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This story appeared on Calmatters

Laphonza Butler, President of EMILY's List, speaks during an event in Washington on June 23, 2023. Photo by Susan Walsh, AP Photo

Late Sunday evening, Gov. Gavin Newsom confirmed that Laphonza Butler, president of EMILY’s List — a political action committee focused on electing pro-choice, Democratic women — will replace the late U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and finish out her term through 2024.

  • Newsom, in a statement: “An advocate for women and girls, a second-generation fighter for working people, and a trusted adviser to Vice President Harris, Laphonza Butler represents the best of California….  Laphonza will carry the baton left by Senator Feinstein, continue to break glass ceilings, and fight for all Californians in Washington D.C.”

As CalMatters’ state Capitol reporter Alexei Koseff explains, Butler for many years was the president of SEIU Local 2015, a union representing long-term caregivers, before becoming a partner in a political consulting firm that counts Newsom among its clients. She later worked in public policy for Airbnb and was a University of California regent.

She will be the first LGBTQ+ person to represent California in the U.S. Senate, giving Newsom — who has appointed the state’s first Latino U.S. senator and the first openly gay justice to the California Supreme Court — the opportunity to rack up another “first.”

Among those celebrating: Planned Parenthood and the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality California.

  • Jodi Hicks, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California: “Laphonza has been an inspiration to so many, including myself, and I am so proud of our state and our representation right now. She will be an amazing advocate for Californians in the Senate…”

The news that Butler would succeed Feinstein, first reported by Politico, came as Newsom faced intense public pressure to appoint a Black woman to the job. This was, in part, due to his own comments following his 2020 appointment of Alex Padilla to the U.S. Senate after then-Sen. Kamala Harris was elected vice president. Newsom said if he got the chance to name a successor to Feinstein, he would want a Black woman.

But six months later on NBC’s “Meet the Press” — amid Feinstein’s declining health and decision not to seek reelection — Newsom said if given the opportunity he would make an “interim appointment” to avoid tipping “the balance” of a crowded March primary race. The lineup already includes three high-profile Democratic candidates: Reps. Adam Schiff of Burbank, Katie Porter of Irvine, and Barbara Lee of Oakland.  

The implication that a Black woman should only serve in the Senate in a caretaker capacity led to public outcry from Lee, who is Black, and her supporters. Earlier on Sunday, the chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Steven Horsford, sent a letter to the governor urging him to pick Lee. And a number of Black female California politicians questioned why any Black woman would take the job knowing she had to give it up in little more than a year. A Los Angeles Times column by Erika D. Smith was headlined: “Newsom’s cynical pitch: Hey, you there, Black woman. Can you keep Feinstein’s seat warm?”

By late Sunday, the governor’s office confirmed to Alexei that his appointee would, in fact, be free to run for a full term; Newsom communications advisor Anthony York said he regretted not clearing up the confusion sooner. No word on whether Butler intends to run — she now lives in Maryland, but a spokesperson for the governor said she owns a home in California and will re-register to vote here before being sworn into the Senate.

Commentary on Feinstein:

  • Scott Gerber, former communications director for Feinstein: She was a true force of nature and the greatest senator in California history.
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1
Big losses for CA labor

Domestic workers rallying in support of Senate Bill 686 at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Aug. 29, 2023. Photo by Rahul Lal for CalMatters

The governor handed labor major defeats over the weekend — vetoing a closely watched bill that would have granted unemployment benefits to striking workers, and another that would have set health and safety rules to protect domestic workers.

Labor had scored some big legislative victories this session, but as Denise Amos and Felicia Mello of CalMatters’ California Divide team explain, not with Senate Bill 799, which would have assisted workers who have been on strike for at least two weeks

In his veto message, Newsom referred to the $18.5 billion in unemployment insurance funds California still owes the federal government after the pandemic. “Now is not the time to increase costs or incur this sizable debt,” he wrote. 

Business groups praised the veto. The National Federation of Independent Business’s California director, John Kabateck, said the bill was “rushed… to score political points with striking Hollywood writers and actors.”

But California Labor Federation President Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher called the veto “out of step with American values” and vowed to put the bill on the governor’s desk again next year and “every year after if necessary.”

The second vetoed labor bill would have required employers of household workers to comply with the same Cal/OSHA-mandated health and safety rules as businesses by January 2025.

