Capital News & Notes
For Clients & Friends of The Gualco Group, Inc.
IN THIS ISSUE – “Silken Self Awareness”
- Primary Campaign Proves Politics is a Full-Contact Sport
- First Independent Candidate Tops Field for Statewide Office
- “Knowing What The Moment Wants” – Newsom Profiled
WATER & POWER
- Legislature May Light Up A Western US Power Grid
- Natural Gas Production Methane Emissions – Bad News & Good New
Capital News & Notes (CN&N) harvests California legislative and regulatory insights from dozens of media and official sources for the past week, tailored to your business and advocacy interests. Please feel free to forward.
FOR THE WEEK ENDING JUNE 22, 2018
READ ALL ABOUT IT!!
Josh Newman, a Democratic state senator from Fullerton, was in a bitter mood when he rose on the Senate floor last week—for good reason.
Six days earlier, voters in his district had decided overwhelmingly to recall him after just 18 months in office, persuaded by a tsunami of Republican allegations that he had betrayed them by helping to pass a hefty increase in gas taxes and fees last year.
“I can’t imagine wanting to win so badly that I would ever do, in the pursuit of partisan advantage, what has been done here,” Newman said. “It saddens me, colleagues, Republican colleagues, that despite all your nice…words, not a single one of you had the integrity, the decency or the courage to stand up and say…this is wrong. This is an abuse of the recall process.”
In 2016, Newman captured a Senate seat that Republicans had long considered their own, and his election gave Democrats a two-thirds “supermajority” in the Senate.
Although he was accused of providing the final vote on the gas-tax plan backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, in fact it took a vote from Anthony Cannella, a Republican senator from Modesto, to pass the measure.
Democrats did all they could to protect Newman from the recall, even changing state election laws specifically to have his recall election merged with the June primary, rather than be conducted as a low-turnout special election.
What happened to Assemblyman Rocky Chavez is still another reminder that professional politics is not a game of tiddlywinks.
While Republicans were accusing Newman of betraying his district by voting with his fellow Democrats (and Cannella) to raise gas taxes, Democrats unleashed a $1 million barrage of ads and other campaign weaponry on Chavez, an Oceanside Republican, accusing him of crossing his party by voting with Democrats to reauthorize the state cap-and-trade program intended to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
When Chavez and seven other Republicans voted for cap and trade last year, they were praised by Democrats—including Brown—for their bipartisan spirit. During his State of the State address in January, Brown had hailed Chavez et al., and declared, “Don’t worry, I’ve got your back!”
However, Chavez was widely viewed as the strongest candidate to succeed retiring Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, and the national Democratic congressional campaign apparatus wanted to take him out of the running in hopes of flipping the seat. So Democratic operatives hammered him, in messages to Republicans, as a turncoat.
“On raising your taxes, he’s Rocky. Rocky Chavez promised he’d never raise taxes and would oppose wasteful spending. Then Rocky did the opposite,” said one ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
“Chavez voted for the biggest budget in state history that spends $183 billion of your money. And Chavez even voted to raise your gas and energy costs. On spending your money and costing you even more, Rocky Chavez’s broken promises will knock you out.”
When the Democrats’ $1 million anti-Chavez ad blitz was airing, did Jerry Brown protect him as he had pledged just months earlier? Nope.
The governor was no more willing to denounce the duplicitous campaign against Chavez than Republican senators were to oppose the duplicitous recall of Newman. Chavez finished a distant sixth in the multi-candidate field, improving Democrats’ chances.
The door is now open to more recalls for purely political reasons, Republicans won’t be as eager to cross the legislative aisle, and the precedent is set for more self-serving manipulation of election laws.
No, it’s not tiddlywinks
Win or lose in November, Steve Poizner already has made history.
Poizner, a 61-year old Silicon Valley zillionaire, finished first in the June 5 balloting for Insurance Commissioner — the first political independent ever to qualify for election to state office in California.
