Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, both Democrats, are the gubernatorial frontrunners. / Images via Shutterstock

Four Democratic gubernatorial candidates, including frontrunners Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, will debate Thursday on the eve of the state Democratic Party Convention. Former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, a San Diego native, and State Treasurer John Chiang are also scheduled to appear.

Health care will likely be a decisive issue among the candidates, reflecting the split between the progressive and more moderate wings of the party, political analysts say. While Newsom supports single-payer health care, Villaraigosa is in favor of a less costly approach.

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Villaraigosa trailed Newsom by nine points in a December poll, but the latest numbers from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California show them neck and neck.

Latino voters could prove pivotal, said Thad Kousser, professor and chairman of the political science department at UC San Diego. He noted that Latinos typically do not turnout in large numbers in midterm elections, but anti-Trump sentiment may galvanize voters.

“That is what puts this race in play,” Kousser said. “It’s a much closer race than it looked it would be four months ago… It’s because Antonio Villaraigosa has made a strong case to Latino voters who are a strong voice in Democratic politics and California politics writ large.”

While Villaraigosa has the potential to appeal to Republicans, Newsom, a former mayor of San Francisco, is “at risk of being the candidate of San Francisco liberals,” Kousser said.

Chiang and Eastin, both polling in single digits, are not recognizable names to the average voter. But at the same time, Newsom and Villaraigosa have had extramarital affairs. Although both men have spoken about those affairs publicly, Kousser is surprised the #MeToo movement has not caught up to them.

“Is this something she will talk about?” Kousser asked of Eastin, the sole female candidate in the race so far. The Los Angeles Times reports that Amanda Renteria, Hillary Clinton’s former national political director, is joining the governor’s race.

Chiang has the support of at least one local lawmaker: Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher. “John is the candidate I trust, and he has the honesty and integrity to lead California forward,” she wrote.

With the legacy of Gov. Jerry Brown hanging over the campaign trail, candidates will try to forge their own identity, said John Pitney, a professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College. “I think they’ll just try to transcend him.”

Republican candidates for governor, including Rancho Santa Fe businessman John Cox, former U.S. Rep. Doug Ose and Assemblyman Travis Allen, debated for the first time on Feb. 6.

The most striking aspect of this governor’s race is that right now it’s possible a Republican will not be on the fall ballot — a first in state history. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, from the June 5 primary advance to the November general election.

“These are uncharted waters,” Pitney said.

State Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat, will moderate the debate, which the San Diego County Democratic Party plans to stream on its site from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Delegates are expected to cast endorsement ballots for the governor’s and other statewide races.

More Allegations Against Garcia

The five members of San Diego’s state delegation who are part of the Legislative Women’s Caucus mostly shied away this week from discussing the sexual harassment allegations against Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, the caucus chairwoman.

Instead, the caucus on Wednesday chose Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, a Democrat from Stockton, as its acting-interim chairwoman.

Garcia, a Los Angeles-area Democrat, is taking an unpaid leave of absence after a former male staffer in the Legislature said she groped him. Additionally, the Los Angeles Times reports that four others — all anonymous — are accusing Garcia of improper workplace behavior.

Garcia, who has been a vocal advocate for the anti-harassment movement at the Capitol and is a co-author of the newly enacted whistleblower law that grants protections to legislative employees, denies the allegations.

“I respect and support Assemblymember Garcia’s decision to take a leave of absence while the allegations are investigated,” said state Sen. Toni Atkins in a statement. “In the meantime, Assemblymember Eggman is an excellent choice to serve as chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus.”

Joe Kocurek, a spokesman for Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, said she believes due process is necessary in harassment cases at the Capitol.

The decision to replace Garcia came after state Sen. Connie Leyva, a Democrat from Chino and the caucus’ vice chair, said she was “shocked and disturbed” by the allegations. She asked that the caucus meet and discuss Garcia’s “fate” as the ongoing leader.

After those discussions, Leyva praised Eggman and said the caucus will forge ahead with its mission to promote the well-being of women, children and families.

“These are certainly difficult times, but I know that the Caucus remains committed to addressing and ending the culture of sexual harassment and assault that hurts women and men alike in the Legislature and across California,” Leyva said in a statement.

A Ban on Public Hush Money

Meanwhile, Republican state Sen. Joel Anderson introduced a resolution, SCR 102, that would prohibit state lawmakers from settling harassment or abuse claims using confidentiality agreements and public dollars.