In his veto message, Newsom wrote that “private households and families cannot be regulated in the exact same manner as traditional businesses.” But because roughly 75% of California’s 300,000 or so domestic workers are immigrant women of color, supporters argue the exemption is rooted in sexism and racism.

  • Bill author Democratic Sen. María Elena Durazo of Los Angeles, in a tweet: “I’m deeply disappointed that the Governor doesn’t recognize the inherent worth and dignity of those women who care for our homes and families.”

Newsom did approve several other measures over the weekend, including one that will strengthen tenant protections by lowering the cap on rent increases to 5% and closing loopholes landlords use to evict tenants when there’s no “just cause.”

CalMatters is tracking Newsom’s calls on other key bills among the 700-plus still to go before the Oct. 14 signing deadline. Bookmark this page for updates.

2
CA GOP doubles down

Supporters of former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the fall convention of the California Republican Party in Anaheim on Sept. 29, 2023. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters

Supporters of former President Donald Trump at the fall convention of the California Republican Party in Anaheim on Sept. 29, 2023. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters

From CalMatters Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal:

The message from this weekend’s California Republican Party convention: Conservatism is king — and the status quo is just fine. 

On Saturday, the party’s platform committee voted down a proposal put forward by its policy committee in July, opting instead to keep language that opposes same-sex marriage and abortion. That decision was ratified Sunday in the general session. Supporters of the proposed change said it could have attracted more voters to the party, which represents 24% of registered voters in California, down from 29% a decade ago, and which hasn’t won a statewide election since 2006. 

The effort to keep the existing platform was led by Harmeet Dhillon, former vice chairperson of the state party and a Republican National Committee member. She and dozens of other prominent members of the party sent out a letter to delegates last week urging them to vote against the platform amendments. 

  • Dhillon, to CalMatters: “I don’t care for the process by which we got here. I’m very pleased with the results.”

The proposal to erase opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion was killed before even making it to Sunday’s general session, where delegates typically vote on party endorsements and policies.  

Charlotte Svolos, a member of the platform committee and the Log Cabin Republicans which favors gay rights, said while the platform could have benefited from updates, the proposed changes were “too much, too soon” — the result of a process that didn’t adequately incorporate feedback: “Compared to four years ago, the lack of communication and transparency certainly affected the outcome of this platform result.”

Others in the party wanted to change the endorsement process in which the party can automatically back any Republican in a partisan race with no other Republican running. That has led to endorsements of candidates in legal trouble or with problematic views, such as Holocaust denial, said Matt Shupe, chairperson of the Contra Costa Republican Party, and Ron Nehring, former state party chairperson. 

Friday night, the party’s rules committee blocked that proposal.

Delegates also gave a red carpet welcome to President Donald Trump, applauding a speech full of attacks and falsehoods — after changing the party’s presidential primary delegate award system in a way likely to benefit the former president in securing the Republican nomination. On Sunday, a delegate made a motion to formally endorse Trump, but it failed.

3
Teaching guidelines for TK

Students play in the transitional kindergarten program at Westwood Elementary School in Stockton on Sept. 22, 2023. Photo by Loren Elliott for CalMatters

While the state’s objective to offer transitional kindergarten for all 4-year-olds by 2025-26 is a serious endeavor, one big theme schools are keeping in mind as they ramp up enrollment and hire teachers is “play.”

The aim of TK, which California first launched in limited capacity in 2010, is to ease 4-year-olds into elementary school, reports CalMatters’ K-12 education reporter Carolyn Jones

  • Benjamin Cottingham, from the Policy Analysis for California Education research center: “Some districts are treating it like a second year of kindergarten, which we know doesn’t work. To be effective, TK needs to be a play-based, developmentally appropriate course of study.”

But as schools iron out the most effective curriculum, they’re also facing funding, enrollment and staffing challenges. TK is not mandatory and there are other high-quality options, including private preschool, state-supported preschool and child care. Improved outreach, however, appears to be increasing enrollment.

The Legislature will also require by 2025 that TK teachers have credentials as well as 24 units of early childhood education or the equivalent — making it more difficult for districts to fill positions. One analysis found 80% of California school districts didn’t yet have enough qualified TK teachers.

“District capacities to teach 4-year-olds vary greatly,” said Hanna Melnick, a senior policy adviser at the Learning Policy Institute. “Some have been doing this for a long time, and some are new and don’t yet have the background or training.”

For more on California’s transitional kindergarten rollout, read Carolyn’s story.

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