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California in Congress

Just a few Democrats defect from Nancy Pelosi during House speaker election

 (Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)
(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) was most Democrats' pick for House speaker on Tuesday, but, as expected, she lost the gavel to Republican Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Some were watching to see if Democrats would back away from the minority leader, especially during a public vote, after the first serious challenge to her authority last month. But only a few did.

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) voted for Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) voted for Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) voted for Cooper.

Cooper and Sinema previously voted for another member over Pelosi.

In November, Ohio Rep. Ryan challenged Pelosi for her position. Some members said it was time for new leadership after Democrats' major losses in the November election.

She beat back the challenge, arguing that Democrats need an experienced leader to counter President-elect Donald Trump. But on a 134-63 vote, she still won by her smallest margin in years.

Today's roll call vote took nearly an hour. While voting, several Democrats mentioned recent news such as the proposed penalties for the Democrats (including a few Californians) who filmed a sit-in on the House floor in violation of House rules, and Republicans' brief attempt to gut a committee that monitors congressional ethics.

Assembly sets confirmation hearing after Gov. Brown formally nominates Becerra as state attorney general

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), seen at a gun violence event in June, was formally nominated Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown to be California's next attorney general. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), seen at a gun violence event in June, was formally nominated Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown to be California's next attorney general. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Less than an hour after state Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris resigned and took the oath of office for the U.S. Senate, Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday officially nominated Rep. Xavier Becerra to fill the vacancy and become California’s top law enforcement officer.

The state Assembly set a Jan.10 date for his first confirmation hearing.

The Assembly and Senate now have 90 days to act on confirmation of Becerra, a Democrat from Los Angeles, as state attorney general.

A letter from the co-chairs of the Assembly Special Committee on the Office of Attorney General, which will consider the confirmation, asks Becerra to submit written comments on five “critical issues confronting California today and over the next two years” remaining in the attorney general’s term.

Becerra was asked to respond to give his positions on immigration, including cooperation with federal immigration authorities and his view of sanctuary cities, civil rights, environmental protection, police accountability and consumer protection. The Congressman was also asked to describe his position on President-elect Donald Trump's proposal for a registry for Muslim immigrants.

 “In the next four years, Californians and our laws will encounter substantial challenges from the next President and his administration,” said the letter from Democratic Assemblymen Reggie Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles and Mark Stone of Scotts Valley.

“Donald Trump has made multiple statements that directly contradict California law and policy,” the two lawmakers wrote. “Our next Attorney General will have great responsibility for protecting Californians and our values, and defending our laws.”

Becerra has served in Congress since 1992 and was most recently the first Latino member of the Committee on Ways and Means, as well as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Becerra, 58, previously served in the state Assembly from 1990 to 1992.

“Xavier has been an outstanding public servant — in the state Legislature, the U.S. Congress and as a deputy attorney general,” Brown said when he announced last month that Becerra would be his nominee. “I’m confident he will be a champion for all Californians and help our state aggressively combat climate change.”

Harris became the first black woman to represent California in the U.S. Senate with a ceremony shortly after 9 a.m. Pacific time. She submitted her letter of resignation to the governor at the same time.

"I am proud of the work and accomplishments achieved by the Office of the Attorney General over the past six years,” Harris wrote. “As United States Senator, I look forward to continuing to work with you and other state and local leaders on important issues facing California and our nation.”

Harris later named Kathleen “Kate” Alice Kenealy chief deputy attorney general to lead the state Department of Justice as acting attorney general until Becerra is confirmed.

Updated at 11:24 am: This post has been updated to include setting of confirmation hearing.

Updated at 10:28 am: This post has been updated to include naming of acting attorney general.

California in Congress

Kamala Harris sworn in as first Indian American senator and California's first black senator

Before friends and family in a packed chamber, Kamala Harris was sworn in as California's newest U.S. senator Tuesday morning. She became the first black woman the Golden State has sent to the Senate and the first Indian American to ever serve in the body.