“Past non-disclosure agreements have made it nearly impossible to discipline predators and led us into this environment that created even more victims of sexual harassment,” Anderson said in a statement.

The Legislature has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, possibly more, to settle claims in the last five years in return for non-disparagement agreements that prevent victims from speaking against lawmakers or the legislative body, according to the Associated Press.

Longer Benefits for Survivors

Atknis introduced two notable bills this week, one of which extends the time that families of police officers and firefighters who died because of their work continue receiving survivor benefits. The eligibility period to access death benefits was extended from 240 to 420 weeks in 2015 but is set to expire in 2019.

Atkins also introduced legislation that allows community health centers to bill Medi-Cal for two visits if a patient receives mental-health services on the same day from both a medical provider and mental health specialist. Currently, a patient must seek mental health treatment on a later day for that treatment to be reimbursed as a second visit.

Big Housing Week for Todd Gloria

The Assemblyman announced that he and three other state lawmakers have asked Gov. Jerry Brown to invest $1 billion of the state’s $6 billion budget surplus into affordable housing projects and homelessness programs.

Two days later, Gloria introduced AB 2372, which aims to bolster affordable and moderate-income developments near transit stops statewide. The bill would allow developers working on projects near transit to build smaller — and thus less costly — units.

City Councilwoman Georgette Gómez proposed the revised standard for projects in transit areas last year and has sought help from Gloria to make it a reality. Gloria and Gómez believe the change could incentivize builders who have produced few homes for low-and-moderate income San Diegans over the last decade to pursue more of those projects rather than the high-end ones.

The new bill and this week’s budget surplus request were Gloria’s latest efforts on the homelessness and housing front. Last year, Gloria successfully urged Brown to allocate millions more for youth homelessness and passed AB 1637 to encourage more middle-income housing construction.

Brown has been less enthused about housing and homelessness funding measures this year. He didn’t even mention the state’s housing crisis in his State of the State address last month.

— Lisa Halverstadt

Gloria also introduced legislation that would require child welfare offices to ensure gender-affirming health care is available to transgender foster youth who request it. “We know that transgender and gender nonconforming youth are at much higher risk for developing serious negative health conditions. This is especially true for those youth in our foster care system,” he said in a statement.

Stressing the Risks of Painkillers

California Senate Republican Leader Patricia Bates will work with San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan on a bill aimed at the opioid crisis.

SB 1109, which Bates introduced Tuesday, will require continued medical education of opioid prescribers on the risks associated with their use, a warning label that outlines the risk of addiction and overdose, discussing those risks with the parent or guardian of a minor before prescribing. It would also require that youth sports groups and schools with athletic programs provide annual reminders about the risks of opioid use to parents and students.

“Education is one of the most powerful weapons which we can use to reduce opioid-related tragedies,” said Bates, who represents portions of Orange and San Diego County counties, adding: “While this bill will not completely solve California’s opioid epidemic, it can help save lives as part of a broader legislative effort.”

Bates this week also introduced SB 1103, which would enhance criminal penalties for illegal distributors of fentanyl, an opioid that has been linked to many overdose deaths nationwide.

Surfing Could Become Official State Sport

A bill introduced by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, recognizing spots along San Diego’s coastline, notes the economic impact of surfing on the state’s tourism industry. California is also home to the Surfers’ Hall of Fame and other such institutions.

Muratsuchi, a Democrat from Torrance, also stressed that the state’s beaches need to be protected against the re-opening of offshore drilling, which the Trump administration has suggested.

Golden State News

Single-payer health care advocates in California are playing the long game. (CALmatters)

Gov. Gavin Newsom and outgoing Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leόn pick up a major labor endorsement in their respective contests. De Leόn also got the backing of the state’s powerful nurses’ union. (Los Angeles Times) (San Francisco Chronicle)

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra threatens lawsuit in response to the Trump administration’s plans to ask about citizenship on 2020 Census. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

Former IRS officials say California’s proposal to shield residents from a tax hike under President Trump likely is doomed. (Washington Post)

• State’s police chiefs back former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa over Newsom. (Sacramento Bee)

How a battle over same-sex marriage launched Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s political career 14 years ago. (Mercury News)

Marisa Agha is a journalist based in Southern California.

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