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This is Essential Politics, our in-the-moment look at California political and government news.

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When Halloween gets political: Check out this tiny Maxine Waters

It happens every year: Halloween and politics mix.

California’s politicos got in the spirit on social media.

Rep. Maxine Waters got a shoutout from a little girl in Oakland, with a play ona now viral incident in which Waters dismissed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for not answering her questions in a committee hearing and using up her allotted time.

Sen. Kamala Harris posted a photo of a mini-me of her own, saying 4-year-old Micaela “wins best Halloween costume in my book.”

California Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman’s costume was pointed: President Trump in a clown suit.

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Orange County at center of fundraising in California’s most contested races

More than half of the money raised for the most contested House races in California is going to candidates in Orange County, another indication of its starring role in the Democratic effort to win back control of the House next year.

Of the 80 or so challengers in California, 27 are running in Orange County. A Los Angeles Times analysis of this year’s campaign finance filings found it is also where the cash is going to: About $15 million of the nearly $28.5 million raised this year for 13 key races went to candidates in just four Orange County districts:

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Gov. Jerry Brown plans climate trip to Vatican, Belgium, Norway and Germany

(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

Gov. Jerry Brown has mapped out a busy European travel schedule that includes attending the next United Nations conference on climate change in Bonn, Germany.

“While the White House declares war on climate science and retreats from the Paris Agreement, California is doing the opposite and taking action,” Brown said in a statement. “We are joining with our partners from every part of the world to do what needs to be done to prevent irreversible climate change.”

Roughly two dozen public events are planned over 10 days, starting with a speech at a Vatican symposium on Saturday. Brown won’t be the only California politician at the conference. Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego) is speaking later that day, and state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) is scheduled to appear Friday.

After the Vatican, the governor is bouncing between Germany and Belgium, plus a stop in Norway to meet with scientists. He’s holding press conferences with the president of the European Parliament and the minister-president of Baden-Württemberg, a German state that has collaborated with California on an international climate pact.

Once the Bonn conference begins, much of Brown’s focus will be on how states, provinces and other local governments can tackle climate change absent stronger action from national leaders. He was named a special advisor to the U.N. conference for states and regions earlier this year.

Brown is scheduled to appear with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Nov. 11 and speak at numerous other events, a packed itinerary much like the one he kept at the Paris climate conference two years ago.

His last event is expected to take place Nov. 14.

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Tom Steyer’s impeachment petition gets over 1 million signatures in first week

Billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer says his online petition asking Congress to impeach President Trump garnered more than 1.1 million signatures in its first week.

Last week, Steyer began airing an ad calling for Trump’s impeachment and asking viewers to sign his petition urging Congress to do so. He has spent more than $10 million to air the ad nationwide, including during the World Series.

Trump attacked the effort -- and Steyer -- on Twitter after the ad ran during “Fox and Friends” on Friday. Steyer’s staff members said they haven’t determined whether the president’s tweet boosted the signature effort.

Steyer has donated millions to Democrats and get-out-the-vote efforts in recent years. He’s weighing a primary challenge to California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Petitions are a common way to try to change politicians’ minds, though they work to differing degrees. Still, the rate of people signing on to Steyer’s effort is quick. For example, one of the most popular petitions on deals with removing health insurance for members of Congress if they get rid of the Affordable Care Act. It took four months for it to top 1 million signatures.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Porter Ranch) drafted and circulated articles of impeachment against Trump this summer, but most members of Congress -- even Democratic leaders -- have been reluctant to press for impeachment and Sherman’s efforts haven’t gained traction.


1:19 p.m.: The post was updated with details about Rep. Brad Sherman’s impeachment efforts.

This post was originally published at 1:08 p.m.

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California business tax incentive program should end, legislative analyst says

California no longer should give specific tax incentives to businesses and instead should provide broad-based tax relief, the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office said in a new report.