His victory, with 42 percent in a four-candidate field, carries huge political significance, a groundbreaking achievement in an election that marked the decline of the once-mighty California Republican Party to third-place status in the state.
Pre-primary figures show GOP registration – 25.1 percent – not only trailing the Democrats’ 44.4 percent, but also the steadily increasing share of Californians self-identified as No Party Preference independents, now 25.5 percent.
“If I can pioneer this path of demonstrating that you can run as an independent and win, it will open the door for other people who don’t want to be partisan warriors, but just want to serve,” Poizner said in a telephone interview with Calbuzz. “And if I do, it’ll be a very disruptive thing, in a positive way.”
First, however, the new champion of non-partisan politics faces a big, awkward political obstacle: his own words and record as a slashing partisan Republican.
Political enthusiasts will recognize Poizner as the correct answer to a California trivia question: Who is the only Republican not named Schwarzenegger elected to statewide office in the 21st century?
In 2006, he captured the same office he now seeks, when he campaigned for Insurance Commissioner as an old-school, moderate Republican, stomped a Democratic hack and then applied his entrepreneurial skills, honed while making a private sector fortune in GPS technology, to one term in office.
Under the old party-line primary system, Poizner reinvented himself as a fierce right-wing warrior to campaign for governor. He bashed Republican rival Meg Whitman, the eventual GOP nominee, as squishy soft on immigration, demanded an end to education and health care benefits for “illegal aliens,” called for National Guard troops to patrol the Mexican border and even backed a controversial Arizona law requiring people to carry proof of citizenship or legal status.
Given the shift in California’s political dynamics — where a strong majority of voters believes undocumented immigrants should be provided a pathway to legal residence and even citizenship — it’s not surprising that Poizner has since jettisoned his retrograde stance on immigration.
“I wish I had the 2010 campaign to do over again,” Poizner said, “because I no longer think my views (expressed then) on what to do with undocumented folks make any sense. And I regret it.”
“The solution that I concur with is similar to (Ohio) Gov. (John) Kasich’s which is if you’re undocumented here in California then we should put you on a pathway to become documented. If you a dreamer, we should put you on a pathway to become a citizen. That’s what I believe.”
Was his decision to run as an independent a rejection of the Republican Party? Calbuzz asked him.
“No,” Poizner said. “Do you feel fully in tune with the Republican Party still?” we asked.
“I wouldn’t say that necessarily,” he said. “I personally don’t have any interest in partisan battles. Not where I am right now. I am interested in being a problem solver for California. I think it would be really great if California had a super strong two-party system. We don’t. We have a monopoly going on there. I think offering more viable choices to voters would be a great thing.”
He said he doesn’t really have a problem with the Republican Party — whose voters he’ll need if he hopes to win in November — but partisanship is just not his thing right now. When push comes to shove, it sounds to us like Poizner is at heart a Kasich Republican (he worked to elect him president in 2016) , , functioning — for now — as an independent.
Alas for Poizner, his 2010 harbinger of Trump performance will be recycled incessantly by general election foe and Democratic state Senator Ricardo Lara of Long Beach, seeking to make history himself, as California’s first openly gay statewide office holder.
“I’m glad he repents what he said,” a poker-faced Lara recently told political writer Joe Garafoli. “It’s an important part of his coming to terms with the new political reality.”
While disowning his own right-wing adventurism, Poizner remains mindful that he can’t win as an independent without attracting Republicans, no matter how toxic the Trump and GOP brands are in California, along with NPPs and moderate Democrats, as well.
Thus he conspicuously tap dances around questions seeking his views about the current occupant of the White House.
After Poizner outlined his affinity for Kasich, Calbuzz asked: ”So you don’t really have a problem with the Republican Party – you have a problem with Trumpism?”
“I wouldn’t put it that way,” Poizner replied. “I have a problem with all the problems that aren’t getting solved in California. I wouldn’t put the burden of being responsible for all those problems on one party of the other. Or one person or the other.”
NOTE: Yahoo News embedded a reporter with the Newsom campaign for 3 months. Lengthy definitive profile follows.
