This is Essential Politics, our daily look at California political and government news. Here's what we're watching right now:
- The Legislature is back after a summer recess, as California Republican Party leaders are asking GOP members of the Assembly to oust their leader, Chad Mayes.
- A Silicon Valley venture capitalist whose effort to carve California into six states is back with a plan to cut it into thirds.
- This week's California Politics Podcast takes a look at how the state's political leaders have reacted to the violence in Charlottesville.
The University of California broke the rules that govern when it is allowed to replace full time employees with contract workers, according to a state audit released on Tuesday.
The second audit of the university’s Office of the President this year also found some of its campuses cut corners in awarding some contracts.
Auditors said two contracts they reviewed that resulted in the replacement of full time employees with contract workers did not fully adhere to the employee replacement guidelines in either contract.
In one case, UC San Francisco entered into a contract to outsource some information technology services, which it estimated would save $30 million over five years by displacing 40 full-time employees and 12 contract workers.
The campus made the Office of the President aware of its plans, but did not provide the required paperwork with analysis justifying its decision.
UC Davis also failed to get a review from the Office of the President for a housekeeping services contract that replaced 12 full-time employees with contract workers.
UC President Janet Napolitano noted in a letter to State Auditor Elaine Howle that auditors cited some contracts in which the UC complied with policy, but added that the university "will focus on your recommendations as we work diligently to further shore up our procedures." She also said work is underway to develop a better contract system and that responsible contracting is necessary to reduce costs.
Napolitano has been under fire after an audit released four months ago found she failed to disclose tens of millions of dollars in unallocated funds and that her office provided excessive salaries and perks to managers. As a result, the Legislature recently voted to take more control of her budget.
The latest audit also found problems with the contracting itself. Auditors found that some campuses avoided competitive bidding on contracts by repeatedly extending the contract's expiration or increasing its value. For example, auditors said UC Davis amended its contract with a food service vendor 24 times, extending the contract’s term from seven years to 19 years, and increasing its value from $71 million to $237 million.
Nearly 60% of California voters approved a ballot measure that reduced some drug and theft crimes to misdemeanors. But only two district attorneys out of all 58 counties across the state supported the measure.
Nearly 65% of voters supported another ballot initiative to overhaul the state's parole system. But only one district attorney out of 58 supported that proposition.
The American Civil Liberties Union of California plans to point out those discrepancies in a new campaign Tuesday that highlights the positions of district attorneys, elected officials who advocates say wield tremendous power over the criminal justice system.
"We have made great strides in changing policies and reforming the laws, but we aren’t seeing the same thing happen within law enforcement," said Ana Zamora, criminal justice policy director for the ACLU of Northern California. "District attorneys continue to oppose these policy changes even when constituents have approved them."
The website, which features a video introduction by music artist John Legend, provides profiles of all of the state's 58 district attorneys and their positions on the four most recent crime and punishment measures approved by voters. It also provides an email platform allowing visitors to the site to directly communicate with top prosecutors and provide their views on issues such bail reform, pot legalization and immigration enforcement.
The campaign comes as prosecutors have been among the loudest opponents to Proposition 57, which has expanded the power of the Board of Parole Hearings over thousands more prisoners.
A joint legislative committee is expected to hear an update on the ballot measure Tuesday.
Rapper, actor and activist Common on Monday is expected to draw up to 30,000 people to the Capitol Mall in Sacramento for a free concert in support of state legislation to overhaul California’s bail system and ensure the rights of young people under juvenile detention.
At Monday's “Imagine Justice" concert, former youth offenders shared their stories and activist Byronn Bain performed spoken word poetry. Musical guests on the bill included J.Cole, Goapele and Los Rakas.
The event was part of several advocacy and outreach efforts organized this week by Common and a coalition of criminal justice organizations, as lawmakers weigh a number of legislative proposals meant to advance the state's shift away from tough-on-crime policies.
One of the most significant bills pending would drastically change the way most courts assign bail to offenders. Others would prohibit authorities from incarcerating children 11 and younger, mandate that judges cannot sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole and end the collection of costly court and administrative detention fees against their families.
Organizers said California's laws have led to overflowing prisons and jails, and a disproportionate number of people of color behind bars.
"We need to stop incarcerating our children, reform the criminal justice system, raise our voices and educate the public," said Michael Mendoza, an organizer with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.
Common, who co-starred in the movie "Selma" and won an Academy Award for the Best Original Song, "Glory," from that film, is expected to meet with Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers Tuesday. He will later perform at Folsom State Prison as part of his Hope and Redemption Tour.
