This is Essential Politics, our daily look at California political and government news. Here's what we're watching right now:
- Gov. Jerry Brown is in Washington, D.C., this week for a four-day trip amid concerns that President Trump's proposals will hit hard on California. He spoke with reporters after a meeting at the Federal Emergency Management Agency Monday about his measured approach to the Trump administration. On Tuesday, Brown met with members of California's congressional delegation.
- Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hit President Trump's approval ratings in a video released Tuesday.
- State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) announced Tuesday that he will run for state insurance commissioner.
Following the hotly contested 2016 presidential election, California has set a new voter registration record, with 19.43 million residents now signed up to vote.
More than 20,000 voters have been added to the rolls since Oct. 24, an unusual increase after a presidential election, according to Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who released the new voter registration numbers Wednesday.
The state saw a net gain of more than 1.7 million new voters since the same report was released in February 2015, and a record 14.6 million California voters cast ballots in the November elections.
Party registration trends are holding steady, according to the new numbers.
Republicans trailed Democrats in registration by more than 18%, according to the California Secretary of State’s official voter registration report released Wednesday. Of Californians registered to vote, Democrats accounted for 44.8% and Republicans 25.9%.
Unaffiliated voters, known in California as those who have "no party preference," were a close third and made up more than 24.5% of statewide registration.
Over the past decade, Democratic voter registration has remained relatively the same percentage-wise, increasing by just over 2% since February 2007. Republican registration has continued to slide, dropping by more than 8% during that time.
As of Feb. 10, an estimated 77.9% of Californians who were eligible to vote have registered, according to the report.
Former Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla announced Wednesday that she will not run for state insurance commissioner in 2018 and instead endorsed state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) for the statewide post.
Bonilla’s announcement came on the same day that Lara’s campaign for insurance commissioner got a boost from endorsements by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and California State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.
Bonilla is one of four Democrats who had formed campaign finance committees for possible runs for insurance commissioner.
"I’m pleased to endorse my friend State Senator Ricardo Lara for Insurance Commissioner,” she said in a statement. “ He’s been a warrior for the people of California on a broad spectrum of issues, but particularly when it comes to social and economic justice causes.”
Lara started out his government career as a legislative aide to De León when the leader was in the Assembly, and has been a top lieutenant of his during their service together in the Senate.
"Ricardo Lara embodies the bold, progressive and visionary leadership that we need in our next State Insurance Commissioner,” De León said in a statement, citing Lara’s work for the environment, immigrants and low income residents.
Rendon said the race is important because of uncertainty about California programs stemming from the election of President Trump.
Lara, he said, “has built up a dynamic reputation as a change-maker, a fighter, a coalition-builder and as someone who knows how to create movements that lead to positive and meaningful reforms that improve peoples' lives.”
Calling the Republican congressional leadership's healthcare proposal an "insult to democracy itself," Gov. Jerry Brown warned Wednesday that the proposal would shift $6 billion in costs a year to California's state government by 2020.
"It's real when you, all of a sudden, send a $6-billion tax bill to the state of California," Brown said in an interview after he delivered remarks alongside Democrats who were on Capitol Hill to mark the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
"This is devastating," he said.
On the eve of the vote on the proposed GOP replacement for the Obamacare law, Brown's administration released an analysis concluding that the annual costs to the state would grow to $24.3 billion by 2027. California embarked on one of the most aggressive implementations of the ACA, with some 4 million residents now covered under its provisions. Most of those receive health benefits through Medi-Cal, the state's version of the federal Medicaid program for the poor.
Brown delivered a fiery speech at the Obamacare celebration, which featured former Vice President Joe Biden.
"This a dangerous bill, written by people who don't know what the hell they're talking about," said the governor to applause from the politicians and the crowd gathered on the Capitol's east steps.
The Brown administration's analysis highlights the Republican plan's requirement that states repay any Medicaid spending above newly imposed federal caps. It would also limit federal dollars spent on any new enrollees in the state's Medi-Cal program after 2019.
The governor will return home on Thursday to begin revisions to his budget plans for the fiscal year that begins in July, an already tough task given projections of a $1.6-billion deficit.
Brown has sidestepped any direct criticism of President Trump while in Washington this week but urged the Republican leader to hold true to his campaign promise of providing healthcare coverage for every American.
"This is a death, disease and suffering bill," the governor said of the GOP plan as he made his way to a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). "Mr. Trump should really wake up and change his mind."