On a recent afternoon, a long blue-and-white bus cut through L.A.’s glacial traffic, pivoted slowly into the Ladera Center strip mall and stopped in front of Stakely’s Barber Salon. “Gavin for Governor,” it said on the side. Moments later, Gavin Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco, two-term lieutenant governor of California and current Democratic candidate for the state’s top job, descended the stairs in white shirtsleeves and a loosened navy tie and, though his cheeks seemed as smooth as the rest of him, sauntered inside for a shave.
In a few days, Newsom would learn that he had won the Golden State’s nonpartisan, top-two primary with 33 percent of the vote — no surprise, given that he’d led the crowded field in every poll taken since campaigning began. More consequential was the news that the other Democratic frontrunner, former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, had failed to secure the second spot in the general election, and that a little-known Republican venture capitalist from Illinois named John Cox had advanced instead.
In a state where Democrats dominate every major office, where Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by 3 million votes and where registered independents now outnumber Republicans, observers had always given Cox a much slimmer chance than Villaraigosa of besting Newsom in a head-to-head contest. Having Cox as his opponent wouldn’t quite guarantee victory to Newsom, but it would suddenly become very hard to see how he could lose.
For the moment, however, Newsom wasn’t taking anything for granted. Hence the trip to Stakely’s, one of the final stops on a carefully choreographed bus tour that carried him from San Francisco to San Diego in the week before the primary. The point, as is often the case in California, which is a vast and very expensive place to run for office, wasn’t to play to the crowd. Other than a few barbers, there was no crowd. The point was to play to the cameras; to get in, get out and get on the evening news, where a not-insignificant number of L.A.’s millions of voters could see the candidate hanging out at a black barbershop in black South Los Angeles with one of the city’s most prominent black politicians, County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas, who met Newsom at the door.
Newsom — who is 6’3″, with immaculate teeth, a jock’s swagger and more than a passing resemblance to Patrick Bateman, the Christian Bale character from American Psycho — didn’t miss a beat. He laughed loudly, gave dap and posed for selfies. Eyeing the old-school basketball photos on Stakely’s yellow walls and the NBA finals on its two TVs, he name-dropped the Lakers and the Celtics and LeBron. He acted surprised when Thomas “convinced” him to get a shave. He joked that he’d like his barber, a man named Brando, to buzz a few of “those zigzag lines” into the side of his head, then recoiled the instant Brando touched his gel-slicked hair with a comb. “Just a shave,” Newsom clarified. “There goes my closing television ad.” Fully reclined, his face slathered with shaving cream, Newsom mocked his own photo op. “Anybody got a baby?” he shouted. “I should be cuddling a baby right now.”
As the shave wound down, Brando handed Newsom a mirror. For a split second, Newsom held it. Then he did something revealing. Realizing that the entire pool of photographers was now scrambling to get a shot of him gazing at his own visage, which the New Yorker magazine once described as “provokingly handsome,” Newsom laughed, shook his head and thrust the mirror back at Brando.
Newsom, 50, has been a politician nearly half his life. In public, at least, he’s always seemed like a man with one eye on the mirror — hyperconscious of himself and his surroundings, and skillfully, seamlessly adjusting the former to more favorably reflect the latter.
So far, his silken self-awareness — his ability to sense what you want from him and adapt accordingly — has proved to be an asset. In fact, he’s never lost an election. But if he wins this one, actually governing California — and trying, at the same time, to lead his party by example — will test the limits of his suppleness.
When Newsom first surfaced in 1997 as a 29-year-old wine-and-hospitality entrepreneur who had been appointed to a vacant seat as a San Francisco supervisor, he touted himself, in the fashion of the time, as a “dogmatic fiscal conservative.” Running for reelection, Newsom paid to appear on a GOP mailer and accepted the endorsement of the city’s Republican Party. After election as mayor in 2003, he shifted leftward, making headlines the following year by becoming the first public official in America to issue same-sex marriage licenses. Then, at the height of Web 2.0 mania, he wrote a book called “Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government,” which was so optimistic about outsourcing state services to individuals, via apps, that Newt Gingrich called it “a blueprint for the Republican Party.”
