Newsletter: Those seeking access to Trump’s tax returns now wait for Gov. Gavin Newsom

Essential Politics

One of two storylines will emerge from California’s capital city this week about President Trump’s long-standing refusal to release his income tax returns.

The first Sacramento scenario: Trump will be threatened with the embarrassment of being the first person blocked from appearing on California’s primary ballot next November. The second: Gov. Gavin Newsom will disappoint many of his fellow Democrats by refusing to ratify the effort.


At issue is the impending approval or veto of Senate Bill 27, the latest effort by Democratic legislators to link a presidential hopeful’s tax transparency to ballot access.

Newsom has until Tuesday to take action. And the conventional wisdom has largely been that the governor will sign SB 27, forcing a nationally watched showdown with a president who’s deeply unpopular in California. But Newsom’s most recent statements have been cautious, and he may ultimately be persuaded by those who believe the Constitution prohibits any state from imposing such a rule.

That’s certainly part of the reasoning outlined by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in his 2017 veto of a similar measure. This year’s bill also offers something else, an amendment offered to those who said the earlier version was too narrow: It would impose the same mandate on candidates for governor. There’s been less consistency in disclosure of tax returns by past candidates for that job. While Newsom and his major opponents provided tax information in the 2018 race, Brown declined to release his returns in both the 2010 and 2014 elections.


The current governor has called out Trump on social media a number of times for keeping his tax returns private; signing a California law to force disclosure for access to the state’s primary ballot could be another matter — and certainly runs the risk of opening a new, bitter chapter in the relationship between the two men.


The problems at California’s Department. of Motor Vehicles have outlasted several governors, as millions of motorists try to get what they need from an agency with a primary computer system built in the 1960s. Which is what made Newsom’s comment last week — as he unveiled both the final report from his appointed “strike team” and a new DMV director — so notable.

“All of those things happened, not on my watch. But I’m responsible for fixing them,” he said.

Newsom’s promise to modernize the DMV largely rests on efforts begun under the last governor. The most notable change, though, may be in Newsom appointing an outsider — who saw the job posting in a newspaper and applied online — to lead the department: Steve Gordon, a 59-year old San Jose tech entrepreneur.

Meanwhile, we’re still waiting on the findings of a formal audit into what went wrong in the creation and launch of DMV’s “motor voter” registration system, an effort marred by mistakes in voter documents and an attack by overseas hackers first revealed in a Times investigation this past spring.


-- After a deadly shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, Newsom tweeted, “This is nothing short of horrific. Tonight, CA stands with the Gilroy community.” Here’s the latest on the shooting.

-- A large oil spill in Kern County is proof, the governor said last week, that the industry needs more oversight. But to those who live near the site, it’s not cause for alarm.

-- As two candidates compete to represent parts of the northwestern San Fernando Valley on the Los Angeles City Council, campaign money from the fossil fuel industry has become a sensitive issue.

-- The state’s three largest investor-owned utilities have agreed to pay $10.5 billion into a new wildfire fund enacted earlier this month.

-- California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra has sued a group of veteran GOP activists including a former legislator, accusing them of misusing a charity that sends care packages to soldiers.


As Democratic presidential hopefuls prepare for their second round of debates on Tuesday and Wednesday, a new poll finds that half of likely primary voters have changed their minds since the spring, highlighting how unsettled the contest remains.

Former Vice President Joe Biden continues to lead in the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times nationwide poll, while three senators, Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, are essentially tied for second place.

That marks an improvement for Harris and Warren and a decline for Sanders since April, when the poll last tested the Democratic race. More notably, about half of the voters in the poll have changed their preferences since the April survey — a reminder that at this point of the campaign, most voters don’t have firm commitments.


President Trump said Sunday he was replacing Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, whose views on the threat posed by Russia were often in conflict with his own.

Taking Coats’ place, the president tweeted, is Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican and Trump loyalist.

Trump said he would soon name an acting director to run the national intelligence office while the Senate considers Ratcliffe’s nomination. By law, the director is the president’s top intelligence advisor, with a mandate to oversee the activities of the nation’s numerous intelligence agencies.


In a nation already bitterly divided over his words and the issue of race, the president launched another caustic attack Saturday on a minority lawmaker -- this time, one of the House’s most senior African Americans -- and on the city he represents.

Trump, in a series of tweets, called the majority nonwhite Baltimore district of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and a “very dangerous & filthy place” where “no human being would want to live.”

On Sunday, a top aide defended the president’s words and insisted they were not racist. Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney claimed that Trump’s tweets were simply a reaction to what he considers to be inaccurate statements by Cummings about conditions in which children are being held in detention at the U.S.-Mexico border.


-- Harris released her own version of a “Medicare for all” plan on Monday that imposes a tax on Wall Street instead of on middle-class households and tightly regulates, but not abolishes, private insurance plans.

-- Six months into her second turn as House speaker, Nancy Pelosi has never been stronger, and the party’s moderates, many of whom doubted her, are big supporters.

-- The woman who is due to replace Puerto Rico’s embattled governor amid a political crisis says she doesn’t want the job.

-- An Iranian opposition group that has little domestic support in Iran went from being designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. to having the support within Trump’s inner circle.


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

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