The first votes for Democrats in Who Wants to Be a President 2004 will be cast in Iowa and New Hampshire, but for the first money, they all look to California.
Now that former Vice President Al Gore (who got more than 5 million votes and all 55 electoral votes from California in 2000) has bailed from the ballot, here's who you can expect to come knocking at the Golden State ATMs, most particularly in Silicon Valley and Hollywood: North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt have said yep, they're running, along with a long list of possibles: Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Bob Graham of Florida.
The Democrats' early favorite, or so they tell pollsters, is someone who's come to California on many occasions and raised piles of dough for others too, but who insists she's perfectly happy being the junior senator from the Empire State, at least through 2004: Hillary Rodham Clinton.
It isn't just California's money and electoral-vote jackpot that attracts Democrats, but that elusive know-how: A place that's elected top-to-bottom Democrats in state office and both houses of the Legislature must know something Washington doesn't.
The coming-out party for these presidential debutantes is likely to be the state Democratic Party's annual convention in March, when some of them may indeed come into California like lions and leave like lambs.
Ignorance of All the New Laws Is No Excuse
The new year brought with it 1,168 new state laws, a record, among them:
* Children of those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks can attend UC, Cal State or community colleges tuition-free.
* Embryonic stem cell research, opposed by the Bush administration, will be permitted in California, although the state has now banned human cloning.
* Those whose domestic partners die without a will can still inherit the partner's property.
* Gun manufacturers no longer get special exemption from lawsuits.
* Family members, friends, police and mental health care professionals can petition courts to order someone with mental illness to get outpatient treatment.
* Any sexual assault victim who asks medical professionals for emergency contraception must get it.
* Any crime victim has up to 10 years after his or her assailant is paroled to sue for financial damages.
* The state's breakthrough farm labor law extends to require mandatory mediation to break deadlocks in farm workers' contract disputes.
* Roving wiretaps to monitor multiple cell phones or Internet communications can be used without a separate court order -- an anti-terrorism measure pushed by Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer.
* Sex scandals in the Catholic Church prompted a law giving an extra year for child abuse victims to file damage claims, even if the statute of limitations has already expired.
* Landlords are now required to double the amount of eviction notice time they give to long-term renters: 60 days, versus the traditional 30 days.
* Construction of five new California veterans homes got green-lighted: in West Los Angeles, Lancaster, Saticoy, Fresno County and Shasta County.
* And, as of New Year's Day, California pet shop owners have had to start handing customers printed instructions on how to care for pets -- the care and feeding of everything from dogs to snakes.
The law was sponsored by state Sen. Edward Vincent (D-Inglewood) at the request of the Doris Day Animal League. Some pet shop owners fret that the law would make them legally liable if something bad happened to pets, even long after they'd walked or crawled or flown out the shop door.
* On the religious calendar, today is Epiphany; on the political calendar, it's the day Gov. Gray Davis is sworn in for Term II. As befits a governor presiding over a state with a $35-billion budget black hole, ticket prices for invited guests to Inauguration II will cost $15, versus a "diamond horseshoe" price of $125 the first time around.
* A surprise federal deadline for drought relief could cost Marin County ranchers and farmers more than $840,000, although U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer's office says it is pressing the Agriculture Department to explain why a Farm Service Agency official reportedly called for Marin County's agricultural commissioner two months ago and told he him he had until close of business that day -- about two hours -- to submit the paperwork for aid.
* The Earth Island Institute and other environmental groups are suing the U.S. Commerce Department in federal court in San Francisco, alleging the government has relaxed standards on what can be labeled and sold as "dolphin-safe tuna," and charging that the Bush administration is misleading consumers and sacrificing the sea mammals for the sake of free trade.
* A new Chico ban on self-service tobacco displays -- keeping smokes out of customers' reach as a way of stopping underage smoking -- will levy a $1,000 fine on any store violating the ordinance.
* As a L.A. City Councilman, Mark Ridley-Thomas championed bringing pro football back to the city in a stadium to be built within the Coliseum. Now, as a Democratic assemblyman, he's still pushing the project; one of his first press releases makes that clear, touting his appointment to the Assembly committee dealing with arts, entertainment, tourism, Internet media -- and sports.
* Ridley-Thomas' old colleague, Councilman Tom LaBonge, is an ardent amateur photographer whose holiday gift to the 40,000-some voters in his district is a 2003 calendar ("Not printed at taxpayer expense," he emphasizes) of his photographs from his district: February shows wife Brigid's "public art angel," March reveals a lot of speeding backsides running in the L.A. Marathon, July shows a sunset over Los Feliz, and December is the Sunnynook Bridge across the L.A. River, on whose banks the L.A. native and booster proposed to his wife.
* Evocations of "The Beverly Hillbillies" TV show prompted the governor of West Virginia to demand an apology from the University of Virginia, whose pep band halftime show at the Tire Bowl football game parodied "unfounded stereotypes" of West Virginians, the governor said in a letter -- including a dream to move to Beverly Hills.
The last time the teams met, in 1985, the Virginia pep band mocked West Virginia in a parody of "Family Feud."
You Can Quote Me
"What about the separation of church and government? You don't mix those. That's a no-brainer. He needs to rethink that." -- Lois Chaney, president of Bakersfield's League of Women Voters, on the decision of Kern County's new sheriff, Mack Wimbish, to be sworn in at his family church today. Organizers said they couldn't find anything free and with adequate parking that was available in the right location. Wimbish's term formally began Friday, when he was sworn in at the county clerk's office, anyway. The county's last three sheriffs were all sworn in at nonreligious sites.