"I believe it is my duty to lend my voice to the voiceless and stand with the men and women in prison who have been silenced for so long," Common said in a statement. "We need a justice system that is a tool for rehabilitation rather than a weapon for punishment."
An attempt to oust Chad Mayes as Assembly Republican leader fell short Monday, but another vote is scheduled for next week.
The 25-member Assembly Republican caucus met for two hours Monday, three days after state party officials called on Mayes to step down or be replaced.
But opponents could muster only 10 votes against him — three short of the threshold.
The next meeting will be held Aug. 29.
"The caucus made a decision, and the decision was we are all going to get together next Tuesday and we’re going to vote," said Mayes, who does not plan to step down.
Before the vote, Mayes told reporters that he viewed the leadership struggle as an important juncture for California Republicans. He said his party, which has suffered from declining power in Sacramento and dwindling voter registration, needs to adapt.
“You can either convert folks to believe in the things you believe in, or you can go out and begin to reflect Californians," he said. "The party hasn’t done a good job of converting folks. In fact, we’ve done a good job of repelling individuals. And we haven’t done a good job of reflecting Californians.”
But his plans have been resisted by conservative critics.
“Local Republicans and my constituents are speaking loud and clear that they’d like to see a change in leadership, and I also believe that a new direction is the best course of action for our party," Assemblyman Randy Voepel (R-Santee) said.
California law enforcement officers will be prohibited from detaining crime victims or witnesses on immigration violations under a state bill headed to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.
The legislation, filed by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), would keep officers from holding a crime victim or witness solely for an immigration violation unless they acquire a judicial warrant. It was approved by the state Assembly on Monday with a 64-15 vote.
Brown has until Oct. 15 to sign or veto the bill.
State law currently prevents officers from detaining witnesses to a hate crime on immigration violations or charges. It also prohibits officers from turning over or reporting hate crime witnesses to federal immigration authorities.
The legislation is one of several bills that Democratic lawmakers have filed this legislative session in an attempt to counter the effects of expanded immigration enforcement under the Trump administration. Fear of deportation keeps crime victims and witnesses from coming forward to authorities, the lawmakers say, making neighborhoods less safe.
"It is in the best interest of the state to establish firm connections with those in the community and to protect the public from crime and violence by encouraging all persons — victims, witnesses or anyone who provides evidence to assist in a criminal investigation — to cooperate with state and local law enforcement and not be penalized on account of their immigration status," Jones-Sawyer said in a statement.
California state senators began their return to legislative work on a somber note Monday, with a remembrance of the victims of violence in Charlottesville, Va., and Barcelona Spain, and an appeal by Senate leader Kevin de Léon (D-Los Angeles) to reject the white nationalist ideology on display in Virginia.
De Léon began the floor session with a warning of a "rising tide of hate and intolerance threatening to once again tear us apart."
Regardless of political party, De Léon said he believed all of his fellow senators "would stand up and speak out against fascism, white supremacy and hate if it threatened our own community."
"It's incumbent on all of us to remember our history and not repeat our past sins," he added. "We have to come together to heal, to move forward and to hold ourselves to a much higher standard."
De Léon notably did not mention President Trump, whose response to the melee between white supremacists and counter-demonstrators was widely panned.
He did announce two specific actions the Senate will take in response to the Charlottesville violence: a series of public hearings to examine California's preparedness for future neo-Nazi rallies, and informational hearings to examine the rise of white supremacist organizations in California.
Democrats in the California Legislature pushed again Monday to revamp the rules covering recall elections, their second attempt to potentially delay an effort aimed at removing an Orange County state senator.
The new legislation comes on the heels of an appeals court temporarily blocking a law enacted in June. It was introduced just days after local elections officials reported more than enough signatures for a recall election against state Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) this fall.
The proposal, written as a budget-related "trailer bill," would ban elections officials from verifying voter signatures on recall petitions through a random sampling process. It would, instead, require every signature to be validated.
And like the law placed in limbo by an appeals court, it would create a new time period for voters to remove their signatures from the Newman recall petition.
Democrats have insisted many of those voters were told they were signing a petition to repeal a gas-tax increase slated to take effect in November.
"It remains in the overwhelming public interest to safeguard the integrity of California's recall process and to ensure that recall petitions are not being signed under false and fraudulent pretenses – which is what clearly and blatantly occurred in the 29th Senate District," said Jonathan Underland, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).