The analyst’s office examined California Competes, a program that began four years ago to give tax credits to businesses looking to move to the state or remain here, and found it puts existing companies that don’t receive the awards at a disadvantage without clear benefits to the overall economy.

“Picking winners and losers inevitably leads to problems. In the case of California Competes, we are struck by how awarding benefits to a select group of businesses harms their competitors in California,” the report said. “We also think the resources consumed by the program are not as focused as they should be on winning economic development competitions with other states to attract major employers that sell to customers around the country and the world.”

California Competes has allowed the awarding of nearly $800 million in tax credits.

The legislative analyst found that more than a third of the credits awarded through California Competes resulted in no change to the overall economy and put the state’s existing businesses at a competitive disadvantage. The analyst couldn’t assess the value of the remainder of the credits because it’s impossible to know how businesses would have reacted had they not received them.

California Competes is scheduled to end next year. The analyst’s office recommends replacing it by lowering business taxes overall or, should lawmakers want to keep it, tailor the program more narrowly to focus on attracting and retaining high-value companies.

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Electric companies found at fault in North Bay fires won’t be able to pass costs onto residents under proposed bill

Jason Miller, 45, plants an American flag on the charred remains of his house in Coffey Park. He had lived in the Santa Rosa neighborhood for 23 years.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

If electric utilities are found at fault in the recent wildfires in the North Bay, a group of state lawmakers want to ensure they don’t pass along their costs to residents.

“Victims of devastating fires and other customers should not be forced to pay for the mistakes made by utilities,” state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) said in a release.

Hill is one of four Bay Area legislators who said they plan to introduce a bill when lawmakers return to the Capitol in January to block any effort by utilities found at fault to recoup any costs from ratepayers.

Investigators have not identified the cause of the wildfires that ripped across Northern California this month that left more than 40 people dead and thousands of homes destroyed.

But the lawmakers said their legislation is motivated by San Diego Gas & Electric’s efforts to recover costs from wildfires in that region a decade ago.

Co-authoring the bill with Hill is Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael).

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Nancy Pelosi endorses Sen. Dianne Feinstein for reelection

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) endorsed the reelection bid of longtime colleague Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Monday, saying her seniority is a source of strength for the state.

“Feinstein is a strong voice and a staunch advocate for the people of California. Dianne Feinstein is uniquely positioned to defend California against Donald Trump’s constant attacks on health care, immigration and voting rights. She is a recognized leader in the Senate on economic policies that work for all Californians, defending against tax policies that hurt our state,” Pelosi said in a statement released by the Feinstein campaign.

Pelosi avoided getting deeply involved in the expected fight between Senate leader Kevin De León and Feinstein during an interview at a Los Angeles Times and Berggruen Institute event in downtown Los Angeles.

“People running against each other for office, that is a democracy,” she said at the event. “I do think that it is important to note how powerful Dianne Feinstein is in Washington, D.C., and how important that is to the state of California…. Another case can be made as to whether that is valuable or not, and that is what the discussion is about.”

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Proposed initiative would end early release for some crimes, allow more DNA collection

(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

A coalition including police officers and prosecutors on Monday proposed a California state initiative that would end early release of rapists and child traffickers and expand the number of crimes for which authorities could collect DNA samples from those convicted.

The ballot measure is sponsored by the California Public Safety Partnership, and would reverse some elements of Proposition 47, which was approved by voters in 2014 and reduced some crimes deemed nonviolent from a felony to a misdemeanor.

The proposed initiative would add 15 crimes to the list of violent crimes for which early release is not an option, including child abuse, rape of an unconscious person, trafficking a child for sex, domestic violence and assault with a deadly weapon.

“These reforms make sure that truly violent criminals stay in jail and don’t get out early,” said Sacramento County Dist. Atty. Anne Marie Schubert, a leader of the coalition.

The initiative would also allow DNA collection for certain crimes, including drug offenses, that were reduced to misdemeanors under Proposition 47.

Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) said there have been 2,000 fewer hits matching DNA to cold cases annually in recent years.

He cited one case from 1989 involving the murder of two young girls in Sacramento that was solved last year by DNA taken from a man in a drug case before those were excluded from DNA collection.

“If that case happens today, right now, it does not get solved,” said Cooper, a former sheriff’s captain.

Changes in law also made theft of goods valued at less than $950 a misdemeanor, so some criminals are committing serial thefts and keeping each one to $949 or less, Cooper said. The initiative would make serial theft a felony.

The measure also mandates a parole revocation hearing for anyone who violates the terms of their parole three times.

“A Whittier police officer was recently murdered by a parolee who had violated parole five times,” said Los Angeles Police Protective League President Craig Lally, who supports the initiative.

A representative of the group behind Proposition 47 said it was not reasonable to blame the ballot measure for an uptick in some crimes in some parts of the state.

“Fluctuations in crime have much more to do with economic and social policies and practices,” said Tom Hoffman, a spokesman for the group Californians for Safety and Justice. “It’s so much more complicated than one piece of legislation as an issue.”

The proponents of the initiative need to collect signatures from 365,880 voters by the end of April to qualify the initiative for the November 2018 election.

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When men with power go too far: After years of whispers, women speak out about harassment in California’s Capitol

Tina McKinnor, left, Sadalia King, Amy Thoma Tan, Jodi Hicks and Sabrina Lockhart have come forward to talk about their experiences with sexual harassment at the Capitol.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

It started with a dinner invitation from a former assemblyman more than twice her age. He had offered his services as a mentor, but his hand reaching for her knee under the table revealed other intentions. Then came the late-night phone calls and unexpected appearances at events she had to attend for her job in the Capitol.

Fresh out of college, Amy Brown did what she thought women were supposed to do in these situations — she reported him. The former assemblyman accused her of slander, an experience that left her so humiliated that she left Sacramento for a new job in San Jose.

“I immediately got the hell out of town,” Brown said. “I felt like the people — the person — I was relying on for advancement in my career was preying on me.”

Stories like these have taken many forms through the years. Sometimes it’s a professional meeting that turned inappropriately sexual, or it’s a groping hand on a backside. In one case, a woman said a lawmaker masturbated in front of her in a bar bathroom.

No matter the details, each story involves a man with power — the kind of power bestowed by voters, an influential lobbying client or a supply of campaign cash. And instead of wielding that power to shape politics or public policy, the man used it to proposition women or to touch them inappropriately.

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Big jump in the number of House challengers isn’t great news for California Republicans

So far this year, 80 challengers have reported raising money across California for the 2018 midterm elections, more than triple the number who had done so at this point in the 2016 election. Collectively, they’ve raised more than $14.9 million, and 70% of that has gone to the four Republican-held districts in Orange County that Democrats consider key to their chances.

There haven’t been this many congressional challengers in California’s House races this early in the game since at least 2003, and that could be bad news for Republican incumbents.

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California’s Senate culture doesn’t encourage women to file complaints. Here’s how that could change

Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), shown in September, acknowledged that the Senate could improve its procedures for reporting misconduct.
Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), shown in September, acknowledged that the Senate could improve its procedures for reporting misconduct.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

In 2014, reeling from scandals that led to the suspension of three Democratic senators, California’s state Senate changed its policies to make it easier for employees, members and the public to sound the alarm about misconduct.

A Times analysis of those rule changes shows a lack of follow-through to make reporting complaints more accessible. And the lawmaker who worked on changes in the Senate’s operations after that scandal says more could have been done.

Then-Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) suggested at the time that the move would lead to “positive cultural change and strengthen the integrity of this great institution.”

But as the Capitol now soul-searches over allegations of widespread sexual harassment, the current legislative leaders acknowledge the culture still does not encourage women to file complaints. The Senate’s effort to reform itself three years ago — and how it fell short — is instructive as both legislative houses embark on a new round of self-improvement.

