Essential Politics: Archived stories from December 2016
Just a few Democrats defect from Nancy Pelosi during House speaker election
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
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.
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.
- 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.
Meet the six Californians who are officially joining the largest congressional delegation today
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.
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.
California legislators are mourning the death of Sutter Brown, Gov. Jerry Brown’s famous dog
Sutter Brown, Gov. Jerry Brown’s famous corgi, died Friday with Brown and First Lady Anne Gust Brown by his side. His illness, and his death, sparked an outpouring of support in political circles and beyond.
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.
Kamala Harris picks a former Clinton staffer to be her communications director
How this climate scientist is preparing for Trump
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.
Kamala Harris makes another hire for her Senate staff
California needs a specific ban on smoking pot while driving, these lawmakers say
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.
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.
Should California lawmakers work to end the electoral college?
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
Gov. Jerry Brown selects two top advisors for spots on the California Public Utilities Commission
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
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.”
Kamala Harris’ former campaign manager joins one of California’s top political consulting firms
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.
New and returning California legislators divvy up committee assignments
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.
Democratic delegate who leads an L.A. Islamic group criticized for tweet about Russian military plane crash
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.
John Benoit, Riverside County supervisor and former legislator, loses battle with cancer
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.
Sen.-elect Kamala Harris picks her legislative director
Gov. Jerry Brown pardons 112, commutes one sentence in pre-Christmas tradition
Continuing his tradition of giving pre-Christmas reprieves, Gov. Jerry Brown granted 112 pardons and commuted one sentence on Friday.
The pardons were granted mostly to individuals convicted of nonviolent, drug-related crimes who have since completed their sentences.
Since 2011, Brown has granted 854 pardons and two commutations, according to the governor’s office. That far exceeds recent predecessors such as former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who granted 15 pardons; Gov. Gray Davis, who granted zero pardons; and Gov. Pete Wilson, who granted 13.
Among those receiving pardons was Gwendolyn Irene Harvey, who was sentenced in February 1988 in Los Angeles for robbery and possession of a controlled substance for sale, and served more than three years. Brown noted in his pardon message that Harvey co-founded an organization that advocates for those in substance abuse programs.
Brown also shortened, but not did not eliminate, the sentence of Louis Calderon, who was convicted of attempted murder, with an enhanced sentence for use of a firearm, for being an accomplice in a 1999 gang-related shooting in which a victim lost an eye. Calderon was sentenced to a total prison term of 32 years to life.
Calderon has broken ties with his gang and has never been disciplined for a rule violation in 18 years, Brown noted. Calderon also earned multiple community college degrees and a paralegal certificate while in prison.
“This is a very serious crime, but it is clear that Mr. Calderon has distinguished himself by his exemplary conduct in prison and his forthright and continuing separation from gang activities of any kind,” Brown wrote. He reduced Calderon’s sentence to a total of 22 years to life.
Necessary evidence or privacy intrusion? This bill is trying to expand DNA evidence collection in California
California lawmakers say they are trying to address an unintended consequence of making theft and drug crimes misdemeanors: a drop in the collection of DNA evidence they say is hurting cold-case investigations.
A bill reintroduced by Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) would order investigators to gather swab samples, blood specimens and fingerprints from people convicted of certain misdemeanors. Current law requires law enforcement to gather such evidence only from felons.
Supporters of Assembly Bill 16 point out that many of the crimes listed were considered felonies before Proposition 47 downgraded drug possession and some theft charges. But civil rights advocates say the proposal could have serious privacy implications.
Barbara Boxer letter to The Times: ‘Our democracy depends’ on holding new leaders accountable
Sen. Barbara Boxer, in a farewell letter to the editor, warned of threats faced by the media under incoming President Donald Trump, and urged the media to hold him accountable.
Here’s an excerpt from her letter to The Times.
Going forward, I intend to remain very involved in the issues we face, and like all your readers, I will rely on the work you do every single day. As we march into uncharted territory with a new president-elect who has never held elected office — and who at times has threatened the media — the role of the free press is more important than ever.
Extending California family leave law to smaller businesses is on the legislative agenda
Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson is once more seeking to extend family leave laws to some of the smallest businesses in California — and this time she hopes to give families more protected time off.
Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) has reintroduced the New Parents Leave Act, which Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed last legislative session, citing concern over the proposal’s effect on small businesses and the liability issues it could raise.
Senate Bill 63, which is substantially similar to its predecessor, would allow parents at companies with 20 to 49 employees to take time off to care for a newborn or newly adopted child without fear of losing their jobs. But the new version of the act would grant parents a period of 12 weeks protected job leave instead of six.
Jackson also reintroduced a second bill identical to another vetoed by Brown that would expand the definition of a family member in the law. The proposal would grant employees 12 weeks of family leave to care for a grandparent, grandchild, sibling, parent-in-law or adult child.
Current state laws extend such job protections only to those workers at businesses with 50 or more employees.
The bills were a priority of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus last legislative session. In a statement, Jackson said she looked forward to continuing to work with the governor on “an issue of national importance.”
California’s five most expensive House races
Winning a seat representing a California congressional district is not a cheap endeavor.
In the last two years, more than $150 million was spent trying to help or hurt the candidates running for one of California’s 53 seats in the House of Representatives.
Most of that money — about $117 million — was spent by the candidates’ own committees, while an additional $35 million poured in from outside groups looking to influence the outcome of a few key races.
California’s most expensive House races included some perennially contested seats as well as sleepy districts that were suddenly thrust into competition based on hopes that having Donald Trump at the top of the GOP ticket would imperil incumbent House Republicans down the ballot.
Former White House aide, also a former L.A. Times employee, joins candidates vying to succeed Xavier Becerra
Former White House staffer Alejandra Campoverdi has entered the race to replace Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles).
Campoverdi, a former employee of the Los Angeles Times, said in an interview that her California upbringing and experience in Washington make her well-suited to represent the 34th Congressional District.
“I have a personal connection to the struggles of the people in this district, and I know how Washington works,” said Campoverdi, 37, who grew up in Santa Monica. “I was raised by a single mother who emigrated from Mexico and by my grandmother. Every day I saw the sacrifices they made for our family and for the community.”
Campoverdi worked in the White House from 2009 to 2012, first as an assistant to a deputy chief of staff and later as deputy director of Hispanic media.
While at The Times in 2015, she worked with the publisher’s office on a video project about immigration and the American identity. She left in July to pursue opportunities with other media outlets.
Campoverdi strikes a similar tone to many of her fellow candidates, vowing to “stand up against Donald Trump and his politics of hate.”
Other candidates vying for the seat include:
- Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles)
- Wendy Carrillo, a Democratic labor activist
- Kenneth Mejia, a Green Party candidate who ran earlier this year as a write-in Democratic candidate against Becerra
- Sara Hernandez, former staffer for Councilman Jose Huizar and a Democrat
- Arturo Carmona, a Democrat and former top deputy for the Bernie Sanders campaign
- Yolie Flores, a former LAUSD board member and a Democrat
- Karl Siganporia, a Republican who previously explored a congressional run as a Democrat
- Raymond Meza, a Democrat and labor organizer with SEIU Local 721
- Steven Mac, a Democrat and felony prosecutor for Los Angeles County
9:40 a.m.: This post was updated to include Steven Mac’s entry into the race.
Prosecutor is ninth candidate in L.A. congressional race to replace Becerra
The number of candidates fighting to replace Rep. Xavier Becerra is now at nine, with L.A. County prosecutor Steven Mac the latest to jump in.
Mac, 35, filed papers with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday. He previously lived in Glendale, but moved to Eagle Rock this week due to rising rent, he said.
In an interview, Mac said that he was running to “hold the [Trump] administration accountable for the truth” and that his past experience as an active-duty Army intelligence officer and Judge Advocate General’s Corps officer has helped him prepare for that.
Mac, whose parents emigrated from Vietnam but are ethnic Chinese, was raised in South Los Angeles and later in Montebello. He says he understands the immigrant experience that permeates the lives of many residents in the 34th Congressional District: His mother worked in the garment district in downtown Los Angeles, while his father worked in Chinatown restaurants for years.
“No matter what country you come from, you come here and you start from nothing and work your way up,” he said. “I think I share that with everybody in the district.”