Less rowdy than the sputtered push for single-payer healthcare and less fraught than the battle over Obamacare’s future, the concern over the cost of prescription drug prices has been overshadowed for the past year by the marquee healthcare battles gripping Sacramento and Washington D.C.
That’s not likely to be the case much longer. The effort to rein in pharmaceutical costs is poised for a major showdown as state lawmakers enter their final month of the legislative year.
The debate conjures déjà vu. Much of the action centers on legislation that recalls a failed 2016 bill to require more disclosure around prescription prices, with lobbying efforts tracing familiar battle lines — labor unions, health plans and consumer groups facing off against drug manufacturers.
But several new factors this year have made proponents bullish about their prospects. The price disclosure bill, SB 17 by state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-Azusa), is now one of five measures that have been proposed to tackle prescription costs, forcing the drug industry to fend off multiple threats. Supporters have picked up new allies on the left, including deep-pocketed Democratic activist Tom Steyer, and on the right, with “aye” votes cast by a handful of GOP lawmakers.
Bay Area Democratic activist Kimberly Ellis, who narrowly lost her bid to become the new California Democratic Party leader, said “all options are on the table” now that the party on Sunday rejected her final appeal challenging the election results.
“Today was yet another missed opportunity for us to get the Democratic Party back on track. As we've said from the onset, we were committed to going through the internal process before deciding what's next. We're now soliciting feedback from key supporters and deciding where we go from here,” Ellis said in a statement released Sunday afternoon.
Ellis said from the outset that she expected her challenge to the election of Eric Bauman as party chairman to be dismissed, saying the process was biased in favor of her rival. She’s also indicated her next step may be to take her case to court.
“As of now, all options are on the table — with some feeling more inevitable than ever,” Ellis said in the statement.
Now that lawmakers have extended the cap-and-trade program, it’s time for them to divvy up the money generated by the sale of pollution permits.
Most of the revenue is already being routed to affordable housing, mass transit and building the bullet train. But there’s still at least $1.4 billion available, which includes some money left over from the last fiscal year and more cash expected to roll in over the next one.
Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) wants to spend roughly $1 billion to replace old, dirty engines. In an interview, he suggested it’s a plan with potentially broad appeal: new tractors in rural areas, better trucks for middle class workers and incentives for drivers to buy electric vehicles.
“We have a historic opportunity to bring businesses, conservatives and liberals alike together on the issue of clean air,” De León said.
There are many details left to work out, starting with the specific price tag and how the money would be doled out, but the proposal is designed to alleviate one of California’s most significant environmental challenges. Pollution from cars and trucks are a health hazard around the state, and they’re the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
De León said the state needs to make a bigger investment to chip away at the problem.
“The free market forces by themselves will not correct these gross inequities,” he said. “They must be driven by policies.”
The California Democratic Party on Sunday rejected a last-ditch appeal contesting the election of the party’s new leader, setting up a strong possibility of a court challenge.
Bay Area Democratic activist Kimberly Ellis, who narrowly lost the race for new party chair to Eric Bauman in May, appealed a party committee’s affirmation of the election results in July. On Sunday, the party’s credentials committee dismissed the appeal.
"With the conclusion of the Credentials Committee hearing today, it is my hope that our entire California Democratic Party family can move forward on making progress on these urgent and pressing issues, free from the distraction of costly litigation and needless division," Bauman said in a statement Sunday afternoon.
Bauman, the longtime chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, was declared the winner at the state party’s annual convention. Ellis’ campaign has repeatedly contested the results, reviewed every ballot cast and called into question the validity of hundreds of votes.
The bitter, internal party fracas has exposed schisms in the state Democratic Party that mirror the divide between Hillary Clinton's and Bernie Sanders’ supporters during the 2016 presidential primary.
Some of the state’s top Democratic Party leaders worry the internal feud may divide the party, which dominates California politics, and undercut the state’s strong role in opposing the policies of President Trump and the Republican Congress.
In July, the party's compliance review commission held an all-day hearing in Sacramento to determine the fate of 355 convention ballots that were deemed questionable. In the end, 47 votes were invalidated — 25 for Bauman and 22 for Ellis. That action did not change the outcome of the election, which Bauman won by 1.9%
Ellis called that review an “inherently biased process,” alleging that the six-member commission included several Bauman supporters. The members were appointed by former chairman John Burton.
Earlier this month, Ellis called on the party to enter binding arbitration to end the dispute and avoid litigation.
Mike Roth, a state party spokesman, dismissed that suggestion as a “Hail Mary pass.”