Now, as a candidate for governor at a time of fake news, rising populism and a progressive base that has responded by turning against both Davos Democratsand Silicon Valley, Newsom no longer stumps about “Citizenville.” (“Every time I talk about participatory platforms,” he tells Yahoo News, “my campaign team literally tries to choke me.”) Instead, he is promoting a liberal wish list that would, if enacted, represent one of the largest government expansions California has ever seen: a statewide single-payer health care system; universal preschool; full-service community schools, open every day; hundreds of thousands of new affordable housing units per year; a state energy grid run solely on renewable energy; and a state bank dedicated to financing infrastructure projects, small businesses and the burgeoning marijuana industry.
Newsom insists that his core values have never changed. “I take a back seat to few in terms of my progressive policy positions on social issues,” he says. “I’ve always had those. And I haven’t budged in terms of being someone who believes in fiscal discipline.”
“But it’s always about what we emphasize,” he explains. “And it’s about what we’re allowed to emphasize as well.”
What Newsom has decided to emphasize — along with when and where he’s emphasizing it — could shape the future of the Democratic Party. The next presidential contest is more than two years away; the next generation of party leaders is stuck in the Senate, where Republicans will prevent them from accomplishing much of anything. Meanwhile, rank-and-file Democrats are searching for a model of post-Obama progressivism that can transcend the tired debates between Bernie Bros and Hillarybots, populism and identity politics. Resistance to President Trump shows no signs of subsiding. And California, home to the world’s fifth-largest economy, more people than any other state in America, and a totally powerless GOP, is emerging as a kind of alternate reality to Trump’s Washington: a place, that is, where progressive solutions to America’s most pressing problems, from income inequality to education to health care, could actually be implemented, on an unmatched scale.
“As a gubernatorial candidate in the largest state in the country, and as a Democrat, I would be hard pressed to tell you what the Democratic Party’s message is, outside of our opposition to Donald Trump,” Newsom says. “That’s a pretty damning statement, and I’m sorry I have to make it.”
“If the Democratic Party writ large is not the opposition party, then California must be the opposition party,” he adds. “And we can’t, in that light, just be the resistance. The future happens here first. We have to be the positive alternative that is missing on a national level.”
Newsom, as usual, knows what the moment wants. And as usual, he’s promising that he can provide it — all of it. The question is whether he’s promising too much.
Before Stakely’s, Newsom’s bus had stopped at the Mizell Senior Center in Palm Springs, the first and only municipality in America with an all-LGBTQ city council, for a town hall co-sponsored by Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization. It was a kind of homecoming.
“You know him for his courageous, principled stand on marriage equality, way back in 2004 — before it was popular, other than in the LGBT community, and when most folks in the Democratic Party thought it wasn’t time to support full marriage equality,” said Equality California executive director Rick Zbur in his introduction. “Gavin Newsom put his career on the line because he knew that when it comes to fighting for civil rights, for equality, we can’t let politics get in the way of doing what’s right.”
The crowd went wild. Everything Zbur said was conveniently on message; Newsom’s slogan is “Courage for a Change,” and exhibit A is always his decision, as mayor, to defy state law and open city hall to thousands of same-sex weddings. “Today we can confidently say is the first day in the state of California that we are providing marriage equally and fairly to everyone, and denying no one their right and their opportunity to live their lives out loud,” Newsom announced in his campaign’s debut digital ad, which begins with 14-year-old footage of gay couples exchanging vows. “It takes courage to make real change,” a voiceover adds. “That’s Gavin Newsom.”
