Essential Politics: The state of our union is strong

Essential Politics: The state of our union is strong

Good morning from the state capital. I’m Sacramento bureau chief John Myers, today’s Essential Politics host. The big show in politics may be in Washington, D.C., tonight as President Barack Obama delivers his final State of the Union address, but there’s also plenty going on here at home.

In fact, you could make an argument that two key words — "state" and "union" — are a pretty good theme for what’s making political news in California.


First, though, a quick look at what to expect out of tonight’s speech, which is slated to begin just after 6 p.m. here in California. Start here, with five things to watch as Obama makes his way to the dais.

The relatively early State of the Union date is a reflection of the campaign to succeed Obama, and his desire to not be overshadowed by a frenzy that’s not just three weeks from the Iowa. Nonetheless, the president and his team see a rare opportunity to not just be part of the 2016 debate but to set its terms, as Mike Memoli and Christi Parsons report.

The president is looking to sound an optimistic note, but at the same time, he’ll highlight the gun violence he has called an epidemic over course of his time in office.

And the most recent example of that, the San Bernardino shootings on Dec. 2, will be front and center. California’s congressional delegation will showcase hometown heroes who were the first responders to the attack. Sarah Wire reports that several lawmakers gave up House gallery tickets for their own constituents to view the speech in person so that Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) could bring more of his own community members to Capitol Hill.

Meantime, France train attack hero and Sacramento native Spencer Stone will be among those in attendance at the State of the Union, from the gallery box of First Lady Michelle Obama. Stone was one of three Americans, and two Sacramentans, who helped thwart an attack by a gunman on a Paris-bound train last August. Two months later, he was stabbed outside a popular nightclub in downtown Sacramento but survived.

We’ll also be looking at whom Obama selects as the designated member of his Cabinet to wait out the address in an undisclosed location, a survivor for succession to the presidency in the event of a catastrophe. Did you know there have been only two female designated survivors in recorded State of the Union history? Colleen Shalby explains that statistic and runs through Obama’s choices over the years in a (somewhat macabre) trip down memory lane.


You can watch the address on our site and we’ll be running a liveblog with analysis and reaction from inside the House chamber. Find both of these on our politics page before the speech gets started.

And what’s a major political event without an LA Times bingo card? Subscribers to this newsletter will get an email with the bingo card Tuesday afternoon.

OK, back to our "state" and "union" theme stretching beyond the big speech.


It’s hard to find a bigger political power in this state than the California Teachers Assn. over the past decade. With more than 325,000 dues-paying members, the CTA has an impressive record of victories from ballot measures to legislative races and beyond.

But an apparent majority of the U.S. Supreme Court sounded skeptical on Monday of the union’s power to collect millions of dollars in dues.

David Savage reports that on the subject of free speech, Justice Anthony Kennedy — the lone Californian — called it "coerced speech."

Should the teachers union lose the case, don’t expect it to simply fade from the political scene. In fact, there have been months of quiet discussions at the state Capitol about finding a way that the CTA could continue to keep its membership strong and its coffers filled. No doubt those discussions will grow louder by the month, as the nine justices begin to deliberate on Friedrichs v. California later this year.


For 55 more days, we’ll need to use the term "Speaker-elect" when referring to Assemblyman Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), who was formally chosen by a unanimous vote on Monday to be the 70th speaker of the Assembly.

"We have the work of creating a better California," said Rendon in his remarks on the Assembly floor.

It should be noted that the idea of a leader-in-waiting is a relatively new phenomenon in Sacramento. As Melanie Mason reports, Rendon was a little vague on Monday in what his role will be during these last few weeks of leadership by Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego).

Also notable: Republicans did not cast votes for their own leader, Assemblyman Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley). In fact, Mayes rose to co-sponsor Rendon’s formal nomination, saying it’s "time to start anew with bipartisanship."


Legislators at the state Capitol will soon be considering proposals inspired by the ongoing saga of the natural gas leak near the Porter Ranch community in Los Angeles. Alice Walton reports that state Sen. Fran Pavley wants older natural gas wells operated by Southern California Gas Co. at nearby Aliso Canyon shut down until state officials can verify that they don’t pose a risk to public health.

Senate Democrats were in the community Monday to unveil a package of bills, just days after a visit by Gov. Jerry Brown. Nearby residents have been battling the odor of leaking natural gas for weeks.


Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal has kept up a prodigious pace of fundraising in his race for Congress from the Central Coast. The Democrat running for California’s 24th district will report Tuesday that he’s raised nearly $1.4 million in 2015, including $346,000 in the last quarter. The campaign reports that it has $969,000 in cash on hand five months before the primary.

Carbajal was leading the money race as of the last quarterly filings, outpacing Republican businessman Justin Fareed and fellow Democrat Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider. The 24th could be one of 2016’s most interesting races, given it’s a district almost evenly split among registered voters: 37% Democratic, 34% Republican and more than 23% of voters unaffiliated.


-- Christine Mai-Duc takes a look at the curious state Capitol debate over whether a "ballot selfie" should be legal. (Hint: Once you mark the ballot, it’s now a no-no!)

-- Chris Megerian covered the Democrats' Black and Brown Forum in Iowa, where the contenders stepped up their attacks ahead of the Feb. 1 caucuses.

-- Days after national headlines called Heidi Cruz, wife of Sen. Ted Cruz, his "secret weapon" in the race for the White House, she somewhat secretly popped in to Orange County on Monday for an event with GOP insiders.

-- Patrick McGreevy reports a former state official who later went to work for Kaiser Permanente has agreed to a fine after both working on an audit of Kaiser while a state employee ... then helping Kaiser respond to the audit once she changed jobs.

-- The National Republican Congressional Committee has jumped on the backlash over actor Sean Penn’s Rolling Stone interview of the drug kingpin known as "El Chapo", saying in a Monday news release that Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Palm Desert) should take the $17,600 his campaigns have received from Penn since 2011 and donate it to local heroin treatment clinics.


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