As soon as Joseph R. Biden Jr. picked Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, people started talking about how this election could herald a major shift in Democratic politics in California.
Not only would Ms Harris bring a distinctly California sensibility to executive power if elected, but her departure from the Senate would also open a powerful seat.
[Read more about how Ms. Harris made California history.]
On top of that, Mr Biden would look to California, the country’s most populous state and its largest Blue Fortress, for a pool full of cabinet candidates.
So far, all of these wheels are turning, mostly as expected.
But none of the conversations I’ve had with political observers, none of the online gossip I’ve read, and none of the sources my colleagues have spoken to predicted any of Mr. Biden’s choices: the California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to head the Department of Health and Human Services.
[Read the full story about Mr. Becerra’s life and background.]
Four years ago, Mr. Becerra was a former California congressman when Jerry Brown, the then governor, selected him to replace Ms. Harris as senior state attorney, following her election to the Senate. .
In that role, Becerra has been chosen as the leader of the legal resistance against President Trump, filing dozens of lawsuits challenging the Trump administration on a range of issues, including climate change and immigration.
And as we have reported, Mr. Becerra was one of the main candidates to replace Ms. Harris, once again, in the Senate. But, observers said, Mr Becerra was a less likely choice for the Senate seat, as he would be a potential choice to head Biden’s Justice Department.
So, Mr Biden’s appointment of Mr Becerra for a post helping to lead the country’s response to a pandemic came as a surprise, especially to medical experts who had urged the president-elect to choose someone with expertise. in public health.
[If you missed it, read about California’s fights with the Trump administration.]
Still, supporters – including Gov. Gavin Newsom, who called the move a “game changer” on Monday – have said Mr Becerra is an excellent choice.
The governor said Mr Becerra, if confirmed, would be in a strong position to advocate for health care for Californians.
“We have had our eye on some big reforms,” he said. “We were looking for an excellent partner. And we found one.
Mr Brown stressed that Mr Becerra would be dedicated to his task – “not just to the Affordable Care Act, but to health and fairness in general,” the former governor said.
“And he knows his way in Washington,” he added.
Others have cited Mr. Becerra’s environmental justice office, the country’s first, as proof he will put racial fairness first.
[If you missed it, read about the broad power of the state attorney general’s office.]
Nonetheless, like his predecessor, Ms Harris, he has been criticized that he failed to hold law enforcement officers accountable for the murders of people and that the police reforms he touted after the protests of George Floyd were well insufficient. In an episode that became a flashpoint in the police debate, Mr Becerra refused to prosecute the officers who killed Stephon Clark, an unarmed young black man who was gunned down in the backyard of his grandmother in Sacramento.
And this week, The Sacramento Bee opinion editor Gil Duran wrote an article criticizing the attorney general for threatening legal action against journalists for publishing information about officers who had been accused or convicted of charges. crimes and for being largely absent from the state legislature’s debates on major police reforms.
“I’ve never been there to do a press conference and beat my chest,” Becerra told Duran, defending his record. He said he had been a more quiet supporter of reform.
[Read the full opinion piece from The Sacramento Bee.]
Senate Republicans may be skeptical of Mr Becerra, but they stopped before saying it wouldn’t be confirmed. [The San Francisco Chronicle]
Mr. Becerra’s exit gives the governor the rare opportunity to choose three top leaders. [Politico]
It wasn’t just George Gascón: The summer protests fueled a “tsunami of change” as cities across the country elected progressive prosecutors. [The New York Times]
If you missed it, here’s why Latin American advocates say representation is more than simply having leaders who resemble the electorate. [The New York Times]
(This article is part of California today newsletter. Register to have it delivered to your inbox.)
Here’s what else to know today
Some two million Californians falter about to lose their home. Most are protected by a moratorium on evictions – but temporarily. Here is a collaboration that takes an in-depth look at the issues. [CalMatters]
Bay Area lawmaker hopes expand existing state protections against deportation. [The Mercury News]
The leaders of the State Assembly are lobby for school districts to reopen in the spring. The proposed legislation would require public school students to return in stages and only after their counties have been moved from the state’s most restrictive reopening level. [EdSource]
The alert you may have received on your cell phone about state stay-at-home orders was his biggest such scare ever. [The Sacramento Bee]
Here are the latest restrictions in the state. [The New York Times]
The battle lines are already drawn on the fracturing. The governor asked the Legislature to pass a bill banning the practice by 2024. [The Bakersfield Californian]
If you have ever wondered if the waters off the San Onofre nuclear power plant are safe, now you have a way to find out. (So far, scientists say, it’s mildly radioactive, but far less than a dental x-ray.) [The San Diego Union-Tribune]
And finally …
In a normal year, I can’t wait to go through year-end lists of the best restaurants I haven’t tried, the best movies I haven’t watched, the albums I haven’t listened to, books that I haven’t read. It’s fun, despite the shade of FOMO I tend to have; I know I’ll never catch up, but there’s always more to discover.
This year, however, as the lists have started to flow, feelings are complicated.
Restaurant listings are necessarily reminders of places we’ve lost, album listings are reminders of concerts we haven’t been able to experience. I found myself in a more than likely healthy relationship with my colleague Manohla Dargis, whose list of the 10 best films of 2020 is titled “I Looked Up To My Bled Eyes”.
At the same time, this year’s lists help us remember that people have adapted and found ways to create.