Politics aside, though, everything Zbur said also happens to be true. Newsom’s decision wasn’t popular at the time — not in California, and not in the Democratic Party. After George W. Bush won reelection and 11 states passed anti-gay-marriage amendments in 2004, Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, himself gay, accused Newsom of helping to “galvanize Mr. Bush’s conservative supporters … by playing into people’s fears of same-sex weddings,” as the New York Times put it. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, one of Newsom’s early mentors, concurred, claiming that the “whole issue has been too much, too fast, too soon.” It would take another eight years for a Democratic president, Barack Obama, to finally come out in favor of full marriage equality.
By getting ahead of his party and his state, Newsom imperiled his political ambitions as well. Yes, the mayor’s approval ratings soared in San Francisco, perhaps the most socially liberal city in America. But the rest of California lagged behind. Just four years later, backers of Proposition 8, a measure to amend the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage, cut a campaign ad that began with a cocksure Newsom declaring victory. (“This door’s wide open now,” he says in the clip. “It’s gonna happen — whether you like it or not.”) A few months later, Prop 8 passed with 52 percent of the vote, and just like that, California outlawed same-sex marriage for the next five years. When Newsom tried to challenge Jerry Brown for governor in 2010, he flopped; polls routinely showed him trailing by 20 percentage points or more. He bowed out seven months before the primary.
Today, the rest of the Democratic Party, and much of the rest of the country, has caught up with Newsom. “History has proven that Gavin Newsom made the right decision, a very bold decision,” Feinstein recently told the Los Angeles Times. And that’s how the candidate, now vindicated by the march of progress, has been selling himself to the electorate: as a “bold” visionary with the “courage” to do “big” things.
But Newsom’s maneuvering on marriage wasn’t simply about boldness or courage. Neither were the other ahead-of-the-curve achievements he likes to tout, from the universal health care system he implemented in San Francisco to the ballot initiatives he championed to legalize recreational marijuana and require background checks for ammunition purchases. They were also examples of something more clear-eyed, and possibly consequential, than that: Newsom’s willingness to leverage his most powerful asset — his position of privilege — to promote cutting-edge progressive causes.
When Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, first heard that Newsom was planning to unilaterally legalize same-sex marriage in San Francisco, she was afraid it might be premature. But she quickly came around. One of the reasons, she later told the Los Angeles Times, was that Newsom himself lent the issue a kind of crossover appeal. “This move by Newsom played against type,” she explained. “People did not expect this Irish Catholic, straight … middle-of-the-road moderate to do something so audacious.”
In effect, Newsom was operating from a position of both personal privilege (as a “mainstream” figure validating a “fringe” cause) and political privilege (as the mayor of one of America’s most gay-friendly cities), and he was using that privilege to push an envelope that other politicians felt they couldn’t afford to push. Similar, if less dramatic, moments followed: his decision to side with workers during a citywide 2004 hotel strike, even though hotel management had contributed generously to his campaign and the union had bitterly opposed him; his successful 2007 push for countywide universal health care access — the first system of its kind — despite his initial reluctance, as a businessman himself, to ask employers to pony up.
Newsom’s biography suggests that privilege has always been a double-edged thing for him — an advantage and a weapon. Perhaps that’s because his own privilege is shallower than it seems.
A recent New Yorker article described Newsom as “the scion of a wealthy San Francisco family.” That’s not quite true. Newsom’s father, retired state appellate Judge William A. Newsom III, is well connected in Democratic circles; his son got his start in politics when one of Bill’s friends, party power broker John Burton, convinced another Newsom pal, then San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, to appoint Gavin to a vacant seat on the Board of Supervisors. The elder Newsom is also a longtime consigliere and money manager for his Catholic school chum Gordon Getty, whose fortune is estimated at $2 billion. Getty helped launch Newsom in the wine business by investing in his upstart PlumpJack brand, which expanded rapidly into restaurants, wineries, hotels and clothing stores, and eventually made Newsom a millionaire. In 2003, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Getty was the lead investor in 10 of the younger Newsom’s 11 businesses; he also spent $233,000 on Newsom’s first wedding reception and lent him $1 million to purchase a home.
