Dan Walters

Bakersfield Congressman Kevin McCarthy becomes the No. 2 leader in the House and could become speaker.

Whatever attention the public and media devote to state government is concentrated on the governor, other elected officials and the Legislature. But state government is mostly hundreds of agencies, boards and commissions that provide services, make regulatory rules, issue licenses and hand out money. Generally, they go about their business, whatever it might be, below the public radar, surfacing in the consciousness only when things go awry – which is what’s happening in one of the most obscure, the Employment Training Panel.

Nothing in California’s Constitution or statute law authorizes the Legislature or the initiative process to place nonbinding advisory measures on the ballot, soliciting voter sentiment on some issue. Despite the lack of legal authority, the Legislature did it twice before, in 1933, and an advisory measure was placed on the ballot via initiative in 1982.

The Capitol’s role in making public policy slipped behind the initiative process and now appears to be running third behind the courts.

With two appointments and at least one more coming, Gov. Jerry Brown is nudging the state Supreme Court leftward.

Capital punishment has burned intensely as a political issue but now may be dead.

Former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez gave up his vote recount, but it revealed flaws in system that should be corrected.

This fall’s most interesting political contest may be the one for a rare vacancy on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, pitting ex-Senator Sheila Kuehl against Kennedy clan member Bobby Shriver.

Career technical education classes are important to students and the state, but they face a crisis.

Democratic legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown have placed an advisory measure on the Nov. 4 ballot who’s real purpose may be to goose voter turnout.

Two state agencies have done multibillion-dollar deals with private equity tycoon Leon Black, and scandal followed both.

It’s a good time to be a rent-seeker in the Capitol, with Elon Musk topping the list.

Christopher Klein, who is presiding over Stockton’s bankruptcy, wants to definitively establish status of pensions.

Were California a nation, its $2.2 trillion economy would be the globe’s eighth largest, but reality is a mixed bag.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen has opportunity to overcome lackluster record and end on a high note.

A bill to provide a state tax subsidy for construction of a new nuclear bomber in California creates a dilemma for liberal legislators.

California politics is meandering into uncharted procedural and legal territory with former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez’s go-for-broke decision to seek a vote recount in his duel with Board of Equalization member Betty Yee for a spot on the November state controller ballot.

At any given moment, dozens of comatose bills float around the Legislature – vessels to be filled with whatever the powers-that-be want to enact quickly and semi-clandestinely. A journalistic wag once dubbed them “mushroom bills” because they grow in the dark, nurtured in excrement, and sprout just long enough to be passed, sometimes within hours.

California’s population growth has slowed to a fraction of its previous level, and its aged population is now growing rapidly.

One wouldn’t think that a resolution marking the Fourth of July would have a partisan backstory. But it does.

One bidder for the contract to build a new Air Force bomber wants a big subsidy from California.

It’s high time that the Legislature’s employees should join civil service to avoid abuses.

California judges thought they were getting financial stability when the state assumed financial responsibility, but got instability instead.

Whom do Californians hold accountable for the most vital services? There’s no way to tell.

California politicians are handing out tax subsidies for some favored industries and corporations, rather than improving business climate.

Jerry Brown may not be universally admired, but polls indicate that he’s virtually certain to win a record fourth term as governor, perhaps even in a landslide, and thus four more years to cement his place in political history.

With the state budget behind them, the Capitol’s politicians are turning to water, always California’s most divisive political issue – but particularly so during a very severe drought, as a state Senate debate and vote demonstrated Monday.

Low voter turnout on June 3 indicts November turnout also will be low, and if so, will hurt Democratic candidates.

California’s levels of participation in civic and economic life are in long-term decline.

California’s highway system is deteriorating and needs an overhaul of road taxes to be fixed.

Wage theft hurts low-income workers but the proposed solution could hurt legitimate business.

The new state budget keeps Gov. Jerry Brown’s bullet train project alive, but it still has major financial gaps.

The new state budget has some new spending, which sets the stage for future budget infighting.

The Capitol has a long, sometimes unsavory, history of attaching extraneous matters of uncertain lineage to the state budget at the last minute. That’s how, for example, California came to shift its primary elections to the “top-two” system that we just experienced, for better or worse.

Two pending bills would undermine California’s voter-centric initiative process by making it easier to overturn ballot measures.

With four candidates for state controller virtually tied on election night, it’s been a daily drama ever since.

A Los Angeles judge’s declaration that teacher job protection laws are unconstitutional is a big win for school reformers.

Months ago, without saying it publicly, Democrats gave up hopes of regaining control of the House of Representatives and began concentrating resources on saving their command of the U.S. Senate.

There are probably a few people living off the grid in the backcountry of California, but the other 38 million of us depend on our local utilities for electric power. That makes us stakeholders in how that energy is produced, distributed and priced – the latter accounting for many, many billions of dollars. One would think that the nearly universal experience of buying electricity – not to mention its indispensable economic importance – would make politicians reluctant to mess with it.

The Legislature’s approval ratings have improved, but it still ignores important issues.

The outcomes of this week’s primary election indicate that the California Republican Party may be making a comeback.

Professional politicians clearly dislike California’s still-new “top-two” primary election system, which was forced on them by voters.

It’s been nearly a decade since the Capitol’s politicians last had a substantial amount of extra money to spend. During the mid-2000s, a short-lived housing boom poured billions of extra dollars into the state’s coffers, and politicians pumped them out as fast as they came in. General fund spending exploded by nearly 30 percent in three years.

It’s a pretty strange election when the most interesting contest is between two Republicans vying for the right to be buried in a Jerry Brown landslide. The duel between Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, the darling of the Republican right, and Neel Kashkari, a moderate whom the GOP establishment hopes will eke out a win, gets a lot of media attention simply because there’s not much else to stir interest.

California’s government policies drive up living costs, which create more poverty.

California highways deteriorated when state moved away from users-pay financing and it should be restored.

The Legislature’s budget analyst says Caltrans has 3,500 too many positions, but Legislature doesn’t act.

Voting in this year’s primary election may hit a new low because there’s nothing to excite voters.

There are just two measures on the June 3 statewide ballot, Propositions 41 and 42, and both were placed there by the Legislature. Proposition 42 more or less cleans up a decision by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators to save money by no longer paying local governments for some state-mandated services they provide.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised budget is studded with reminders of the state’s massive debt.

Dan Walters, political columnist

Dan Walters

Dan Walters has been a journalist for more than a half-century, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. At one point in his career, at age 22, he was the nation's youngest daily newspaper editor.

He joined The Sacramento Union's Capitol bureau in 1975, just as Jerry Brown began his first governorship, and later became the Union's Capitol bureau chief. In 1981, Walters began writing the state's only daily newspaper column devoted to California political, economic and social events and, in 1984, he and the column moved to The Sacramento Bee. He has written more than 7,500 columns about California and its politics and his column now appears in dozens of California newspapers.

Email: dwalters@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1195
Twitter: @WaltersBee

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