to shrink the economic divide.

“It does seem like Newsom is treating a commitment to reducing poverty as one of his key legacy commitments.”

David Grusky, director of the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality

What do the numbers show?

While recessions tend to widen income disparities between rich and poor, earnings have increased for low-income workers while unprecedented government relief kept millions from falling into poverty. That’s despite the sharp downturn in 2020, and the disproportionate number of pandemic-related job losses hitting low-wage sectors. During the recovery, some of the biggest gains are in the leisure and hospitality sectors, according to Sarah Bohn, a vice president and policy research chairperson with the Public Policy Institute of California.

“Wages are picking up the most at the low-end of the spectrum, even though we’re still in a recovery period with elevated unemployment,” Bohn said. “It might be that inequality is actually decreasing during the pandemic – which is kind of crazy, and we’ll know more soon – but when you just look at the wage statistics, the sectors that are lowest paid have the highest increase in wages.”

Nationally, data from the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank shows typical wages for the bottom 25 percent of earners growing faster than other income groups. Meanwhile the Biden administration has highlighted research from two influential U.C. Berkeley economists underscoring that economic growth has been broadly shared since he took office in January 2021. 

In California, income inequality statistics for 2020 are not yet available, but the trend has been one of dramatic widening over the long run, with the modern economy placing a premium on highly educated workers. Analyzing pretax income and including cash from some safety net programs, the PPIC found income growth for the bottom 10 percent of families in California lagging significantly behind the top 10 percent from 1980 to 2019.

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