Newsom’s threat to Walgreens fizzles

This story appeared in Calmatters

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announces a partnership with Civica Rx to provide insulin to Californians for $30 for 10 milliliters, which he said was as little as one-tenth of the current cost. Photo by Ringo Chiu, Sipa USA via Reuters

On March 6, Gov. Gavin Newsom sent the policy world into a frenzy when, without any notice, he tweeted that “California won’t be doing business with Walgreens,” because of the company’s decision to not distribute an abortion pill in states that banned the medication. 

But it turns out that Walgreens won’t lose that much state business after all. 

As CalMatters’ Kristen Hwang and Ana Ibarra reported, California had a $54 million contract with Walgreens. There were 600 Walgreens stores in California, making up 10% of the state’s pharmacy market. And it was such a vital prescription provider for Medi-Cal insurers that store locations were listed on the state’s pharmacy directory for enrollees.

In short, California cutting ties with Walgreens would have been a big deal. Indeed, Newsom’s tweet (10.4 million views and counting) stoked both outrage and praise, and generated headlines and op-eds from national news outlets

But as California Healthline reported Thursday, it appears that the governor’s proposal isn’t going to have as dramatic an impact on Walgreens as initially thought. Walgreens is allowed to rebid on the contract Newsom said the state wouldn’t renew, and California paid Walgreens a total of $1.5 billion last year. It is also “legally bound to continue doing business with Walgreens through the state’s massive Medicaid program.”

Newsom’s move ended up being another example of the governor’s tendency to make big pronouncements that lack important details, but garner a lot of attention. What’s more, Newsom’s senior advisor for communications, Anthony York, said something particularly interesting about the governor’s tweets in general:

  • York, to California Healthline: “Tweeting is not policy.”

The comment echoes what spokespeople have said about former President Donald Trump’s behavior on Twitter — specifically, when Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant, said on CNN that Trump’s tweets “are not policy.” (Though the White House press secretary at the time would have disagreed.)

The warnings from Trump’s press aides and allies that the media shouldn’t take the president’s tweets too literally went against the historical precedent that messages from the president are official communication that should be taken seriously. 

Lots of politicians regularly communicate to the public directly through social media. In addition to his office Twitter account, Gov. Newsom is active on his personal account, which he created in December 2007 and has since amassed 2 million followers.

It’s unclear what approach Newsom and his staff will take going forward — his office did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday. But if the governor continues his “panache for sweeping announcements” as California Healthline put it, his national profile will continue to rise as well.


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Anti-caste discrimination bill draws protest

Califiornia state Sen. Aisha Wahab, foreground, at a news conference where she proposed SB 403, a bill which adds caste as a protected category in the state’s anti-discrimination laws, in Sacramento on March 22, 2023. Photo by José Luis Villegas, AP Photo
State Sen. Aisha Wahab, foreground, presents a bill that would add caste as a protected category in the state’s anti-discrimination laws, in Sacramento on March 22, 2023. Photo by José Luis Villegas, AP Photo

From state Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal:

California law states that no one can be denied housing or work opportunities based on race, religion and sex. This session, Sen. Aisha Wahab, a Democrat from Fremont, wants to add caste.

  • Wahab on Thursday: “As California becomes more diverse, our laws need to go a little bit further and deeper to protect more vulnerable communities.”

If passed, the first-in-the-nation law might increase protections for some Hindu Californians — particularly Dalits, who are ranked the lowest within the system — but it has prompted backlash from other Hindu community advocacy groups. They say the amended language from “ancestry” to “caste” unfairly singles out the South Asian community.

  • Samir Kalra, managing director of the Hindu American Foundation in Washington, D.C.: “We feel that this bill, while it may be well intended, is going to have a lot of unintended consequences of discrimination, both on the face of the law, as well as how it could be implemented against the South Asian community.” 

The opposition to the bill — which includes groups that battled a similar effort in Seattle — has incited some racist vitriol and threats of violence against Wahab. The foundation said it condemns those threats and harassment. 

  • Wahab, to CalMatters: “Instead of attacking the argument, they attack the identity.” 

