I’m Christina Bellantoni, rested and ready to go as your Essential Politics host after a little vacation.
I’m back stateside after eight days in South Australia, and it turns out Donald Trump is the hottest political story in the Land Down Under, too.
Just about every Aussie I met wanted to know if Trump will be America’s next president. I had conversations with expats who plan to vote and government workers who could conceivably work with our politicians in the years to come.
The locals boasted that California’s lawmakers visited late last year to observe desalination plants and study the lessons Australia learned from its own struggle with crippling drought.
But mostly the discussion in both political circles and among people following international news turned to the presidential primary season, cranking up in full with next Monday’s Iowa caucuses.
People were singing — and mocking — the Trump jam, a video that went viral abroad just as it caught fire in the States.
I even got a question on the conspiracy theory of the moment, about the springtime Bill Clinton-Trump phone call before the real estate mogul jumped into the race.
There was plenty of curiosity about Bernie Sanders as well, with — surprise — more young people expressing interest in the Vermont senator’s chances and several Aussie Facebook groups pushing his message.
Whatever ends up happening this election season, you can bet it will be, to borrow a South Australian phrase, heaps good.
THE LATEST FROM THE TRAIL
Our team is fanned out across Iowa and tracking every moment. Follow along every day with Trail Guide.
Joseph Tanfani explains why it’s not clear how much television advertising actually gets through to voters, despite the rapid growth of super PACs and dark-money groups that cater to wealthy donors.
Is HUD Secretary Julian Castro under consideration as a potential Clinton running mate should she be the nominee? "Quien sabes," the Democrat told a voter in Iowa over the weekend. Who knows. Kate Linthicum has more on the man getting attention on the left.
"I've been around a while and Trump reminds me so much of a lot of the things that George Wallace said and did," Lewis said in an interview with Javier Panzar. "I think demagogues are pretty dangerous, really. ... We shouldn't divide people, we shouldn't separate people."
"Sometimes I feel like I am reliving part of my past. I heard it so much growing up in the South," he added. "I heard it so much during the days of the civil rights movement. As a people, I just think we could do much better."
CLINTON’S CALIFORNIA CASH
Get ready for a host of Clintons to descend on California to raise money, according to invitations obtained by The Times.
Monday, Chelsea Clinton will appear at a Newport Coast fundraiser at the home of Michael and Sholeh Chegini. Then she will raise money in the evening at an event hosted by famed architect Frank Gehry and co-hosted by Maria Camacho, Elsa Collins and Michael Kives. Both events are $250 per person, or for $1,000, the donor can take a photo with the former First Daughter.
She will appear Tuesday morning at the Lantern House in Venice for a $150-per-person event hosted by Scott Mayers.
Former President Bill Clinton will be in the Bay Area on Monday, at a Hillsborough event hosted by Rep. Jackie Speier, Joe Cotchett, Nanci Nishimura and Barry Dennis. That event is $1,000 or $2,700 for a photo.
And the Democratic presidential hopeful herself will appear again in Los Angeles for a Feb. 22 evening fundraiser hosted at the home of Ellen Goldsmith-Vein and Jon Vein.
The base contribution is $2,700, or people who raise $10,000 as a co-host can take a photo with Clinton. Those who raise $27,000 get to attend a private reception before the event.
STATE OF THE STATE
As Sacramento bureau chief John Myers outlined in last Thursday’s newsletter, our team was all over Gov. Jerry Brown’s State of the State address.
Myers reports Brown was asking lawmakers to better balance the cyclical nature of the state’s economy, and purposely stopped short of proposing new state government projects, leaving the impression he was more interested in raising awareness than sparking action.
This week’s episode also examines a push for more disclosure of lobbying expenses by state regulators, and a little of what the podcast calls "side dish" talk on the U.S. Senate race and a bipartisan alliance in the suburbs east of San Francisco. A reminder: you can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes here.
-- More about the aforementioned State of the State: George Skelton writes in his Monday column that Gov. Brown's speech lacked punch. Skelton also argued earlier in the week that Clinton, and Los Angeles County supervisors, are wrong on gun control.
-- Decker focuses her Sunday column on Tom Steyer, the nation's largest individual political donor in 2014. Opponents have cast the 58-year-old-old San Francisco billionaire as the Democratic equivalent of the Koch brothers — will he run for governor in 2018?
-- Wire also tells the story of some 1,000 female pilots who served stateside during World War II to free up male pilots for combat, but who have been denied the ultimate veteran’s benefit: burial in Arlington National Cemetery. Several California members are trying to change things.
-- Melanie Mason reports lawmakers representing the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta, the heart of California's water system, have introduced a bill that would make Brown's controversial $15-billion twin tunnels project subject to statewide voter approval. She also notes some lawmakers want to allow for sales of cellphones that could be unlocked for law enforcement, setting up a battle with tech companies and privacy advocates.
-- Faced with plummeting gasoline tax revenue, state transportation officials have announced plans to cut funding for road and transit projects by $754 million over the next five years, the greatest reduction in two decades, Patrick McGreevy reports.