California oil industry wants voters to strike down law

See if you can spot the trend.

  • In 2014, California lawmakers passed a law banning single-use plastic bags. Outraged plastic bag makers gathered the necessary signatures for a referendum and called on voters to overturn the ban in 2016. (The ban survived.)
  • In 2018, lawmakers ended cash bail in California. Two years later, the question was on the ballot in a campaign financed by the bail industry. (Voters returned the bail in cash.)
  • In 2020, the Legislature passed a ban on flavored tobacco. Those in the smoking, vaping and chewing business immediately went to work, which is why you’ll find the question on your ballot this November.

Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a package of bills codifying the state’s aggressive climate change goals. Among them was legislation by Senator Lena Gonzalez, a Long Beach Democrat, aimed at ban new oil and gas wells within 3,200 feet of homes, schools, nursing homes, and hospitals.

On Monday night, Jerry Reedy, a California Independent Petroleum Association board member, filed a proposed referendum by 2024 with the attorney general’s office.

This follows a similar move from the fast food industry. Last week, Big Burger won a step toward getting a referendum on the 2024 ballot repeal a law creating a state board that regulates wages and working conditions at franchised restaurants.

Powerful interests have always had the power to go directly to voters when they don’t get their way in Sacramento. But as Democratic control of the Legislature has grown even more dominant in recent years, hurt businesses have adopted a newfound fondness for strategy.

Oil and gas producers still have a long way to go before the setbacks law is on the ballot. First, the attorney general will provide a title and summary of the measure. Then the proponents will have to gather more than 623,000 valid signatures of registered voters. Then it goes to the voters.

Getting a majority of California voters to agree with the oil industry could be a tough sell. But a referendum campaign can be its own reward. Once a referendum measure qualifies, the law is suspended until the electorate can weigh in.

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The oil and gas industry will not be able to count on the support of at least two California voters: Governor Newsom and Senator González.

In an interview broadcast live at the Clinton Global Initiative on Tuesday, the governor lamented the fact that the bill was already being undermined, and had some harsh words for the more industry-friendly members of his own party.

  • Newson: “We may be dominated by the Democrats, but many of us are wholly owned subsidiaries of the fossil fuel industry… Yesterday they put forward a referendum: Big Oil. These guys are not going away.”

Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association, did not respond to my email requesting his response. But the organization’s lobbyist responded on Twitter: “Fact Check: False!”

Gonzalez is also in New York this week, though he said he missed the governor’s comments. But he called this latest referendum effort and similar campaigns an “abuse” of the process.

  • Gonzalez: “Someone with money can just walk in and completely override it and continue to lie and spend money and provide falsehoods, and there goes the legislative process.”

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Year of the woman, redux

Angelique Ashby, a member of the Sacramento City Council who is running for state Senate, speaks at a campaign event in Sacramento on September 10, 2022. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters

Although the 2018 “blue wave” election was dubbed the “Year of the Woman,” this year’s midterm elections may present the biggest opportunity for more equitable gender representation in the state Capitol.

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That’s according to CalMatters political reporter Sameea Kamal and political reporting intern Ariel Gans, who point out that a pool of open and competitive seats could make for a record year.

To prove it, they shredded the numbers:

  • There are currently 39 women in the Legislature, a record.
  • That high water mark, less than a third of the 120 seats, is still pretty low.
  • This year, women are guaranteed to hold at least 25 seats, either because two women are running against each other or because, as senators serving staggered four-year terms, they are not running for re-election this year.
  • And if all the women who beat their male opponent by more than 5 percentage points in June also win in November, that brings us to 45, a banner pick, though 15 seats are still short of parity.

Not that things are smooth sailing for women running for office in 2022.

  • Hayward State Senate candidate Aisha Wahab: “Women know they have a balancing act: being assertive, strong, and competent, but also soft, compassionate, and sensitive.”

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California Student Debt Relief: In Numbers

Students walk across the campus of California State University in the East Bay on February 25, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

3.5 million.

That’s how many Californians are eligible for student debt relief under one plan President Joe Biden announced last monthaccording to estimates released by the White House on Tuesday.

  • Students earning less than $125,000 (or joint filers earning less than $250,000) may qualify for up to $10,000 in debt relief.
  • Those who received a Pell Grant, a federal program for low-income college students, could see more — up to $20,000 — of their debt paid off.

According to the White House estimate, 2.3 million Californians would qualify for that level of additional relief, about two-thirds of the total. (State legislative leaders promise to make sure the relief is not taxed.)

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In all, about 9% of the state’s population qualifies for some degree of debt reduction. That’s actually on the low end compared to other states. In Pennsylvania, Georgia and Ohio, which happen to be swing states with Senate competitive races this year, the figure is around 14%.

If California gets the proportionally shorter end of the stick, it’s probably because college students here tend to have less debt overall thanks to the relatively generous financial aid programs Y low tuition.

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