Wahab, who is the first Afghan American in the Legislature, said she was used to the vitriol after similar attacks during her campaign, but was concerned about harassment of her staff. She said that much of the opposition has come from outside of her district and California, and that she has received support from her constituents. 

The 3,000-year-old caste system is a social hierarchy that spans different countries, but is especially prominent in India. While it was outlawed in 1950, its legacy continues to dictate where people can work or who they can marry. 

That legacy has made its way to Silicon Valley, where South Asians make up a significant portion of the workforce. In 2020, the state Fair Employment and Housing Department sued San Jose-based Cisco, alleging caste discrimination against a Dalit employee. That opened the floodgates to complaints from employees at Google, Netflix, Amazon and Facebook, claiming discrimination in hiring and firing, sexual harassment and slurs. 

CA election races heat up

Assemblymember Akilah Weber, left, during an Assembly session in Sacramento on Aug. 31, 2022. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

Assemblymember Akilah Weber, left, during an Assembly session in Sacramento on Aug. 31, 2022. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

It may be too soon for some, but the 2024 election season is ramping up. Just on Thursday:

In a San Diego state Senate race: Assemblymember Akilah Weber, a Democrat from La Mesa, announced her candidacy. Pledging to “create a stronger and healthier San Diego for all,” she emphasized healthcare, education, the environment and the economy.

Weber entered the Legislature in 2021 after winning a special election for the seat held by her mother, Shirley Weber, who resigned after Gov. Newsom appointed her as secretary of state. 

The field to succeed termed-out Senate leader Toni Atkins in 2024 opened up last week when former county supervisor Nathan Fletcher dropped out of the race to seek treatment for post-traumatic stress, trauma and alcohol abuse. Days after he made the announcement, a lawsuit alleged Fletcher of sexual assault.

In the U.S. Senate race: Rep. Adam Schiff, a Burbank Democrat, announced that from January to March 2023, his campaign has raised more than $6.5 million — the most “any Democratic Senate candidate has ever raised at this point in the cycle.” Schiff’s lead in fundraising isn’t surprising — he’s near the top of the early polls and has the high-profile endorsement of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

But the March 2024 primary is still nearly a year away and his rivals nabbed notable endorsements of their own as they vie to succeed retiring Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Rep. Katie Porter of Irvine is backed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland has the support of Silicon Valley Rep. Ro Khanna.

Salmon season officially off

Fisherman Dick Ogg coils rope aboard his boat, the Karen Jeanne, in Bodega Bay on Mar. 3, 2023. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

Fisherman Dick Ogg coils rope aboard his boat, the Karen Jeanne, in Bodega Bay on Mar. 3, 2023. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

California’s commercial and recreational salmon season was officially canceled late Thursday — and Gov. Newsom quickly announced he’s seeking a federal fishery disaster declaration to ease the pain for fishing communities.

As CalMatters’ Alastair Bland reported last month, California’s commercial and recreational fishing fleet landed about 300,000 salmon last year. But crashing populations are forcing this drastic move by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, something that hasn’t been done since 2009.

  • Charlton Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, in a statement: “This decision, while difficult, is intended to allow salmon to recover in order to provide future fishing opportunities…. The state is committed to ensuring long-term survival of our salmon runs and supporting our struggling fishing communities.”

The closure is expected to take effect in mid-May. And on May 17, the California Fish and Game Commission is scheduled to consider closing inland salmon fisheries as well.

The cancellation of salmon season, however, will put hundreds out of work from the Central Coast to the Oregon border. Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, the acting governor while Newsom is out of state, submitted the disaster request

  • Newsom, in a statement: “Countless families, coastal communities and tribal nations depend on salmon fishing — it’s more than an industry, it’s a way of life. That’s why we’re requesting expedited relief from the federal government.”
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CalMatters Commentary

Two views on the cancellation of California’s salmon season:

The salmon population crash of 2008 felt like an anomaly, but 15 years later, the West Coast is right back where it started. Have we learned nothing, asks Sarah Bates, who fishes commercially from San Francisco.

The decision to cancel salmon season is unfortunate but necessary, part of several actions being taken to restore the population, writes Charlton Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.


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