Union organizer announces run for Xavier Becerra’s congressional seat
Raymond Meza, a Los Angeles union organizer, says he will join several other declared candidates vying to replace Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles).
In a video statement released Wednesday morning, Meza characterized himself as someone “with a proven track record of taking on opponents” and said he “isn’t afraid of a fight.”
In a written statement, Meza added that he “will refuse to compromise with Donald Trump” on issues such as immigration and dismantling the Affordable Care Act.
Meza, who was raised in Eagle Rock, has worked for the Service Employees International Union Local 721 for nearly a decade. The union was central to the “Fight for $15" campaign that helped bring a $15 minimum wage to Los Angeles County.
Meza joins seven other candidates — five Democrats, a Republican and a Green Party candidate — who say they are running to replace Becerra, who is expected to be confirmed as California attorney general early next year.
No date has yet been set for the special election to determine Becerra’s successor.
FOR THE RECORD
4:43 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said six Democrats and a Republican were running to replace Xavier Becerra’s House seat. In fact, five Democrats, one Republican and one Green Party candidate are in the race.
CalPERS leaders push a plan to assume less from investments, more from taxpayers
The investment committee of California’s largest pension fund took action Tuesday to lower long-term investment projections beginning next summer, a decision requiring larger annual contributions from taxpayers.
The proposal will be considered by the full board of directors of the California Public Employees Retirement Fund, CalPERS, on Wednesday. The proposal would take three years to fully implement, lowering the official rate of return on pension investments from the current 7.5% to 7%.
Ted Eliopoulos, the chief investment officer of CalPERS, told directors that the pension fund needs “additional cash to close the growing gap between benefits going out, and contributions coming in.”
CalPERS officials said that the 7.5% rate of return, which was put in place four years ago, could be achieved only by moving more of the fund’s $299-billion portfolio into real estate and private equity investments — the kinds of commitments that would take up dollars now being used to pay benefits to retired government workers.
“That’s just not practical, reasonable or prudent,” said Allan Emkin, an investment consultant asked to analyze CalPERS’ options.
Under the plan, the three-year transition to a lower investment assumption would be delayed an additional year for schools and local governments. A member of Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget staff said the action would require as much as $2 billion in annual state payments by the time of full implementation in 2020.
“We believe this schedule would give [government] employers time to plan their budgets and minimize the impact,” said Cheryl Eason, the chief financial officer of CalPERS.
Representatives of public employee unions, who criticized the more conservative approach in a pension fund meeting last month, warned of the costs to government workers who will be required to contribute more from their paychecks.
“Nobody has the crystal ball to project the future,” Jai Sookprasert of the California School Employees Assn. said to pension board members. “We believe this action you are about to take will have a major impact on employees and employers.”
Investment advisors told the pension fund leaders that under current economic conditions, there could be as little as a 14% chance of CalPERS’ achieving its current investment expectations over the next decade given the amount of money being paid each year to a rising number of retired government workers.
Last year, CalPERS paid out $5 billion more in retirement payments than it took in as employee contributions, a reflection of the quickly aging worker population.
“We are at this very painful, unique moment in time,” CalPERS board member Priya Mathur said. “We have been entrusted by employers to deliver the pension promises that they make to their employees.”
L.A. County politicians and donors had the most campaign law violations in California this year
Los Angeles County had more cases of politicians and others successfully prosecuted for violating campaign finance and ethics rules than any other county in California this year, the state Fair Political Practices Commission reported Tuesday.
The agency prosecuted 72 cases this year from Los Angeles County, many more than the 23 in Santa Clara County, the second-highest number of violations among the 58 counties. The FPPC prosecuted 13 cases each in Orange and Ventura counties, 12 in Kern County, seven in Riverside County and six in San Bernardino County, according to an interactive map posted by the state ethics watchdog agency.
“We are always striving to improve our technology to increase transparency,” said FPPC Chair Jodi Remke. “The heat map will help inform voters and strengthen accountability.”
In all, the FPPC successfully prosecuted 311 cases statewide this year with penalties totaling $894,257, she said.
The largest fine involving a Los Angeles County politician was $57,000 levied by the FPPC against state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) in a case involving campaign money laundering and other violations in aiding a political ally.
