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Newsletter: Essential Politics: Hard work follows the holiday

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(LAT)

Good morning from the state capital. I’m Sacramento bureau chief John Myers, your Essential Politics host this week while Christina Bellantoni is away.

State and federal governments were closed in observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and it was clear from social media that many of California’s elected officials and their staffers used the day as one to honor the late civil rights leader through service projects.

The week ahead will be full of hard work in government circles. Here in Sacramento, legislators will be making big decisions by week’s end about which bills left over from 2015 will get out of their respective houses, and Gov. Jerry Brown delivers his annual State of the State address on Thursday morning to a joint session of the Legislature and statewide elected officials.

A reminder that we’re tracking all of the latest news and notes from the state Capitol and beyond on our new Essential Politics news feed. Check it out for quick glimpses of everything from voter perceptions of the death penalty to a new legislative effort to help medical marijuana distributors to pay sales taxes.

2016 ISN'T OUR YEAR, SAY BACKERS OF PENSION INITIATIVE

Several years of efforts to change public employee pensions at the ballot box will not produce a statewide initiative for 2016. Melanie Mason reports that former San Diego city councilmember Carl DeMaio and former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed will shift their focus from this election cycle to a statewide ballot measure in 2018.

The two critics of the current pension system wrote an initiative that would force a public vote on some pension benefits, but their effort needed big bucks to counter what would no doubt be a political war with labor unions. They also faced the challenge of doing that in the midst of what, by most accounts, will be a lengthy and complex set of propositions on the statewide ballot this fall.

DID DEMOCRATIC DEBATE SHIFT THE ROAD AHEAD?

The Sunday night showdown between the three Democratic presidential candidates was their final joint event before the voting begins in Iowa, with Republicans having one more face-off before the state's caucuses. And as a trio of Times journalists wrote on Monday, it “ushers in a frenetic two-week period of organizing and campaigning that will go a long way toward determining whether the race will be long and fractious, as it was the last time the presidency was open."

Cathleen Decker, Evan Halper, and Seema Mehta offer a rundown of the Democratic debate’s most important moments.

Meantime, Kurtis Lee takes a closer look at South Carolina, home of the weekend debate, and the effort by Democrats to better connect with the state’s African American voters.

ETHICS PANEL EXAMINES NEW ‘SHADOW LOBBYING’ CRACKDOWN

Anyone who watches the battles waged in Sacramento long enough will tell you that what’s officially reported as “lobbying” is only a portion of the vast influence industry in the state capital.

Part of that opaque process lies inside a category called “payments to influence,” a lump sum amount on official disclosure forms. What’s it used for? There’s no easy answer, which is why the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission will be considering new transparency rules, writes Patrick McGreevy.

"The public is entitled to know who is trying to influence public officials and how they are doing it," said Jodi Remke, chairwoman of the state ethics panel.

SKELTON ON BROWN: NO LAME DUCK HERE

With Gov. Jerry Brown entering the sixth year of his second stint as governor (that’s 14 years in all), it’s not surprising that some might wonder whether his political power may be slowly starting to fade.

No way, writes George Skelton.

In his holiday column, Skelton writes that Brown continues to flex his well-developed political muscle on electoral and legislative issues. That being said, Skelton does see challenges ahead for some of the governor’s priorities.

PODCAST: TENSE TIMES FOR TEACHERS UNIONS

A major shift in state politics could be in store if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of an Orange County teacher’s effort to dissolve the mandatory fees charged by the California Teachers Assn. for years.

That’s our main topic on this week’s California Politics Podcast. My reporter roundtable discussion also examines some of the action on 2015 bills under the state Capitol dome, and the soon-to-be new Assembly speaker, Assemblyman Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood).

A reminder that you can subscribe to the weekly podcast for free.

WHERE, SAY LEGISLATORS, IS KAMALA HARRIS ON POLICE DEBATE?

When you’re running in a high-profile race in which the party faithful have more than one choice, it might be trouble when activists grumble about your level of commitment on a key issue. And so keep an eye on how Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris handles some new questions about the issue of police accountability.

“Her absence is notable,” said state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) to Phil Willon in his story on how some African American lawmakers think the U.S. Senate candidate needs to take a bolder stance on addressing police shootings.

Harris rejects the notion that she hasn’t done enough, but these are crucial times for setting a political narrative in contrast to that of fellow Democratic fellow challenger Rep. Loretta Sanchez (Garden Grove) and a host of GOP contenders.

TODAY’S ESSENTIALS

— Luke Skywalker wants to use the force … of law. Christine Mai-Duc reports how actor Mark Hamill is teaming up with Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang (R-Diamond Bar) to crack down on fake celebrity autographs.

— Sarah Wire reports on how a new super PAC aimed at Asian American and Pacific Islander voters is being helped out by a prominent California activist.

— Cathleen Decker examines some of the internal rumblings in the California Democratic Party, a sign of how tough it can be when the party’s tent grows as big as it has in the Golden State.

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