  1. Harris, 52, a Democrat from Los Angeles, was sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden shortly after 9 a.m. PT as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and her new Senate colleagues looked on. Harris' husband, Los Angeles attorney Doug Emhoff, her stepchildren, brother-in-law Tony West, sister Maya Harris, extended family as well as several state officials from across the country who traveled to celebrate with the now former state attorney general watched from the gallery.
California in Congress

Meet the six Californians who are officially joining the largest congressional delegation today

 (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Today the 115th Congress will be sworn in, including California's first new U.S. senator in more than two decades and five new House members.

In the Senate, members are sworn in one at a time and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is expected to walk her new colleague Sen.-elect Kamala Harris across the chamber to be sworn in.

Many eyes will be focused on Harris in the coming months. Considered a rising star in the party, she has already been floated as a possible presidential candidate for 2020.

Friends and family will fill the galleries as all 435 House members are sworn in at the same time. House and Senate leaders also hold a ceremonial swearing-in later in the day, when individual members can get a photo with Vice President Joe Biden.

California's five new House members are Rep.-elects Ro Khanna (D-Fremont), Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel), Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) and Nanette Barragán (D-San Pedro).

We'll be tracking the new members throughout the day, but you can check out their backgrounds and biographies below.

California Legislature

Assemblywoman rings in 2017 with a surprise marriage to a former lawmaker

For a legislator who frequently offers glimpses of her personal life on Twitter, the new year brought something entirely different to share: a wedding.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) was married on Sunday to a former Republican member of the Assembly, Nathan Fletcher. The ceremony, attended only by the couple's close family, was officiated by former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez.

Gonzalez and Fletcher, who each have children from previous marriages, have been together since 2015.

Fletcher changed his GOP registration to nonpartisan during an unsuccessful race for mayor of San Diego in 2012. He later became a Democrat and served as a delegate for Hillary Clinton at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

It was Fletcher who made the news official in a late-afternoon tweet, after Gonzalez had been dropping hints to her followers.

Gonzalez said that the couple would celebrate with about 200 people who had been invited to what they thought was a surprise party on Sunday night for Fletcher's 40th birthday.

"The surprise is on them!" she wrote in a message to The Times.

Sutter Brown, Gov. Jerry Brown's beloved corgi, dies: 'It's a sad day for all who loved Sutter'

Sutter Brown, who died on Friday, was last seen in public on election day, accompanying the governor to vote at his Sacramento polling place. In recent days, Sutter’s health took a turn for the worse, the governor’s office said.

Sutter died with the governor and his wife at his side, and was buried Friday afternoon on his family’s Colusa County ranch, according to a statement from the governor’s deputy press secretary, Deborah Hoffman.

“It’s a sad day for all who loved Sutter,” Hoffman said.

California in Congress

Kamala Harris picks a former Clinton staffer to be her communications director

How this climate scientist is preparing for Trump

 (David Butow / For The Times)
(David Butow / For The Times)

Donald Trump’s victory sent shock waves through the environmental community, but fears are particularly heightened among scientists who are employed by the federal government or rely on the data it generates. There are concerns that younger generations may avoid working for U.S. agencies or decide not to focus on climate change because they don’t see a future working in the field.

The election may already have had a chilling effect: Some working in national laboratories declined to speak about the impact the next administration could have on research they consider to be crucial to the fate of the planet. 

Ben Santer has responded differently. Although he’s soft-spoken in person, the 61-year-old scientist has become more vocal over the years in hopes of beating back claims that climate change isn’t real.

California in Congress

Kamala Harris makes another hire for her Senate staff

California Legislature

California needs a specific ban on smoking pot while driving, these lawmakers say

 (Al Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
(Al Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Two state legislators say Californians might think it's illegal to smoke marijuana while driving, but that there's no specific ban on the practice in state law.

Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) and Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) said Thursday that they'll introduce legislation to close what they call a loophole. 

The lawmakers said Proposition 64, the state's new law legalizing marijuana, allows a citation for having an open container of marijuana in a vehicle. But, they said, it doesn't expressly ban the use of the drug while driving.

"This legislation makes our laws for smoking [marijuana] while driving consistent with drinking while driving," Hill said in a written statement.

The bill, which will be introduced next week, would make a driver's marijuana use a traffic infraction. Its authors said the bill would allow a judge the option to consider the offense either an infraction or a misdemeanor.