Buddhist reverend is newest chaplain for California Assembly
Monday’s gathering of the California electors featured formalities only trotted out every four years. But the proceedings began with two sounds that will likely be Capitol staples next year: a ringing Buddhist prayer bell and the distinctive baritone voice of Rev. Bob Oshita.
The 67-year-old is the newest Assembly chaplain. He most recently was reverend of the Buddhist Church of Sacramento.
Oshita, who also presided over the swearing-in ceremony for legislators earlier this month, began his opening prayer on Monday with the crisp chime of a bell and a call for “calming self-reflection.” His urging of introspection lent an air of solemnity to the ceremony, during which all 55 of California’s electors cast votes for Hillary Clinton.
“The greater the responsibilities of leadership, the more there is a need for deep and quiet reflection in each day,” Oshita told the electors.
Oshita and his wife, Patti, for decades have been involved with their church, which has been a longtime centerpiece of the local Japanese American community, the Sacramento Bee reported. He offered the opening prayer when the Dalai Lama addressed a joint session of the Legislature last June.
Asian Americans in the Legislature cheered Oshita’s appointment when it was announced earlier this month.
“His experience working with young people, tending to the spiritual needs of a variety of communities, and serving for many years in the [capital] city as a compassionate and committed reverend will serve us well in his new role,” Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), chairman of the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, said in a statement.
The new chaplain replaces Father Constantine Pappademos, a Greek Orthodox priest who served various roles at the Capitol, including Assembly chaplain from 2003 until this year. Oshita’s counterpart in the Senate is Sister Michelle Gorman, a Roman Catholic nun who has served in the role since 2014.
FOR THE RECORD:
3:10 p.m.: A previous version of this post misspelled the last name of former chaplain Father Constantine Pappademos as Pappedemos.
The state tax break for second homes is being targeted by lawmakers
Following a year without major legislation to address California’s housing affordability crisis, state lawmakers have already introduced a number of bills designed to increase spending on low-income housing and boost production.
One proposal from Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) would eliminate the state’s mortgage interest deduction on Californians’ second homes and redirect $300 million a year to tax credits that support low-income development.
The measure would require two-thirds approval in the Legislature and is a test of lawmakers’ long history of supporting tax subsidies for homeowners.
California secession organizers say they’ve opened an embassy -- in Moscow
California gained an embassy in Russia last weekend, at least in the eyes of those who have promised to seek a statewide vote on secession, nicknamed “Calexit,” in 2018.
Louis Marinelli, a San Diego resident who is the leader of the group promoting an effort to turn the state into an independent country, organized the Moscow event that was publicized on social media.
“We want to start laying the groundwork for a dialogue about an independent California joining the United Nations now,” he said in an email Monday.
Marinelli is currently working as an English teacher in Russia, and said he is there working on immigration issues related to his wife, who is a Russian national.
The effort faces the longest of odds, requiring not only initial approval by California voters in 2018 but a subsequent special election in 2019. Even if successful then, the proposal would have to pass difficult if not insurmountable legal obstacles.
Marinelli said he’s not discouraged by the high hurdles.
“All major social and political movements in this country take time and inevitably have to overcome failures and setbacks before they are ultimately successful,” he said.
California members of Congress petition Trump on climate change and abortion restrictions
Two members of the California congressional delegation, along with other lawmakers, wrote letters to President-elect Donald Trump this week, one warning him against targeting scientists researching climate change and another asking him to eliminate restrictions on federal money being used to provide abortions.
Responding to news that the Trump transition team requested detailed information about scientists working on climate change in Department of Energy national lboratories, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) led a letter signed by 26 colleagues warning that the members of Congress would defend the scientists in court if necessary.
Swalwell’s district includes Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory. Four national laboratories in California employ 22,500 people, according to the Energy Department.
Trump has said he’s not convinced that climate change is real. The Trump transition team said the team member who had requested the information has since been disciplined.
“Such questions about [Department of Energy] lab staff are worrisome because they suggest there may be attempts by the incoming Administration to retaliate against them or defund their work, even if blame for the questionnaire is now said to rest with a reportedly ‘rogue’ transition team employee,” the letter states. “Regardless of one’s views on climate change, it is simply inappropriate to target hard-working public servants simply for doing their jobs.”
