Welcome back to Essential Politics. I’m Sarah Wire — I cover the 55 members of California’s congressional delegation and I’m taking over the Monday newsletter for the next few months.
California’s largely Democratic delegation today will be be sworn into the 115th Congress, which is opening with an ambitious Republican agenda. (Last night, House Republicans voted privately to gut an ethics office.) Five House members and Sen.-elect Kamala Harris will join the country’s largest congressional delegation.
California’s state Legislature also returns today, and we’ll be tracking the first day of the new Congress and Legislature over on our Essential Politics news feed.
But first let’s take a look at what’s been happening as president-elect Donald Trump prepares to take the oath of office Jan. 20.
There’s a lot waiting for Trump after he takes the oath.
David Savage reported that more than 100 seats on the federal courts are waiting to be filled, including the vacant spot on the Supreme Court.
Del Quentin Wilber took an in-depth look at Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Trump’s choice for attorney general, and why questions about race could come up during his confirmation hearings.
And Chris Megerian has the story of a federal government scientist in California who hopes to convince Trump that climate change is real.
President Obama will channel George Washington (and many other departing presidents) when he gives a farewell address in Chicago Jan. 10, and Vice-President Biden gave his parting advice to Democrats in an interview with Michael Memoli.
CALIFORNIA, THESE ARE YOUR NEW LAWS
Over the weekend, hundreds of new laws took effect in California, including added controls on guns, harsher sanctions against criminals, extra rules for ride-hailing businesses like Uber and Lyft, and much more. In all, the Legislature approved and Gov. Jerry Brown signed 898 bills in 2016, with 801 of them taking effect on Jan. 1. So how will California’s new laws affect you?
STATE OF THE RACE TO REPLACE BECERRA
Ten candidates have announced plans to run to replace Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) if he is confirmed as California’s next attorney general. Christine Mai-Duc reports that the latest entrants include Raymond Meza, a Los Angeles-based union organizer who helped coordinate the Fight for $15 campaign to raise the minimum wage; Steven Mac, a felony prosecutor for L.A. County; and Alejandra Campoverdi, a former White House staffer who once worked for The Times. You can catch up on the rest of who’s in and who’s out in the race here.
Becerra’s seat is not the only potential vacancy political watchers are keeping an eye on right now. Other members who are leaning toward retirement will likely announce their plans in the next few months.
AN END TO THE ‘THELMA AND LOUISE’ PARTNERSHIP
The start of the next Congress also marks the official end of the 24- year partnership of Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, who were the first pair of women elected to represent the same state.
Feinstein and Boxer originally pitched themselves as the dynamic duo and, until a fight over a water bill in the final days of Boxer’s last session, largely avoided any major disagreements over policies affecting California. I spoke with the senators about their relationship and whether the maneuvering over the water bill would change it.
ASIAN AMERICAN DONORS BANKING ON JOHN CHIANG
Phil Willon reports California Treasurer John Chiang’s 2018 bid for governor has gotten a major financial lift from well-to-do Asian Americans, including business leaders who’ve usually stayed on the sidelines for state elections. Chiang raised $2.2 million in the first month and a half of his campaign and the overwhelming majority of his biggest donors were Asian American business leaders and entrepreneurs.
CALIFORNIA’S FIVE MOST EXPENSIVE HOUSE RACES
Winning a seat in Congress isn’t cheap. 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 House seats.
Javier Panzar has the story on California’s most expensive House races. The list includes some perennially contested seats, and sleepy districts that were suddenly thought to be competitive because of Trump’s spot at the top of the GOP ticket.
There’s a campaign underway to ban billboards advertising marijuana from all state highways in an effort to prevent the marketing of pot to minors.
“It’s stupid. It shows you how ignorant they still are,” comedian Tommy Chong said of the effort. He appears on one such billboard.
Two state lawmakers also say they plan to introduce legislation explicitly prohibiting smoking marijuana while driving. Proposition 64, the state’s new law legalizing marijuana, allows a citation for having an open container of marijuana in a vehicle.
— Gov. Jerry Brown pardoned 112 convicted criminals and shortened the sentence of another in his traditional pre-Christmas act of clemency.
— Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) has introduced a bill to end a state mortgage interest deduction for the second homes of almost 200,000 California taxpayers and redirect the $300 million a year to fund low-income housing.
— Brown’s longtime shadow, the corgi dog Sutter, died over the holidays. John Myers has the story of the role the famous first dog played in California politics.
— Juan Rodriguez, who served as Harris’ campaign manager, joined the San Francisco-based political consulting team led by veteran Ace Smith.
— Harris made several hires for her new Senate office, bringing in Hillary Clinton’s Iowa spokeswoman as communications director and snagging a few longtime Hill staffers.
— Ed Reinecke, the California lieutenant governor who resigned after being convicted of perjury in a Watergate-era scandal, died on Christmas Eve.
— 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. Ayloush soon realized he had erred.
— An assemblywoman rang in 2017 with a surprise marriage to a former lawmaker.
-- A state Senate Democrat from Santa Barbara is trying extend California family leave laws to small businesses after the governor vetoed her proposal last year.
— California lawmakers say an unintended consequence of reducing theft and drug crimes to misdemeanors is a drop in the collection of DNA evidence that is hurting cold case investigations. They’ve introduced legislation that would order investigators to gather swab samples, blood specimens and fingerprints from offenders in certain misdemeanors.
— L.A. County politicians and donors had the most campaign law violations in California this year, according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission.
Essential Politics is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You can keep up with breaking news on our politics page throughout the day for the latest and greatest. And are you following us on Twitter at @latimespolitics?
Miss the last newsletter? Here you go.
Please send thoughts, concerns and news tips to email@example.com.
Did someone forward you this? Sign up here to get Essential Politics in your inbox.