A handful of California’s 14 Republican members of Congress say they are still weighing how to vote on the GOP plan to undo and replace parts of the Affordable Care Act.
More than half of California’s Republicans have said they’ll vote yes or are leaning yes. None of the 14 Republicans in the delegation have committed to voting no on the bill, which is scheduled for Thursday.
Three juvenile justice bills on Tuesday cleared the state Senate Public Safety Committee, the first in a legislative package that aims to divert children from the path to prison.
Two of the proposals co-authored by Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) would ban life without parole sentences for minors and require that juveniles speak with lawyers before waiving their rights. Another would end the costly collection of administrative fees against families with children in juvenile detention.
At Tuesday's hearing, witnesses urged lawmakers to support legislation they said would ensure the fair treatment of children under the law. But law enforcement groups and prosecutors said it could keep authorities from holding offenders accountable and hinder officers from carrying out investigations.
"We are talking about people who have committed the most egregious crimes," Laura Tanney, a deputy district attorney in San Diego, said in opposition to the bill that would ease sentencing for the young offenders among the 300 people in California serving life sentences without parole.
Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) countered they were all either poor or minorities. There's "not a single rich kid who is doing life without parole," he said.
Joel Aguilar, now a college student, was one of them until law students helped him get his sentence reduced. He told the committee he was 17 when he was involved in a burglary that led to the death of an innocent man.
His bad decisions haunt him to this day, he said. But the proposed legislation "says to a young person, 'You are more than your worst act.'" he said. '"You are redeemable.'"
Despite no show of public support, the state Senate Public Safety Committee on Tuesday passed a bill that would require law enforcement agencies in California to disclose all of the surveillance equipment they use to the public.
Under the legislation by state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), police and sheriff's departments would have to submit a plan to local officials — and present it at an open hearing — on what surveillance technology they employ and how, including facial recognition software, drones and social media monitors.
The bill moved out of the public safety committee with a 4-2 vote. It now heads to the state Senate Judiciary Committee for review. But with no witnesses speaking in support, its first hearing Tuesday underscored the balance lawmakers will have to strike between transparency and public safety.
"I think we are all on the same page," Hill told the committee. "We want to be able to protect our civil liberties, defend and protect our Constitution and make sure law enforcement will have the tools available that will enable them to fight crime in our communities. We just have to find that [right] spot."
The bill is predicated on two laws that went into effect last year. One requires agencies to draft and publicly post privacy and usage policies if they operate automated license-plate recognition software. Another ordered the same for devices often called “Stingrays” or “Dirtboxes,” which simulate cellphone towers and cast a broad dragnet over communications.
Hill drafted the legislation in an attempt to cover all future surveillance technologies in a quickly evolving field. New amendments expected will expand its provisions to other investigative units, such as those under district attorney offices and the state Department of Justice.
But law enforcement association lobbyists on Tuesday said it went too far, giving criminals a roadmap to police agencies' crime-fighting technology. Privacy groups argued it did not go far enough to protect civil liberties and could undermine local efforts to draft their own guidelines.
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger continued to blast President Trump on Tuesday, this time mocking his low approval ratings and his budget proposals to cut funding for after-school programs and Meals on Wheels.
“The ratings are in and you got swamped,” Schwarzenegger says in the video, which was shot in Sydney, Australia, and posted on his social media accounts. “Wow. Now you’re in the 30s. But what do you expect, I mean, when you take away after-school programs for children and Meals on Wheels for the poor people. That is not what you call 'Making America Great Again.' I mean, who is advising you?”
Schwarzenegger made the remarks one day after Gallup released figures showing the president's approval rating had dropped to 37%, the lowest since he took office.
The former governor made clear he was not a fan of his fellow Republican during the 2016 presidential race, even as he replaced Trump as the host of “Celebrity Apprentice” for one season. He and the president have an ongoing feud, which has largely played out on social media.
Trump repeatedly ripped Schwarzenegger for the reality competition show’s low ratings during the actor’s time as host, and the former governor responded by questioning the president’s leadership skills.
Schwarzenegger, whose advocacy for after-school programs predates his time tenure as governor, offered to take Trump to a middle-school enrichment effort in Washington, D.C.
“I take you there so you can see the fantastic work they’re doing for the children,” he said. “Let’s do it.”
Schwarzenegger’s remarks come as California’s current governor, Jerry Brown, is visiting lawmakers in the nation’s capital amid concerns that several of the administration’s priorities will particularly harm Californians.
