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By Eric Johnson
Published Jun 05, 2023

Detail from The New York Times Magazine cover for June 4, 2023. Detail from The New York Times Magazine cover for June 4, 2023. Image credit: Illustration by Banjamin Marra   Fair Use

The California Effect and CalMatters

A few months back my colleague Jonathan Vankin published an article that presented Five Reasons Why California is the Most American State. That bold claim about the outsized role the Golden State plays on the national stage was validated today.

For the first time in its history, The New York Times Magazine dedicated its entire Sunday issue to articles about California. Story editor Raha Naddaf, an Oakland native (and onetime New Yorker) currently residing in San Leandro, reports that she conceived the issue while thinking deeply about a “state that has always seemed to be at the frontier of so much transformation … whose entire mythology is wrapped up in the notion of dreaming, of starting fresh, of reinvention.”

In his piece, Vankin quotes USC sociologist Manuel Pastor: “California is America, only sooner.” In the Times today, novelist Laila Lalami gives a long list of proofs, good and bad, in her piece “The Future of California is the Country's Future.”

“California was the first state to pass tailpipe-emission standards, the first to legalize the medical use of marijuana, the first to adopt paid family leave, the first to experiment with guaranteed income on a municipal level, but also the first state to stage a tax revolt that hobbled public services, the first to ban affirmative action and, in 1994, the first to pass a ballot initiative —Proposition 187—that would have barred undocumented immigrants from public social services, including education and healthcare.”

Los Angeles-based economics reporter Conor Dougherty gives further evidence for our state’s place as a historic trend-setter

“California has been so successful at bending national policy in its direction that academics have taken to calling the phenomenon the ‘California effect.’ From labor and consumer protections to corporate governance, energy and animal-welfare measures, California’s laws are the most widely copied in the nation.“

While none of this will come as a big shock to many readers of The Newsletter, it’s timely and important for a number of reasons. And it’s good to see the de facto newspaper of record picking this moment to go deep on our state’s impact.

State governments throughout our nation are unleashing unprecedented, relentless attacks on civil liberties, the environment, and vulnerable Americans. And on Friday, Dougherty reported that Gov. Gavin Newson has doubled down on his pledge to use California’s considerable market power and influence to combat the violence being perpetrated in the culture wars.

Granted, California also faces its own unprecedented problems, from housing and homelessness to unconscionable income inequality. The latter is addressed unflinchingly by Fresno’s Mark Arax, (a journalistic hero of mine) in an article it also tells the story of three women who are making real change in the Central Valley.

(I’m sorry if some of these articles are locked behind a paywall. And, if you can afford to subscribe to the Times, you should probably do that.)


CalMatters: California’s Best

Former Los Angeles Times reporter and editor David Lesher co-founded the online news service CalMatters in 2015, dismayed at the deep cuts being made in newsrooms throughout the state at that time. He served as editor and CEO for six years, and just stepped down from his role as editor-in-chief last month. 

Fittingly, in the same week that Lesher gave up the helm, CalMatters won its second consecutive General Excellence award from the California News Publishers Association—the highest honor offered. 

When he founded CalMatters, Lesher issued a straightforward argument for its existence that we hear echoed today.  

“Many of the issues settled in the statehouse—education, environment, criminal justice, healthcare delivery, immigration—play out on the national stage, with a ripple effect that goes far beyond our state borders. And yet, a shockingly small percentage of even the most engaged Californians have any real understanding of how Sacramento works or who the key players are.”

As many of you know, that sentiment fuels our efforts here at California Local, and we are pleased to share several CalMatters’ stories with you every week. The stories below touch on three California issues that have national resonance.




CA May Loosen Welfare Work Rules as US Tightens Them

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield voted to toughen welfare work requirements, while state lawmakers back home chose another tack.
State lawmakers want to loosen CalWORKs job requirements so people keep cash benefits. Congress’ debt limit deal could curb that.

New Tax on Airbnb Could Fund CA Affordable Housing

Senate Bill 584 would hit short-term rentals with a new, 15 percent tax.
A bill to tax Airbnb and other short-term rentals to fund affordable housing projects could be voted on by the Senate as soon as today. The proposal has revived the debate over Airbnb and its role in the housing crisis.

What Happens to a Town When its Prison Closes?


California is unwinding the prison-building boom of the 1980s and 1990s. The cuts are falling on small towns that banked on government jobs to anchor their communities.


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