What May And May Not Be In California, Now That The Calendar’s Turned To May

Thursday, May 2, 2019
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As far as California state government is concerned, think of the next couple of the weeks in the Sacramento as the quiet before the storm—that disturbance coming when Governor Gavin Newsom announces the “May revise” to his January budget proposal, based on April’s revenue flow.

While we’re waiting for those numbers to materialize, let’s give a shout-out to the actor Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, who turned 46 today.

“The Rock” is not only California-born (in the Bay Area city of Hayward, to a family of professional wrestlers), but there’s a familiar ring to his story.

If you don’t see where I’m going with this . . . hasta la vista, baby.

If there’s such a creature as a quintessential “Rock” film, my choice would be San Andreas. Released four years ago this month, it’s a 1 hour, 54-minute tale of a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot who, in the aftermath of a magnitude 9.6 California earthquake, makes his way from Los Angeles to San Francisco to find his missing daughter.

The film is a monument to CGI-rendered destruction and suspension of disbelief (Rolling Stone called it “a monument to stupidity”). It’s also an affront to science—unless you happen to buy into a tsunami generating a 250-foot wave that takes out the Golden Gate Bridge.

Speaking of truth vs. fiction, here are a few California-related matters worth nothing, now that the calendar has flipped to May.

The May Revise May Be Mild. One adjective to describe Jerry Brown’s fourth and final term as California’s governor: lucky. He escaped a recession; throughout his second term, the state’s economy beat expectations.

We’ll soon see if Newsom is as lucky—for this year, at least.

As April gave way to May, the signs were promising for the new governor, with the state running about $10 billion ahead of the comparable period a year ago in revenue.

Why is that important? Because, in his budget outline, Newsom actually predicted slower economic growth and suggested a more cautionary course of adding to the budget reserve and paying down debt. The more revenue flowing into Sacramento, the easier it will be for Newsom to gas and brake, if you will—adding to the reserve but at the same time placating his fellow Democrats with their myriad of new spending ideas.

The Legislature May Never Tire of Small Gestures. To the adage “little things amuse little minds,” we have California lawmakers once again playing “small ball”—pushing bills that are short on significant impact but long on symbolism (not to mention that garner national attention as examples of the eye-rolling California existence).

One such example: Assembly Bill 1162, which aims to ban hotels, resorts, and vacation rentals from providing travel-sized shampoos and other bath amenities. (The ban would go into effect at the beginning of 2023, at which time all dispensers and bottles would need to be no smaller than 12 ounces).

The question: how long before the legislature goes after the much larger (and lucrative) culture of bottled water?

Five years ago, the city of San Francisco incorporated a plastic-water-bottle ban that prohibited sales at events on city-owned properties. Additionally, city government agencies were banned from purchasing bottled water.

You might notice a pattern. Three years ago, California became the first state in the nation to ban plastic bags (New York recently became the second). Beginning this year, California restaurants no longer automatically hand out plastic straws. Can bottles be far behind?

The 2026 Governor’s Race May Be Under Way. Good luck getting your head around this one, as two presidential elections and one California gubernatorial contest (in 2022) stand between now and 2026.

What do we already assume?

First, California governors are all but guaranteed eight years, if they so choose (yes, Gray Davis was recalled in October 2003—nearly a year after his re-election). The last first-term California governor to be rejected by voters: Culbert Olson, a rare Democrat in a long run of GOP governors (Republicans won all California gubernatorial elections but one, in 1938, from 1898 to 1958) and something of an odd duck. (Olson was an atheist who refused to swear “so help me God” and crossed his fingers when placing his hand on the Bible.)

What 2026 could resemble in California: a Democratic gender bender. Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, State Treasurer Fiona Ma, and State Controller Betty Yee all have expressed an interest in the job.

It’s the Sacramento way of seeking higher office, staking out nearby turf years in advance.

Speaking of patterns: the Democratic climb to the top of California’s political pyramid.

Prior to being elected governor, Newsom and Davis were sitting lieutenant governors. Jerry Brown was California’s secretary of state at the time of his first gubernatorial win, in 1974; his father, the legendary Pat Brown, was a sitting state attorney general in 1958 (the first Democratic win since Olson’s departure in 1942).

Some patterns, it seems, never change.