Gov. Jerry Brown found a receptive but unsettled audience on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, with pledges of cooperation but at least one warning that the state could pay a price for its leaders' criticism of President Trump.
Brown, who is in Washington until Thursday afternoon, spent most of Tuesday shuttling across the Capitol complex for meetings — a day of large crowds and security, with Trump's meeting on healthcare efforts.
The governor's meeting with Democrats who represent the state lasted more than an hour, and lawmakers praised Brown for his pragmatic take on an era with deep partisan divides.
"I think the message was, let's fix problems, let's engage the administration," Rep. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) said after the morning meeting.
Brown too was impressed.
"They're very focused on doing right by California," he said.
A later meeting with Republicans was also described as cordial, but one veteran GOP lawmaker said requests for federal aid on water and infrastructure won't just be considered in a political vacuum.
"If the political leaders of California are using their authority and their efforts to block President Trump's efforts to control the illegal flow of immigrants into our country, then they can't expect to get preferential treatment when it comes to other issues of government," Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) said.
The governor also met with California Sen. Kamala Harris and earlier made a brief stop in the office of Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to discuss climate change.
A month after proposing a single-payer healthcare system for California, State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) announced Tuesday he'll run for state insurance commissioner in 2018.
Lara is one of four Democrats who has filed papers to begin fundraising for a possible candidacy. In his announcement, Lara said strong leadership is needed at a time when President Trump is seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
"I'm running to be California's next state insurance commissioner because I believe at my core that California needs a strong defender, and a counterpuncher, who will stand up to fight our bullying President, Donald Trump, and his increasingly reckless federal government on issues from healthcare access to economic security and more,” Lara said in a statement.
In addition to proposing a single-payer system for the state, Lara, who is the son of immigrants, won approval for legislation that provides healthcare coverage for children who are in the state illegally. He has also pressed for coverage for adult immigrants willing to pay for their insurance.
Lara, 42, graduated from San Diego State University with a double major in journalism and Spanish. He served in the Assembly for two years before winning election to the state Senate in 2012. He has served as chairman of the California Latino Legislative Caucus and is vice chairman of the California Legislative Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus.
Other prospective candidates who have filed fundraising papers for the insurance commissioner race include former Democratic Assembly members Susan Bonilla and Henry Perea, and Paul Song, a Santa Monica radiation oncologist and former leader of the California progressive group Courage Campaign.
The question of whether the House can carry out an investigation into Russia's attempts to interfere with the 2016 election has fallen to a pair of soft-spoken Californians: the chairman and ranking minority member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Devin Nunes, a Republican former dairy farmer from Tulare, and Adam Schiff, a Democratic former federal prosecutor from Burbank.
They seemed to pass their first test Monday with a hearing that provided significant testimony and relatively little of the high-volume theatrics that have limited the credibility of other recent congressional investigations.
Whether that will continue is yet to be seen.
When Gov. Jerry Brown landed in Washington on Monday on his mission to raise awareness about the nuclear threat and to secure funding for disaster relief in the state, he didn’t strike the tone of defiance many are looking for from the Democrats’ most influential voice in the west.
Brown is taking a noticeably measured approach to the new White House. Even after President Trump has put himself on a path of confrontation with California on so many issues — threatening the state’s sanctuary cities, its landmark fuel mileage standards and its precarious budget — Brown says he’s not going to be pressured by the left into relentlessly attacking the White House.
“I will pursue my own rhetorical paths,” Brown said to reporters Monday after a meeting at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “At least in the spirit of advancing the interest of California, recognizing we are a part of the Union and … we are not going a totally separate way. We are distinct. We have a sovereignty. We will pursue that. But we also have a commonality with other states and with the national government. So wherever we are going to find common ground, we are going to do it.”
Brown said he "wouldn’t rule anything out or anything in” when it comes to California’s dealings with Washington.
“Nothing is all that predictable under the current administration," he said. "That could be a cause for alarm, but also a cause for some optimism and creative possibilities.”
Of course, Brown’s motivation for the trip was to bring attention to the threat of a nuclear apocalypse, which he said is as big a danger now as during any time during the Cold War. But even on that issue he was reluctant to lay blame on Trump, who many disarmament experts caution has elevated the potential for doomsday with his loose talk about nuclear weapons and aggressive posture toward other nations that have nuclear capability.
Asked whether the nuclear threat has increased under Trump, Brown said: “I would say it hasn’t been diminished. I don’t want to speculate. It’s a little early.”
Former L.A. Unified board member Yolie Flores has released her first video ad of her congressional campaign, and it's focused on education.