Rep. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove) said at a town hall meeting Saturday that President Trump’s actions and comments in response to racist violence in Virginia are embarrassing and that a case could be made for censuring the president.
“I think given his actions, his words post-Charlottesville, you can very well make the case, and we are starting to talk about that, of censuring the president,” Bera said to strong applause. “We can’t do that without Republicans finding the political courage to join with us.”
Bera said Trump has divided the U.S. with his comments and actions and hurt the country’s image in the world.
“I, at this particular point, am embarrassed by our president and some of his actions, some of his words,” Bera told some 300 people who attended the town hall at Cordova High Performing Arts Center in Rancho Cordova, east of Sacramento.
The congressman also was asked by audience members about the possibility of the president being impeached.
“I think things are moving in that direction,” Bera said. “I think the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is accelerating the investigation.”
Bera has won two competitive reelections to Congress and has faced tough crowds before, but the audience Saturday was polite and supportive with its applause.
Bernie Brown and other audience members said they want Bera, a physician, to support a Medicare-for-all system of healthcare. “It would be more efficient,” Brown said.
Bera said his preference is to stabilize the Affordable Care Act system, sign up the remaining uninsured population and then consider the best financial model, which he said could involve allowing more people to sign up for Medicare.
National events and internal party politics are likely to dominate the activities of lawmakers when they return to Sacramento on Monday.
On this week's California Politics Podcast, we discuss how the state's political leaders are reacting to the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va. We also catch up on the rancor inside the ranks of Assembly Republicans.
And we take stock of efforts to recall a Democratic state senator, a movement that cleared two major hurdles within the past week.
I'm joined by Times staff writer Melanie Mason and Marisa Lagos of KQED News.
A Silicon Valley venture capitalist whose saw his dream to carve California into six separate states fizzle has returned with a slimmed down idea: this time, three states.
Tim Draper filed his proposed 2018 ballot initiative on Friday asking voters to split California into three new states: Northern California, California and Southern California.
"The citizens of the whole state would be better served by three smaller state governments while preserving the historical boundaries of the various counties, cities, and towns," Draper wrote in the initiative's statement of findings. He did not immediately respond to emails sent seeking comment.
Draper's plan would draw the northernmost dividing line from Santa Cruz County eastward to Mariposa County. The middle state, which would retain the name California, would be closer aligned to the coast and would place Los Angeles and Orange counties into separate states. The state of Southern California would run from Orange County to Mono County in the north and down to the border with Mexico.
The wealthy political tinkerer's 2014 plan would have created six separate states. Draper spent $4.9 million of his own money to collect signatures on the proposal, only to find too few of them were valid to qualify for the ballot before that year's deadline. In 2015, he promised to bankroll less ambitious ideas of others at reforming California's system of government. State campaign finance records show no contributions from Draper to any efforts that year.
There have been hundreds of efforts to dissolve California's long-standing borders since the state's inception in 1849. None, including Draper's new effort, spell out the complicated choices on water rights, economic benefits or border disputes.
Draper's new effort comes on the heels of a renewed campaign to allow California to secede from the United States. Its backers must also gather the needed signatures for voters to consider the proposal next November.
The California Republican Party’s board voted Friday evening to urge Chad Mayes to step down from his position as leader of the party’s Assembly caucus, continuing the bitter fallout over last month’s vote to extend the state cap-and-trade program.
Mayes was one of eight Republicans, seven of them in the Assembly, who helped extend California’s premier program on climate change. He defended his decision as a necessary step to increase support for Republicans in a state where voters overwhelmingly back taking action against global warming, but he angered conservative members of the party who viewed the legislation as bad policy and bad politics.
Harmeet Dhillon, one of two of the state’s representatives to the Republican National Committee, said Mayes had failed to protect “the integrity of the party’s position on taxation and overregulation in California.”
Thirteen members of the party board, including Chairman Jim Brulte, voted in favor of the motion calling on the Yucca Valley Republican to resign as caucus leader. Seven voted against, and there was one abstention.
Mayes said he has no intention of stepping down, and he believes he has enough support to remain in his position.
“I am not going to capitulate," he said. "I’m going to continue to keep pushing forward.”
While Mayes can be removed from his post only by a vote of his caucus, Friday night’s decision by the state board continues an extraordinary rift between party leadership and one of its top lawmakers over the politics of climate change.
Party officials in two dozen counties have already taken similar steps, representing a groundswell of opposition to Mayes.