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From the 1979 archives: Politics, Marriage Hard to Mix, Legislators Find

Today’s column about sexual harassment in Sacramento references the above May 7, 1979, article detailing how the Capitol was a sexual playground.

I’ve been closely watching Sacramento for half a century. It’s my observation — OK, a guess, because no one keeps statistics — that sexual harassment at the state Capitol is about the same now as it was decades ago. Sexual bullies of both parties have always plagued politics.

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High taxes on legal pot in California could mean black market will thrive

The Farmacy, a California medical marijuana dispensary.
The Farmacy, a California medical marijuana dispensary.
(Spencer Weiner/Los Angeles Times)

State and local taxes on marijuana could surpass 45% in some parts of California, jeopardizing efforts to bring all growers and sellers into a state-licensed market in January, according to the global credit ratings firm Fitch Ratings.

“High tax rates raise prices in legal markets, reinforcing the price advantage of black markets,” the firm said in a report Monday. “California’s black markets for cannabis were well established long before its voters legalized cannabis in November 2016 and are expected to dominate post-legalization production.”

As the top pot-producing state in the nation, California could be on thin ice with the federal government >>

The report said that increased enforcement may blunt the illegal market, “but high taxes may complicate such efforts by diverting in-state sales to the black market.”

California is scheduled to begin issuing licenses to grow, transport and sell medical and recreational marijuana on Jan. 1 and will charge a 15% excise tax, as well as a state cultivation levy of $9.25 per ounce for cannabis flowers and $2.75 per ounce for leaves.

Hundreds applied to be on California’s pot advisory committee. Here’s who got picked >>

In addition, local business taxes have been approved by 61 cities and counties ranging from 7.75% to 9.75%.

The marijuana market is expected to provide a windfall for state and local treasuries.

“In the handful of states that legalized nonmedical cannabis prior to 2016, tax receipts have generally outpaced initial revenue estimates and have shown strong year-over-year gains,” Fitch Ratings said. But California could end up being one of the highest taxing states in the country if proposals stand.

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says he won’t run for governor

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Have you experienced sexual harassment in government or politics? Tell us your story

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Please tell us your story using the form below. We will not share your personal contact information.

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California Assembly Speaker applauds Capitol staffer’s ‘bravery’ in going public with complaint against assemblyman

Gyore spoke publicly for the first time about a 2009 complaint she filed against Bocanegra.
Gyore spoke publicly for the first time about a 2009 complaint she filed against Bocanegra.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) said Friday that the experience of a staffer who filed a complaint eight years ago against now-Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra illustrates why the Capitol culture must change.

Elise Flynn Gyore told The Times about her experience filing a complaint against Bocanegra, who was then a legislative staffer, after she said he groped her and followed her in a manner she found threatening at a 2009 after-work event in a Sacramento bar.

The Friday morning story in The Times was the first time she had spoken publicly of the incident and the complaint, which resulted in Bocanegra being disciplined.

“I appreciate Ms. Gyore’s bravery in bringing this incident forward. We have to change the culture in the Capitol and in society and her experience shows why,” Rendon said in a statement Friday afternoon. “How incidents of harassment were handled in the past can inform our current efforts to improve the system and to build a future where these injustices are prevented before they happen and no employee has to fear harassment or abuse.”

Bocanegra, who was first elected in 2012, is part of Rendon’s leadership team, serving in the position of majority whip. A top lieutenant to Rendon, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), also chimed in with support for Gyore on Friday.

Former Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles), who led the Assembly from 2010 to 2014, said he was unaware of the complaint’s existence until The Times’ report.

He said he had never heard of any complaints — formal or informal — against Bocanegra, nor had he witnessed any inappropriate behavior from the Pacoima Democrat.

Also on Friday, the organizers of We Said Enough, a recently launched campaign against harassment