State government

On Sunday, new laws take effect in California. What can you expect?

Californians’ lives will be ruled by hundreds of new laws starting Sunday, including harsher sanctions against criminals, extra restrictions on companies such as Uber and Lyft, and a boost in the minimum wage to $10.50 from $10.

Residents of the Golden State will be able to get a glass of wine when getting a haircut and take selfies with their ballots. Gender-specific bathrooms will be a thing of the past if there’s only one toilet, and good Samaritans can break into cars to free dogs at risk of heatstroke.

See which laws will affect you.

Should California lawmakers work to end the electoral college?

Protesters made their last stand before members of the electoral college gathered to vote on Dec. 19 at the State Capitol. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)
Protesters made their last stand before members of the electoral college gathered to vote on Dec. 19 at the State Capitol. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

Protestors across the nation lost their last ditch attempt to sway the electoral college from voting for president-elect Donald Trump last week. But a California lawyer wants to reignite debate over the process that sealed Trump's victory in 2018.

Rodrigo Howard, an attorney with CapKey Advisors, has proposed an initiative for the 2018 ballot that would ask voters whether state lawmakers should work to modify or eliminate the electoral college, so that the vote for president and vice president more closely resembles the outcome of the national popular vote.

Howard said the proposal is an open-ended measure that could encourage lawmakers to use their authority to adopt interstate compacts or ratify amendments to the U.S. Constitution, a difficult process that involves the approval of three-fourths of the states. The petition was received on Wednesday by the Attorney General's office.

Changing the electoral college process is a long shot. But the system has been at the center of heated debate since the election of Trump, who won the presidency with 304 electoral college votes, though he lost the national popular vote — Hillary Clinton defeated him by almost 2.9 million ballots.

Howard said he refused "to believe change is impossible."

"The electoral college is an archaic system with roots in 18th century compromises, and one of those compromises has its roots in slavery," he said. "We are stuck with a system that does not have moral or political legitimacy."

Contributions roll into Antonio Villaraigosa's campaign for governor

State government

Gov. Jerry Brown selects two top advisors for spots on the California Public Utilities Commission

California Gov. Jerry Brown. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
California Gov. Jerry Brown. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Jerry Brown has chosen two of his closest advisors on environmental and climate change issues to fill positions on the California Public Utilities Commission, the powerful state agency that regulates energy companies and the telecommunications industry.

On Wednesday, Brown nominated Cliff Rechtschaffen and Martha Guzman Aceves to serve six-year terms on the commission, effective next month. All five CPUC commissioners are appointed by the governor, subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

Rechtschaffen has served as the governor's senior advisor on climate and energy issues for more than five years. Guzman Aceves, Brown's deputy legislative affairs secretary, has focused on energy and environmental issues.

"Both have sound judgment and a commitment to protecting ratepayers and ensuring safe, reliable and climate-friendly energy in California," Brown said in a written statement.

The appointments will mean a departure from the utilities agency for two sitting commissioners, Mike Florio and Catherine Sandoval, once their terms expire next month. Florio had faced several years of questions about his role in private conversations with the state's biggest power utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

California's former lieutenant governor could become Trump's Agriculture secretary

Abel Maldonado (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
Abel Maldonado (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

President-elect Donald Trump is considering former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado to lead the Agriculture department, a move that would bring greater diversity to the Republican’s Cabinet.

Maldonado will meet with Trump on Wednesday at his Palm Beach, Fla., estate. Trump spokesman Sean Spicer noted that Maldonado, owner of Runway Vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley, comes from three generations of farmers and has “strong roots in the agriculture industry of California.”

California Legislature

New and returning California legislators divvy up committee assignments

 (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

California legislative leaders have rounded out their choices for dozens of policy panels, with a few freshman legislators winning committee gavels and women leading a quarter of the committees in the Assembly.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) announced the assignments Tuesday following the Senate selections made by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) last week.

Ten legislators who were newly elected to posts in Sacramento on Nov. 8 will serve as committee chairs in the two houses. Rendon's office said Tuesday more women would lead standing or special Assembly committees in 2017 than in the previous pair of two-year legislative sessions.