The Assembly Republican caucus could meet as early as Monday, when lawmakers return from their summer recess. Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) announced her candidacy on Thursday, and Assemblyman Jim Obernolte (R-Big Bear Lake) has privately expressed interest.
Most of the 25 caucus members contacted by The Times did not respond to questions about the leadership struggle, making it difficult to determine the level of support for Mayes or his challengers.
Before Friday night's vote, Mayes made a presentation to the state party board saying his decision helped prevent worse regulations on California businesses and could even undermine the bullet train, a priority of Gov. Jerry Brown that's opposed by Republicans The final deal on cap and trade, which requires companies to pay to pollute, included a proposal for next year's ballot that would allow Republicans to gain more control over how the program's revenue is spent.
Mayes has also insisted that reaching out to non-Republican voters is important in California if the party is going to return to power in the Legislature.
“Change is not an option,” his presentation said. “It is an imperative.”
Elections officials on Friday reported more than enough voter signatures to force a recall election of an Orange County legislator before the end of the year.
Signatures verified by officials in Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties would require a special election for voters to consider removing state Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) less than a year into his four-year term in office.
The three counties reported a total of 66,597 signatures had been verified — more than the 63,593 needed to place the issue in front of Newman's constituents.
A spokesman for Secretary of State Alex Padilla had no update on the tally Friday. Signatures are verified in county elections offices and then reported to Padilla's office.
Jim Brulte, the chairman of the California Republican Party, said the process shouldn't take long.
"All Alex Padilla needs is 30 seconds and a calculator," Brulte said.
Newman, who won a close contest last November in a district formerly represented by a Republican, has been under fire from conservative activists since voting in April for a $52-billion transportation plan that raises gas taxes and imposes a new annual vehicle fee.
On Monday, a state appeals court placed a hold on a new law that would have delayed the final certification of the recall election. That law would have also allowed time for voters to remove their names from the recall petition. Democrats have accused recall supporters of promising voters that they were signing petitions to repeal the new gas tax, not to remove Newman from office.
"Thousands of voters have asked to have their names removed from the petition after learning they'd been lied to," Newman said in a statement released by his campaign. "The Registrar’s signature count reflects nothing more than a massive flaw in the recall system that has allowed paid, out-of-district special interests to trick voters into signing an intentionally misleading petition."
State law gives Padilla 10 days to certify the signature count. Gov. Jerry Brown must then call a special election for Newman's seat within 80 days of the certification, which means an election would be held by mid-November.
La Jolla physician James Veltmeyer plans to officially announce his challenge to Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego) over the weekend.
Veltmeyer, a Republican, was born in Ecuador and immigrated to the United States when he was 11. He is the head of family medicine at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa.
He has called Obamacare a failure and recently wrote an op-ed in local publication Pomerado News promoting a membership-based model for healthcare.
Veltmeyer ran last year in the neighboring 53rd Congressional District, narrowly advancing from the primary and losing to incumbent Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego) by a margin of 67% to 33% in November.
Other candidates running in the 52nd Congressional District include Republicans Omar Qudrat and Daniel Casara, who announced Thursday that he was switching districts to run against Peters, one of four Democrats the National Republican Congressional Committee is hoping to unseat in 2018.
Vice President Mike Pence and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) are hosting a series of high-dollar fundraisers in California in September in an attempt to bolster the state’s vulnerable GOP members of Congress, according to invitations obtained by The Times.
Pence and McCarthy will headline a reception and dinner in Beverly Hills on Sept. 14. The following day, the pair will raise money at a breakfast in Bakersfield, a luncheon in Newport Beach and a reception and dinner in Sacramento.
Donation levels vary. For the kickoff event at the Beverly Hilton, $100,000 gets a donor the title of co-chair, a cocktail reception, a photo, a private roundtable and dinner for two. The least expensive ticket is $2,700, for entry to the cocktail party.
The fundraisers benefit California Victory 2018, a joint fundraising committee that benefits Pence’s and McCarthy’s political action committees, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the congressional campaign accounts of McCarthy, Darrel Issa of Vista, Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa, Mimi Walters of Irvine, Ed Royce of Fullerton, Steve Knight of Palmdale, David Valadao of Hanford, Jeff Denham of Turlock.
Aside from McCarthy, the other seven members of Congress are being targeted in the midterm elections by Democrats because they represent districts won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Flipping those seats is key to Democrats' effort to retake control of the House of Representatives in 2018.
Pence's visit to California also comes shortly after he vehemently pushed back at rumors that he is laying the groundwork for a 2020 presidential run if President Trump does not seek a second term.