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

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L.A. billionaire Eli Broad donates $1.5 million to pro-charter school group supporting Villaraigosa for governor

Billionaire Eli Broad and his wife, Edythe, stand for a photo amid Jeff Koons sculptures at "The Broad" museum in downtown Los Angeles.
(Richard Vogel / Associated Press)

Los Angeles billionaire and philanthropist Eli Broad donated $1.5 million on Thursday to a pro-charter school group supporting Antonio Villaraigosa’s candidacy for governor.

The contribution came one day after Netflix chief Reed Hastings donated $7 million to the same group, Families & Teachers for Antonio Villaraigosa for Governor 2018, which is sponsored by the California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates, according to the California secretary of state’s office.

Broad and Hastings are wealthy backers of the education-reform movement. Villaraigosa is the most prominent California Democrat to back the effort to reform traditional protections for teachers that are a key priority for teachers’ unions. His stance has made him a target of those unions and many other labor groups, in part because of his roots as a labor organizer.

It’s unclear what the independent expenditure group plans to do with the millions of dollars in donations, but it could boost Villaraigosa’s chances against Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who leads in the polls and fundraising. Newsom is backed by the powerful California Teachers Assn. and other education unions.

The charter school association has previously been successful in local elections, notably last year when its efforts led to the first Los Angeles Unified School District board majority of elected officials with major pro-charter financial support.

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Petition drive to repeal California gas tax increase temporarily slows down

A motorist prepares to gas up her vehicle in San Rafael, Calif., in 2015.
A motorist prepares to gas up her vehicle in San Rafael, Calif., in 2015.
( (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images))

Paid signature-gatherers for a ballot measure that would repeal gas tax increases may be hard to find on the streets of California this week.

Organizers say it’s not a money issue, adding that they needed to briefly halt paid signature-gathering to catch up on collecting petitions from volunteers.

The petition drive has so far collected more than 327,800 verified signatures of the 587,407 needed to qualify the measure for the November ballot, according to Dave Gilliard, the political strategist behind the drive.

“We knew it was popular but the incredible pace is even faster than we expected so we outran the capacity of our verification operation over the Christmas holiday and told our crew managers to slow down so we could catch up,” Gilliard said. “We will be back up to speed by the end of this week.”

The gas tax and vehicle fee increases signed by Gov. Jerry Brown are expected to raise $5.2 billion annually for road and bridge repairs and expanded mass transit. The gas tax jumped from 18 cents to 30 cents per gallon on Nov. 1, and vehicle fees of at least $25 kicked in Jan. 1.

“The gas tax repeal petition is breaking records for both paid and volunteer signatures and we’re using the next two weeks to catch up on validation of signatures already received,” said Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego City Councilman and conservative radio talk-show host. “As a grass-roots-funded effort we are also continuously raising funds and volunteer support. We are highly confident we’ll qualify this Initiative for the November 2018 ballot.”