Only a handful of the state Capitol's most powerful committees, however, will change hands.

Notable new selections include state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) as chair of the Senate's budget committee; Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) as chair of the Assembly's energy and utilities committee; and state Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) as chair of the Senate's education committee.

Kamala Harris' former campaign manager joins one of California's top political consulting firms

Juan Rodriguez. (Provided by Juan Rodriguez)
Juan Rodriguez. (Provided by Juan Rodriguez)

Juan Rodriguez, the campaign manager for California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris’ successful bid for the U.S. Senate, is joining the San Francisco-based political consulting team led by veteran Ace Smith, who has worked for Hillary Clinton and Gov. Jerry Brown.

Rodriguez will anchor the new Los Angeles office of the consulting firm, known as SCN Strategies. The firm served as Harris’ lead consultancy during the Senate campaign.

“Adding Juan as a partner with a new footprint in Southern California dramatically expands our offering,” Smith said in a statement.

The addition of Rodriguez comes as California’s 2018 race for governor inches closer on the horizon. SCN works for Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. He faces a growing field of candidates, including former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a former SCN client.

Before joining the Harris campaign, Rodriguez worked as a senior advisor to the attorney general. He also worked as Los Angeles' director for state relations when Villaraigosa was mayor. Rodriguez is 31 and lives in Los Angeles.

Democratic delegate who leads an L.A. Islamic group criticized for tweet about Russian military plane crash

Hussam Ayloush, shown in May, is the Los Angeles director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country's largest Muslim civil liberties organization. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Hussam Ayloush, shown in May, is the Los Angeles director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country's largest Muslim civil liberties organization. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Los Angeles chapter and a California delegate to this year's Democratic National Convention, triggered a social media uproar on Christmas Day when he sent out a tweet that appeared to imply he wished more people died in a Syria-bound Russian military plane that crashed.

“I’m sad about the crashed Russian military jet. The TU-154 could have carried up to 180 military personnel instead of just 92!” Ayloush said in his tweet.

All 92 people aboard the plane are believed to have died when it crashed into the Black Sea on Sunday morning. Among the passengers killed were members of world-famous Russian military choir who were scheduled to perform at a Russian air force base in Syria.

Ayloush, deleted his tweet a short time later.

In a series of follow-up tweets and a Facebook post, he said he was unaware that noncombatants were among those aboard the plane. But he did not address the death of other Russian military personnel, saying that “Russia's military is engaging in major war crimes and atrocities against innocent civilians in Syria.”

Ayloush's initial comments triggered immediate criticism on Twitter and were picked up a day later by the ultraconservative news site Breitbart and other media outlets. 

Conservatives on Twitter were quick to point out that Ayloush is a member of the California Democratic Party. Ayloush was an elected convention delegate and is a member of the state party’s executive board, which is made up of about 500 party members.

Ayoush was not available for comment on Tuesday, and a spokeswoman for CAIR-LA said his Facebook post on the matter was his response.

State government

John Benoit, Riverside County supervisor and former legislator, loses battle with cancer

Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit, left, with fellow South Coast Air Quality Management District board member Joseph Lyou on April 1. (Los Angeles Times)
Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit, left, with fellow South Coast Air Quality Management District board member Joseph Lyou on April 1. (Los Angeles Times)

John Benoit, a veteran state legislator who went on to serve seven years as a Riverside County supervisor, died Monday after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

The Republican politician's staff announced Benoit's death in a statement on Tuesday, what would have been his 65th birthday.

A former California Highway Patrol officer, Benoit was elected to the state Assembly in 2002 and the Senate in 2008. He was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in 2009 and won a second term in 2014.

In 2006, the GOP legislator wrote a law prompted by the death of a Riverside child that requires child daycare centers to publicly disclose health and safety violations and substantiated complaints.

Benoit was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last month, and earlier this month announced that his treatment had delayed his return to work.

He is survived by his wife, two children and two grandchildren. Gov. Jerry Brown will appoint a successor to serve the remainder of Benoit's term as county supervisor.

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