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2022 Primary Preview: California State and Local, June 7
Key primaries amid the fossil-fueled drought and wildfires of California
Having discussed the important Congressional primaries taking place on June 7 in the Golden State, we now take an in-depth look at key climate elections.
June 7: California overview
The rapidly desertifying California uses the top-two primary system, wherein the top two candidates in the primary advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation. In recent years, this has caused many Democratic primaries to continue through the fall, as in 2018, when Senator Dianne Feinstein displayed how she famously “knows what she’s doing” by prevailing in the general election over state senate leader Kevin de León, who had won the California Democratic Party endorsement over her.
This is the dynamic in congressional and state legislative districts that heavily favor Republicans or Democrats, where two Rs or Ds will likely advance to the general and candidates are hoping for a first-place finish that will establish them as the frontrunner. In more competitive districts, parties work to avoid getting locked out of the general election, and a more conventional R vs. D general election matchup will be determined on June 7.
Having just defeated an ardent climate change denier in last year’s failed recall election, California Governor and Gob Bluth cosplayer Gavin Newsom is favored to win a second term. California is facing some of the most intense consequences of climate catastrophe, and Newsom has responded with a plan to phase out internal combustion engines and funding for wildfire prevention and drought mitigation, though failing to do much to hold utility PG&E accountable. When Newsom appointees on California’s Public Utilities Commission put forward a utility-friendly proposal that would have undermined solar rooftops, Newsom apparently felt the heat and pressed pause.
Most of the other statewide officeholders appear to be safe holds for California Democrats as well, including US Senator Alex Padilla, Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, Treasurer Fiona Ma, Controller Betty Yee, and Secretary of State Shirley Weber. Attorney General Rob Bonta will be favored to win his first full term, although police unions hope to make the race competitive if they can get an independent candidate, Sacramento County DA Anne Marie Schubert, into the general election. Bonta is working to ensure that he faces Trumpist Eric Early as his general election opponent instead.
From a climate standpoint, the most compelling statewide election is the race for Insurance Commissioner. In 2019, incumbent Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara replaced climate leader Dave Jones (who is himself aiming to return to elected office by running for a Sacramento-based state senate seat). Climate hawks, including Don’t Look Up director Adam McKay, have derided Lara as an “incredible disappointment” for accepting major contributions from the fossil fuel industry, rejecting petitions to build on Jones’ approach to climate risk disclosure and climate financial regulation, and allowing insurance regulators in New York and Connecticut to surpass California as the national leader in management of insurers’ climate risk.
Assemblymember Marc Levine (D-AD 10) is challenging Lara, and although he trails in fundraising and endorsements, he has signaled that he hopes to capitalize on climate orgs’ critiques if he can force an all-Democrat general election matchup against Lara. Levine was regarded as the more centrist option when he first won a 2012 top-two race over a Democratic incumbent in his Marin County-based Assembly district, but has accumulated a fairly strong climate record, especially on fracking.
While labor unions and other politically influential organizations are spending millions to boost the incumbent Lara, California newspapers are virtually unanimous in endorsing Levine, including the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Sacramento Bee, which all cite Lara’s various ethical lapses and scandals.
The Bee’s endorsement is worth quoting from directly:
“Lara, whose primary residence is in Los Angeles, further underscored the impression of ethical obliviousness by making the unorthodox decision to charge taxpayers for a Sacramento pied-à-terre; accepting Beyoncé tickets from a natural gas company shortly before his election… All of this is that much more regrettable for coming at a time of heightened relevance for the commissioner’s office. California’s increasingly catastrophic wildfires are driving a homeowner insurance crisis far-reaching enough that a former state insurance commissioner, Steve Poizner, recently detailed his own struggle to keep his house covered. Moreover, Poizner’s successor and Lara’s predecessor, Dave Jones, showed that the commissioner could play an activist role on a major component of the fire threat, climate change, by, for example, highlighting the industry’s investments in and enabling of the fossil fuel industry.”
Los Angeles Mayor
As covered previously, Tuesday will host a primary in 2022’s biggest mayoral race, and if no candidate is able to win more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidates will advance to a November runoff. Despite endorsements from the Los Angeles Times and most of the city’s political establishment, Congressional Progressive Caucus Rep. Karen Bass’s frontrunner status has slipped a bit as pandemic conditions and widespread homelessness have created a restless and dissatisfied electorate. Former state senate leader Kevin de León, now on the LA city council, has run arguably the most progressive campaign, but the general election appears likely to be a race between Bass and wealthy real estate developer Rick Caruso, a longtime Republican donor turned Democratic convert who was the driving force behind “The Grove” and other upscale LA commercial developments. USC sociologist Manuel Pastor characterized Caruso’s pitch to voters thusly: “He is promising, essentially, that the world can be just like the Grove, and that we can sanitize our streets from homelessness.”
Ventura County Measures A and B
In the central coast’s Ventura County, voters will decide on Measures A and B, which seek to close a regulatory loophole that allow oil and gas companies to drill 60% of the county’s 4,000 oil wells under “antiquated permits” that are nearly 75 years old and are “typically just two or three pages listing basic safety and sanitation requirements. Some are typed on fragile onion skin paper. Some are copies made on mimeograph machines.” Modernizing regulation of oil extraction in Ventura County would require Shell, Chevron, and ExxonMobil to submit to an updated permitting process that can “cost as little as $330 and typically take four to six weeks to process.” In response, the oil giants have spent over $8 million on a hysterical opposition campaign that frames Measures A and B as an “energy shutdown.”
San Francisco District Attorney recall
Although the immediate climate implications are minimal, Tuesday’s expected recall of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, a reformer who has been scapegoated for the pandemic’s crime uptick, seems likely to thwart momentum for progressive criminal justice reform and contribute to the reactionary “lifeboat ethics” that Hill Heat has warned about in the past.
In a future post, we will explore notable results from Tuesday’s elections in Mississippi, Iowa, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota, so if you’ve haven’t already, make sure to subscribe.