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Politics

Newsletter: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s biggest political test is about to begin

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Essential Politics
(LAT)

It’s not that a governor has limited political power — the bully pulpit, especially in the age of social media, can provide an enormous advantage — but in California, it really comes down to three potential game changers.

First, the governor appoints scores of people to powerful positions. Then, he has the singular power to sign or veto proposed laws.

And then there’s the power he will begin to wield in a few days by setting the agenda for a new state budget.

Gov. Gavin Newsom will send lawmakers a revised spending plan this week — based on brand-new data about tax collections from April — and thus kick off an intense five-week period in which the Legislature must take action.

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HOW MUCH SPENDING AND ON WHICH PROGRAMS?

One thing we know before even seeing Newsom’s proposal is that there’s never been so much money to spend. Rosy projections back in January were bested by close to $1 billion in preliminary reports from April’s tax collections.

Still, how the governor handles negotiations with his fellow Democrats in the Legislature could set the tone for the remainder of his time in office.

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If you’re looking for one key place to test the relationship between the Democratic governor and his party’s legislative leaders, it might be in how much to expand government healthcare through the Medi-Cal program to those in the U.S. illegally. Lawmakers want full coverage of the immigrant population, while Newsom has proposed only a portion of adults. The cost difference could be substantial.

We’ll also be watching Newsom’s new budget to see whether he advances efforts on the myriad promises made since he took the oath of office in January.

WHEN GETTING A STATE JOB IS ALL IN THE FAMILY

Recent revelations about a former top state official accused of unfairly helping her daughter land a government job got us to thinking: How prevalent is nepotism in California’s vast bureaucracy?

A closer look reveals that even in the face of pledges to end such favoritism, the practice continues. Workers in at least seven state agencies have alleged favoritism shown to family members and friends of administrators in the last decade.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

-- It was a dramatic day in a Fresno courtroom Friday, as Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula’s legal and political fate may rest on whether he can convince a jury his young daughter isn’t telling the truth.

-- With a legislative battle underway over a landmark state law that allows consumers new powers over their personal data, Newsom and lawmakers have another ambitious goal: putting a financial value on that information.

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-- California cloaks the state’s two licensed animal blood banks — both privately owned and commercially operated — with sweeping exemptions from public records laws, with the state allowing the facilities to craft their own standards on how animals are cared for and then keeping all records under seal.

-- For almost two decades, California lawmakers have quietly used a loosely written state campaign finance law to accept donations in unlimited amounts — as long as the money is earmarked to support or oppose a ballot measure. They just killed a bill that would have closed the loophole.

-- California’s 2018 population growth was the slowest in state history — underscoring shifting immigration patterns, declining birthrates and economic strains that are making it harder for some to afford living here.

-- As he donned safety glasses and set out for a day of custodian work on a college campus last week, the governor said California must take action to prepare for an inevitable wave of job losses due to the rapid rise of automation and advances in technology.

-- Richard Miadich, the coauthor of the 2016 proposition legalizing marijuana, is the new chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

-- California housing crisis podcast: Will there be a package of state housing bills in 2019?

‘BOB MUELLER SHOULD NOT TESTIFY’

That was the pronouncement of President Trump in a much-talked-about Sunday tweet, adding new tensions to the effort by Democrats to have special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to appear before a congressional committee reviewing his investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

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Would Trump now try to block an appearance by Mueller, who remains a Justice Department employee? Or was merely making a rhetorical point?

Meanwhile, Democrats say they have a “tentative date” of May 15 for the potentially blockbuster event.

NATIONAL LIGHTNING ROUND

-- Trump picked Mark Morgan, head of Border Patrol under the Obama administration, to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — after firing him in his first few months in the White House.

-- The United States is deploying additional military resources to send a message to Iran, national security advisor John Bolton said Sunday.

-- A proposed law to legalize recreational use of marijuana in Illinois would allow possession of up to 30 grams of the plant for residents 21 and over, a $20 million low-interest loan program to promote “social equity” in business ownership, and expunging misdemeanor and some felony convictions.

LOGISTICS

Essential Politics is written by Sacramento bureau chief John Myers on Mondays and Washington bureau chief David Lauter on Fridays.

You can keep up with breaking news on our politics page throughout the day. And are you following us on Twitter at @latimespolitics?

Miss Friday’s newsletter? Here you go.

Please send thoughts, concerns and news tips to politics@latimes.com.

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