Facing another two years as the minority party in the House and Senate, letters signed by a few dozen colleagues is a way for Democrats to draw attention to policy issues, especially with a Republican also controlling the executive branch.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) led a letter signed by more than 100 House colleagues urging Trump not to include 1976 Hyde Amendment in his 2018 budget. The amendment, when invoked, prevents federal funds from being used to pay for abortions.
“Every person should be treated with dignity, compassion and respect — and that includes a woman’s right to make her own decisions about whether to end a pregnancy. We urge you to begin your presidency with a clear and bold statement that abortion coverage bans have no place in our public policy,” the letter states.
Over the years, the Hyde Amendment restriction has been used for those on Medicare and Medicaid, federal employees, Peace Corps volunteers, female prisoners and others who receive federally funded healthcare. Many of those people have low incomes and are minorities, the letter states.
During the campaign, Trump said he was “totally against abortion” He also said that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who get an abortion if it were outlawed, a statement his campaign quickly walked back.
If you’re from this Redlands district, here’s how to get your Trump inauguration tickets
Kamala Harris nabs national security, environment assignments in the U.S. Senate
Sen.-elect Kamala Harris said Monday that her committee assignments in the U.S. Senate will be “key battlegrounds” in next year’s major policy debates on Capitol Hill.
The incoming freshman Democrat will serve on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee; the Select Committee on Intelligence; the Committee on Environment & Public Works; and the Committee on the Budget.
In a written statement, Harris said she believes the four committees will be tasked with examining a number of the proposals promoted by the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump.
“At a time when so many Californians and Americans are uncertain about our future, I will aggressively fight for our families and the ideals of our nation,” Harris said.
Anti-Trump protesters gather in Sacramento for the electoral college vote
Lawmakers say Trump should disclose tax returns to get on California’s 2020 ballot
President-elect Donald Trump would have to disclose his tax returns to the public to win a spot on California’s statewide ballot in 2020 under a plan two lawmakers will introduce in Sacramento.
The legislation is inspired by a similar effort in New York and would require any candidate to disclose five years of tax returns no later than 50 days before a general election.
“Transparency is a non-partisan issue,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) in a statement. “Voters not only deserve full disclosure of their future leader’s tax returns, they should be entitled to them.”
The refusal by the president-elect to release his tax returns broke a streak for candidate disclosure that dated back four decades. The efforts in California and New York seek to force candidates to comply by using election law.
“Requiring that this basic financial information be made available to voters will help build critical public trust,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), the co-author of the legislation.
California Politics Podcast: Gov. Jerry Brown takes on climate science critics
Gov. Jerry Brown is wasting no time in drawing a line on the issue of climate change with the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump.
This week’s episode of the California Politics Podcast takes a closer look at the governor’s comments last week in San Francisco — a speech in which he made clear California is prepared to go it alone on climate policies if needed.
And in this last episode of 2016, we offer a few key takeaways from the year in California politics as well as what role those issues might play in the debates of 2017.
I’m joined by Marisa Lagos of KQED News.
Prominent California Republicans urge party members to keep Jim Brulte on as state GOP chairman
Three top California Republicans sent a letter Friday urging party members to retain state GOP Chairman Jim Brulte as the party looks toward statewide elections in 2018.
“It’s no secret that California’s demographic trends present challenges for the GOP,” read the letter, signed by Tim Clark, California director for the Donald Trump campaign; Ron Nehring, a former state GOP chairman; and Steve Poizner, who as state insurance commissioner from 2007 to 2011 was the last Republican to hold statewide office.
“Chairman Brulte understands that Republicans must focus, in the short term, on winning battles where we can, while also making permanent, long-term growth into California’s diverse communities,” the letter continued.
Brulte, a former state Senate Republican leader from Rancho Cucamonga, took over as chairman in 2013 at a time when the party was in disarray and in massive debt. He was reelected in 2015.
Earlier this year, party leaders voted to change party rules to allow Brulte to serve two more terms if reelected.
The chairmanship vote will take place during the state Republican spring convention, scheduled for Feb. 24-26 in Sacramento.
Times staff writer Phil Willon contributed to this report.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla certifies historic results in ‘smooth’ election
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla on Friday certified a record-breaking count of 14.6 million ballots cast statewide, calling the November 2016 election “smooth” and free of compromises or breaches.