The video, which is about two minutes long, features local supporters, including social workers, business owners, a seventh-grader named Esteban and a first-grader named Bella.
In it, Flores, who served on the L.A. Unified board from 2007 to 2011, calls public education "one of the most sacred of our democratic principles," in between scenes of her surrounded by children in classrooms.
Flores, who now works as chief program officer for the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, also has a degree in social work.
Maria Cabildo, a former L.A. city planning commissioner who also debuted an ad Monday, chose to focus on an economic message.
In a 48-second ad, Cabildo talks about an economic recovery that "never hit many of our neighborhoods."
"We need to bring opportunity back to everybody, not just the billionaires that get to sit on Donald Trump's cabinet," says Cabildo, a longtime affordable housing developer who now serves as director of homeless initiatives for the L.A. County Community Development Commission.
Flores and Cabildo are two of the 23 candidates running in the April 4 primary to replace Xavier Becerra. If no single candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, a June 6 runoff will be held between the top two finishers.
California voters could decide in 2018 whether to approve a $3-billion bond to finance a boost to parks and open space across the state.
The state Assembly approved the measure Monday afternoon, which would provide money to state and local park improvements with an emphasis on funneling dollars to disadvantaged communities.
“It’s hard for people in my communities to have access to healthy environments,” Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno) said when arguing in favor of the bill.
The measure required a two-thirds supermajority for passage and did so entirely with Democratic votes.
Republican assemblymembers argued that the state should spend the money it has now on parks rather than ask voters to borrow money. They noted the $3-billion bond will require the state to repay $6 billion over three decades.
“It could be done without doubling the price tag,” Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) said.
Before reaching the 2018 ballot, the parks bond needs similar supermajority approval in the state Senate and the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown.
Three state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would require California’s pension funds to divest from any company involved in building President Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Assembly Bill 946 from Assemblymen Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) and Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) would require the California Public Employee Retirement System and the California State Teachers Retirement System to liquidate any investments in companies that helped build the wall.
“Californians build bridges not walls,” Ting said in a release. “This is a wall of shame and we don’t want any part of it.”
CalPERS and CalSTRS are the nation’s largest and second largest pension funds with nearly $312 billion and $202 billion in investments under their control, respectively. The AB 946 announcement follows last week’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s request for companies to submit formal border wall prototypes.
A group of officials including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Monday called on state legislators to end a stalemate over approving a transportation funding plan to cover a $130-billion backlog of repairs to California’s roads, bridges and highways.
Current legislation that would raise the gas tax and vehicle fees to generate $5.5 billion annually needs a two-thirds vote of the Legislature but has been bogged down with some Democrats withholding support.
“We have a very simple message for Sacramento today: Fix our streets,” Garcetti said during the rally. “It is time before the April 6 break for the California state Senate and Assembly to do the right thing and fix the streets of our cities and of our region.”
Pressure on legislators was also ratcheted up by Brian Kelly, secretary of the California State Transportation Agency, who said he hopes new legislation will be introduced next week that “will reveal the entirety of the funding plan.”
“The time to act is now,” Kelly said during the rally. “The Legislature has not passed a gas tax increase in 23 years, but over that time things have gotten more expensive.”
County Supervisor Hilda Solis and City Councilman Joe Buscaino also called on lawmakers to reach an agreement.
“Our roads have been neglected to the point that the deterioration is accelerating at an alarming pace,” Buscaino said.
Current legislation would raise the per-gallon gas tax by 12 cents in phases over three years, set the price-based per-gallon excise tax at 17.3 cents, increase the diesel tax by 20 cents, boost the sales tax on fuel by 4% and increase the annual registration fee by $38 for all vehicles.
Some Democratic lawmakers want more money guaranteed for neglected districts and mass transit.
But Garcetti called on the legislators to show leadership and reach a compromise.
“For too long we have let our roads and bridges crumble,” the mayor said. “For too long we have delayed to another month, or another year or another Legislature. For too long we’ve known that a problem exists, we've known how to take action, but we haven’t been able to do it.”
This year, California lawmakers are tackling more than 130 bills that aim to ease the state's housing affordability crisis. One longtime Sacramento observer said this is the most attention legislators have paid to housing issues in three decades.
Highlights include a measure that would strip the state's mortgage interest deduction from vacation-home owners and redirect the roughly $300 million a year saved to finance low-income housing. Other bills would increase spending on low-income housing development by billions of dollars and streamline some local permitting reviews.