Yet Newsom was acquainted with the opposite of privilege as well. His parents divorced when he was young. Neither was wealthy; there was “tremendous financial stress,” Newsom once told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Our most terrible family moments were always around money.” Struggling with severe dyslexia — he has said he was “terrible at school” and admits that he still has to read newspaper articles twice to understand them — Newsom grew up mostly with his mother, Tessa Menzies, in San Francisco, delivering papers, busing tables and later working construction. Tessa opened their home to foster children and boarders, and to make ends meet she often held down several jobs at once: waitress, secretary, bookkeeper, assistant buyer at a local department store. In 2002, she died of breast cancer shortly after being evicted from her rented apartment.
As a teenager, Newsom occasionally traveled with the Gettys, and the contrast between their lives and his left a lasting impression. In 2005, he recounted one particularly powerful experience.
“We were in Spain — somewhere fancy — and all the Getty boys came in,” Newsom told the Chronicle. “I was about the same age … about 14. A couple of people there assumed I was one of them. And I will never forget how I was treated: ‘You’re the best!’ Until the moment when they realized I was not a member of the family.
“It was — whoosh,” he continued, making a chopping motion. “‘Get out of my way — you’re nothing to me.’ I realized again who I was. But I also realized how difficult it was for [Gordon’s sons] Billy and John and Peter. Because they have a false sense of reality.
“I swear to you when I say this,” Newsom concluded. “No exaggeration: I’ll never, ever allow that to be me — the people who did that.”
In conversation, Newsom is anything but a pitchfork-wielding populist.
Asked whether he would write a book like “Citizenville” today, now that a foreign power has allegedly hacked a U.S. election and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has been forced to testify on Capitol Hill, he doesn’t flinch.
“Yeah, I would,” he insists. “The notion we can amplify civic engagement by the use of [web] platforms — look, I think that’s more evident with Trump and Trumpism than I could have ever imagined. I think he’s really made the point.”
Newsom boasts about balancing his budgets as mayor. He praises the man he hopes to succeed, Jerry Brown, for disproving “the Republican narrative that you can’t grow your economy and reduce your greenhouse gas emissions, or that you can’t grow your economy and, as we did a number of years ago, increase taxes on your top earners.” He says this lesson — “you don’t have to be profligate to be a progressive,” as he frequently puts it — is the most potent thing that national Democrats can learn from California, where Sacramento is currently debating how best to spend the record surplus Brown will leave behind.
And he is skeptical, even critical, of fellow progressives like Bernie Sanders, who he says want to “tear other folks down” — presumably richer folks — in order to build their movement.
“I’ve done 36 or so town halls, all over this state,” Newsom says. “You feel it. There’s an intensity coming from the progressive base of our party. There’s no question that the base is pulling its leadership in that direction. There’s a lot of pressure.
“But I have 23 little businesses I started out of college, with 800 employees,” he continues. “The one tendency I have not succumbed to, that I don’t embrace, is begrudging other people’s success. Some people in our party, their rhetoric comes across as particularly crass in how it relates to economic development, entrepreneurism, business growth. I just caution against that. I don’t think that’s a healthy thing for our party. I hear everyone say, ‘I’m pro-job,’ and then I hear us bashing the private sector. I’m not there.”
Yet Newsom is still promising an agenda far more progressive than Hillary Clinton’s or Barack Obama’s — and far more expensive than any state, even California, has ever shouldered. In interviews, he often mentions his “entrepreneurial bias” and how “a willingness to take risks — not be reckless” — is a “consistent” part of “the way [he] think[s] politically.” This, it seems, is the risk Newsom is taking in his gubernatorial run. From his privileged position as the top Democrat in the biggest, most Democratic state in America — “California is America’s coming attraction,” he likes to say — Gavin Newsom will show his party the way. Not by choosing sides — between moderates and liberals, fiscal hawks and progressive firebrands, the coastal elites and the rest of the country — but rather by being more of everything than anyone else. A scruffy Democratic socialist from Vermont calling for single-payer health care is one thing, he seems to be saying; a budget-balancing entrepreneur on a first-name basis with Sergey and Larry is another.