Padilla, a Democrat who endorsed Hillary Clinton during the primary season, once more refuted a claim by President-elect Donald Trump of rampant voter fraud statewide, saying it was “absolutely false” and without basis or evidence.
He declined to speculate as to what could happen Monday, when the members of the electoral college across the nation cast their votes for president. But he said he hoped that process in California would go as smoothly as the general election.
“Bottom line, I can assure you that the elections officials at the state level and across all 58 counties pride themselves on professionalism,” he said. “We stand by the results. We stand by the process, and we stand by protecting people’s voting rights in California.”
Election results show Hillary Clinton won the state with 62.2% of the popular vote — 4.2 million votes over Trump, the largest margin of victory for a presidential candidate since 1936.
The last time California saw a record number of ballots cast was in 2008, when 13.7 million votes were counted. Registered voter turnout this November election reached more than 75%, with nearly 58% of voters casting their ballots by mail.
California delegate to Republican National Convention pays a visit to Trump Tower
California may have overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton, but Donald Trump still has passionate supporters from the state.
Shirley Husar, a Republican National Convention delegate from Pasadena, visited Trump Tower on Friday to talk about urban renewal with Omarosa Manigault, a Trump advisor and former “Apprentice” contestant.
Husar, who is African American, helped nominate Trump at the convention, calling him a “candidate that can provide for my boys and all Californians the hope and opportunity of the true America.”
Husar has criticized Black Lives Matter activists and the role of government assistance programs and she praised Trump in comments to reporters on Friday.
“We’re excited,” she said. “The African American coalition is growing.”
Coming to the state Capitol on Monday: California’s 55 electors
The 2016 presidential campaign will finally come to an end Monday when the members of the electoral college across the nation cast their votes for president, reflecting the outcome of the Nov. 8 election.
While that action will officially seal the win for Donald Trump, in California, the ceremony will be decidedly centered around Hillary Clinton, whose decisive victory here helped power her lead in the nationwide popular vote.
She will be the choice of California’s 55 Democratic electors, who will convene at 2 p.m. in the state Capitol to cast their votes.
Because all of the state’s electoral votes go to the winner, the crowd gathering Monday will be entirely aligned with the Democrats -- a delegation chosen by the state’s two U.S. senators as well as congressional nominees in each district. A federal judge on Friday rejected a challenge to the state’s winner-take-all requirement.
The electors include Christine Pelosi, daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, and Olivia Reyes-Becerra, daughter of Rep. Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles, just selected to be the state’s next attorney general.
The group also includes elected officials such as Assemblywomen Shirley Weber of San Diego and Susan Talamantes Eggman of Stockton.
The Times will cover this meeting and the day’s electoral college events live.
Former LAUSD board member enters the fray to replace Xavier Becerra
California’s top elections officer says it’s past time to revisit the electoral college
Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who will certify the results of the Nov. 8 election this week, said it’s wrong to consider overhauling some parts of federal voting law without also weighing the merits of the electoral college in the modern era.
“Is it past time to revisit the electoral college? Absolutely,” Padilla said Thursday in a meeting with The Times Editorial Board.
Padilla, a Democrat who endorsed Hillary Clinton during the primary season, took note of a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike a portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which a majority of justices saw as no longer needed.
“I can’t ignore the parallel,” Padilla said. “If the Supreme Court of the United States found that the formula for the Voting Rights Act, which was only 50 years old, no longer applied and was worth revisiting, why not the electoral college?”
Still, the state’s chief elections officer declined to say whether he thinks — as some have suggested — that presidential electors in states across the nation should be allowed to vote their conscience when they meet next week. California law requires the 55 electors chosen by Democrats to vote for the nominees of their party.
“I think the state law is pretty clear in California on what electors are supposed to do,” he said.
Padilla noted that California is part of an 11-state compact whose members have agreed to cast their electoral votes for the presidential candidate that wins the national popular vote. The compact has no legal effect, however, until enough state legislatures sign on and pass legislation binding their states to the agreement to total the 270 electoral college votes a candidate needs to become president.
FOR THE RECORD
4:38 p.m. Dec. 17: A previous version of this post said presidential electors should be allowed to vote their conscience when they meet next year. They will meet next week.
Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez racks up endorsements from Latino elected officials in fight for Becerra’s congressional seat
As other potential candidates have been weighing whether to jump in to the race to replace Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), L.A. Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez has been busy rolling out endorsements from state and national Latino leaders.
Five members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have endorsed Gomez so far: Reps. Grace Napolitano (D-Norwalk), Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands), Juan Vargas (D-San Diego), Filemon Vega of Texas and Arizona’s Ruben Gallego.
Gomez already has support from state Senate leader Kevin de León of Los Angeles, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon of Paramount and L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis.
He also scored the backing of outgoing state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, who will be sworn in as U.S. senator next month.
On Wednesday, Gomez also announced the endorsement of L.A. City Councilman Gil Cedillo, who had previously considered running for the seat himself.
“This is not a training job,” Cedillo said at a press conference in Macarthur Park Wednesday. “This is a job where people...will be in the moment of crisis, whose voices must be heard, whose leadership must be demonstrated.”
Assembly Republican leader doesn’t believe there’s widespread voter fraud in California
Contradicting claims made by President-elect Donald Trump, the state Assembly’s top Republican said Wednesday that he doesn’t believe there was rampant voter fraud in California on Nov. 8.
“I don’t think there’s widespread fraud in California,” said Assembly GOP leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) in an interview with The Times in Sacramento.
In a Nov. 27 tweet, Trump alleged “serious voter fraud” in California and two other states — an allegation without any evidence to support it. It was the president-elect’s first and only comment about the results in California, which he lost to Hillary Clinton by almost 4.3 million votes.
Mayes, who declined to say how he cast his ballot for president, voiced concerns about reports of some isolated incidents involving either voting errors or mistaken registration. Republicans have demanded a new look, in particular, at the online voter registration site maintained by the secretary of state’s office.
“Do I think that there are other ways that folks try to game the system?” Mayes said. “Maybe. But I do think the people that vote, and if they’re legal to be able to vote, that their vote is cast appropriately and it’s counted appropriately.”
Mayes, who talked about priorities ranging from transportation to healthcare benefits, now leads a GOP caucus that has shrunk since the previous two-year session of the Legislature. Republicans now hold only 25 Assembly seats, a net loss of two lawmakers after Democrats won a supermajority of both houses.
But the Republican leader did not say he believed there was any evidence of a systemic problem that would undermine the integrity of California elections.
“From what I’ve seen, it’s been very clear that we’ve got a good system,” Mayes said.
People who live in public housing would be banned from smoking and vaping in their homes under new bill
Residents of government housing would be barred from smoking and using electronic cigarettes inside their residential units and within 25 feet of buildings under legislation introduced by Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg).
The bill is one in several measures restricting tobacco use in California in recent years because of health concerns, and comes as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has drafted rules for a nationwide public housing smoking ban to be implemented in the next 18 months.
“This is a great step forward in protecting families by significantly reducing exposure to second-hand smoke and this bill codifies federal regulations,” Wood said. “In AB 62, we are taking it a step further by including the use of e-cigarettes to be consistent with California’s definition of tobacco products which includes e-cigarettes and other vaping products.”
The measure would give public housing agencies until July 30, 2018, to put smoking restrictions in place.
‘We’re ready to fight.’ Gov. Jerry Brown unloads on Trump and climate issues
In perhaps his most fiery comments since Donald Trump won the presidency, Gov. Jerry Brown said on Wednesday California will push back against any effort to stop or reverse policies fighting global climate change.
“We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers and we’re ready to fight,” Brown said to applause during a speech to the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
The governor has mostly held back in recent weeks from commenting on the potential policy changes promised by the president-elect during the campaign. But in the impassioned speech to a group of scientists, Brown lamented what he described as a “miasma of nonsense” on important issues facing the nation and world.
The only direct comment about the president-elect came in a reference to worries that climate research conducted by NASA could come to an end under the new administration. Brown reminded the crowd of the nickname he was given by a newspaper columnist in 1976, “Governor Moonbeam,” for his interest in a state-sponsored satellite.
“If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite,” roared Brown to the crowd.
And referring to Rick Perry, the former Texas governor Trump has selected to lead the Dept. of Energy, Brown reminded everyone of California’s advantages over Texas when it comes to renewable energy.
“We’ve got more sun than you’ve got oil,” he quipped.
Former Bernie Sanders campaign aide Arturo Carmona enters race to replace Becerra
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti talks to Chelsea Handler about his conversation with Trump
When it comes to dealing with Donald Trump, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti seems committed to walking a political tightrope: offering to work with Trump on some issues while pushing back on the president-elect’s immigration stance.
Garcetti discussed his phone conversation with Trump in an interview with television host Chelsea Handler that will be available to stream on Netflix early Wednesday. The pair talked about new infrastructure spending and the city’s Olympic bid.
“I encouraged him to work with us to figure out a way to fix the system instead of just going after the immigrants as scapegoats,” he said.
He was mum when asked how Trump replied.
“I always respect private conversations, but in broad terms, he said ‘I want to fix a broken system,’ so I think there was an opening there,” Garcetti said.
Perhaps channeling California Gov. Jerry Brown’s penchant for quoting philosophers, Garcetti urged those upset by the presidential election to pay more attention to local politics by repeating a quote attributed to French philosopher Ernest Renan: “The nation is a daily plebiscite.”
The interview ended with Garcetti thanking Handler for the gifts guests receive when they come on the show.
“Even for the boys, we get birth control pill cases that say ‘Chelsea,’” he said holding up a blue case. “That is very considerate, thank you.”
Criticism is fierce over an effort to cancel California pension fund investments in tobacco
A pair of powerful California elected officials expressed outrage Tuesday at a recommendation that the state’s largest public employee pension fund cancel its ban on investing in tobacco companies.
A staff report from the California Public Employees Retirement System calls for the agency’s directors to abandon a 16-year effort to move away from tobacco-related securities. The report estimates there are about $547 million worth of investments related to tobacco in the CalPERS portfolio.
CalPERS staffers wrote that the existing policy has left pension fund managers in limbo, and that any effort to completely divest from the tobacco industry would be “tying the hands of investment staff, thereby severely hampering staff’s ability to re-evaluate and reinvest as market conditions warrant.”
Treasurer John Chiang, who sits on the CalPERS board, said Tuesday that the pension fund needs to make a complete break with tobacco investments.
“I continue to believe that investing in tobacco-related securities is a bad economic decision for CalPERS beneficiaries, for the state in general and for the world as a whole, whether we invest directly or through others,” Chiang wrote to the agency’s investment committee.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom chimed in on Tuesday afternoon, calling any full cancellation of the ban on tobacco investments “about the most perverse course of action CalPERS can take.”
Both Chiang and Newsom have announced their plans to run for governor in 2018.
CalPERS’ board of directors is scheduled to consider the fate of tobacco investments on Dec. 19.
Gov. Brown asks President Obama to permanently ban new drilling off California’s coast
Seeking swift action before the arrival of a new president, Gov. Jerry Brown urged President Obama on Tuesday to make permanent the existing ban on new oil and gas drilling along the California coast.
“Now is the time to make permanent the protection of our ocean waters and beaches,” wrote Brown in the letter released by his office. The governor later participated in a San Diego event to mark California joining a regional effort to combat ocean acidification.
Brown’s letter comes almost two weeks after a similar request by legislative Democrats. Whether Obama could act in a way that could not be revisited by President-elect Donald Trump next year remains unclear, though a growing chorus of Democrats and environmental activists are urging an attempt by the president before he leaves office.
The governor also raised the issue of climate change in his letter to Obama.
“Clearly, large new oil and gas reserves would be inconsistent with our overriding imperative to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and combat the devastating impacts of climate change,” Brown wrote.
Oakland mayor searches for path forward in wake of deadly fire
Being mayor of Oakland was never going to be an easy job. The city has struggled with crime, poverty and complex questions about how to adapt to the influx of wealth from the tech boom.
This is the situation Libby Schaaf inherited when she stepped into Oakland’s top job after winning the 2014 election, but it’s only gotten more difficult.
The Ghost Ship warehouse fire, which killed 36 people on Dec. 2, has become a tragic test for Schaaf’s administration as it tries to balance safety and affordability for residents.