It remains to be seen, however, whether California’s would-be governor can maintain this precarious balancing act long enough to actually enact such an ambitious agenda. Even now, signs of strain are showing.
Near the end of the Q&A portion of the Palm Springs town hall — a Newsom staffer kept snapping “30 seconds” and “this is the last question, for real” every time the candidate tried to answer anyone — a friendly voter asked Newsom to “spend a moment on [his] health care plans.”
It was an opportunity for Newsom to expand on the issue that had most distinguished him from Villaraigosa. Early on, Newsom decided to be the “single-payer candidate,” and early on Villaraigosa decided to run as a reality check. “Pie in the sky doesn’t put food on the table,” Villaraigosa would say, citing objective estimates that put the annual cost of a statewide single-payer system at $400 billion, or twice as much as Gov. Brown’s entire 2017-18 budget. “It’s snake oil.”
At first, Newsom seemed to rise to the occasion. “It is my commitment to you to advance the conversation on universal health care anew,” he said. “I have studied the Beveridge model. I have studied the national health insurance model. I have studied the models of Germany and other countries, which have distinctive health insurance policies, all in that vernacular of single payer. All with different components, different attributes, different liabilities. And I am convinced California can achieve this goal of single-payer health insurance.”
The crowd roared. No one seemed to notice how carefully Newsom had chosen his words: committing to “advance the conversation on universal health care anew” isn’t the same as committing to pass single payer, and saying that California “can achieve this goal” isn’t the same as promising to implement it. Implicit in his hedged rhetoric were the caveats Newsom had already voiced elsewhere, in less rousing settings, about how single payer would not “occur by the signature of the next governor,” but rather take “years,” with “litigation,” “setbacks,” “constitutional questions” and “propositions on the ballot — maybe multiple” — not to mention an unlikely waiver from the Trump administration. Yet Palm Springs chose to hear what it wanted to hear, and the candidate moved on.
Ever conscious of the zeitgeist and how his own image can better reflect it, Newsom knows that boldness, or courage, or whatever you want to call it, is a good look for a Democrat at a time of Trumpian bombast. And he has been bold, even courageous, in the past. But how bold can a governor — even a California governor — really be?
Two months before Stakely’s and Palm Springs, Newsom campaigned in East L.A., a lower-income, heavily Latino section of the city, and walked along Cesar Chavez Avenue. He greeted supporters at Moles La Tia and El Gallo Grill; he shopped for his wife at Nataly Fashions. On the street, he encountered a young community college student battling homelessness and depression. She came from a foster home, she said, and lived in her car while attending school. He told her his family had fostered children too. He seemed moved by her story.
A perennial problem in California, homelessness was the issue that propelled Newsom to the mayoralty in 2004; as a candidate, he championed the controversial Care Not Cash program to slash county welfare checks in exchange for services and housing, and it eventually became part of his “Ten Year Plan to Abolish Chronic Homelessness,” which succeeded in reducing the city’s street population by about 40 percent.
But Newsom’s record was mixed. Though he delivered an annual State of Homelessness address and constantly visited homeless people, service providers and shelters, activists criticized him for busing the homeless out of San Francisco, and his tax incentives and pro-development policies would later make matters worse by luring tech companies and their wealthy employees back to the city. Today, San Francisco and the rest of California are experiencing yet another homelessness crisis; statewide, the homeless population jumped nearly 14 percent from 2016 to 2017, bringing the count to 135,000 people, or a quarter of the national total.
As he rallied a few dozen voters in El Gallo Plaza, these numbers seemed to be on Newsom’s mind. He described homelessness as “the ultimate manifestation of our failure as a society,” and vowed to “be audacious and to move, candidly, in a direction we haven’t moved in decades.”
“Economic growth in this state has been a spectator sport for too many people,” Newsom said. “We are living in a state that is the richest and the poorest state in America. That’s happened on our watch. We own that. We have got to step up our game. Eight million people living below the poverty line. Forty-six percent of our children at or near the poverty level. This is the issue. This is the ‘why.’ It’s why I’m here; it’s why I’m running for governor. We can do more, and we can do better. And so I commit to you, at the core of my soul: This is what drives me. This is my passion.”
Two months later, in Palm Springs, the subject came up again. About halfway through the town hall, Sundra Holden, a 64-year-old black woman with close-cropped gray hair, wire-rim glasses and an aluminum walker, grabbed the microphone from the emcee. She had driven two hours from Downey, Calif., to ask her question.
“I have been homeless twice,” Holden said. “I worked for 42 years in this state. Rent in California has gone outrageous. Nobody can work a regular job and rent an affordable apartment. I am sick and tired of looking at people on TV living in tents and stuff. It’s sickening to see. These are regular people that’s trying to make it every day. What can we do to give a rental that somebody can go live in and be comfortable when they work more than 40 hours a week?”
“I’m sorry for what you’ve experienced,” Newsom said. “And I’m sorry to say you’re not alone.”
“Yeah, I know,” Holden said.
The state Senate committee that oversees energy and utilities agreed to move forward on a bill that would expand the California power grid to as many as 14 states, but the legislation was not wholly embraced.
Four of 11 committee members — including Chairman Ben Hueso, D-San Diego — did not record a vote on Assembly Bill 813, which passed at the end of a nearly three-hour hearing with the minimum number of votes possible.
Hueso did not explain his failure to weigh in.
When pressed for an explanation after the 6-1 vote, his staff said the senator “did not feel that the bill adequately addressed the concerns he expressed last week regarding maximizing benefits for ratepayers, creating and maintaining quality middle-class jobs for Californians, and minimizing any potential risks to our State’s nation-leading clean and renewable energy goals and policies – especially given the current volatility at the federal level.”
At least two lawmakers on the winning side of the vote said they would not support the bill again unless changes are made to protect the state’s commitment to renewable energy and to reduce potential job losses.
“This is a major, major change for California,” said Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. “Other states don’t have the same rules we do … I’m willing to support the bill to move forward today. I have the assurance from the author and the Governor’s Office and the governor himself that stakeholders would sit down and really work some of these concerns out.”
AB 813 would rewrite the way California oversees most of the state power grid by turning responsibility for the poles and wires over from a state operator to a regional transmission organization.
Supporters say it would save consumers money by allowing California to sell excess solar power to nearby states.
“This step is absolutely necessary for us to reach our long-term climate goals,” said Carl Zichella of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It gets us the cleanest, fastest and cheapest way to move forward with climate change.”
But critics say the bill wrongly cedes control of the power grid to federal regulators and could undermine California’s clean-energy goals.
“This is a one-way ticket that the legislature cannot subsequently unwind,” said Matthew Freedman, a staff attorney at the Utility Reform Network consumer group.
The bill is next expected to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee
The American oil and gas industry is leaking more methane than the government thinks — much more, a new study says. Since methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, that is bad news for climate change.
The new study, published Thursday in the journal Science, puts the rate of methane emissions from domestic oil and gas operations at 2.3 percent of total production per year, which is 60 percent higher than the current estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency. That might seem like a small fraction of the total, but it represents an estimated 13 million metric tons lost each year, or enough natural gas to fuel 10 million homes.
Thanks to a boom in hydraulic fracturing in states like Texas and Pennsylvania, natural gas has quickly replaced coal as the leading fuel used by America’s power plants. It has also helped, to some extent, in the fight against climate change: When burned for electricity, natural gas produces about half the carbon dioxide that coal does. The shift from coal to gas has helped lower CO₂ emissions from America’s power plants by 27 percent since 2005.
But methane, the main component of natural gas, can warm the planet more than 80 times as much as the same amount of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period if it escapes into the atmosphere before being burned. A recent study found that natural gas power plants could actually be worse for climate change than coal plants if their leakage rate rose above 4 percent.