The Issue Is: The battle of reopening California

This coming Monday, May 25, America will honor its fallen military personnel for Memorial Day.

However, as that commemoration approaches, a grim milestone looms on the horizon, as the US also prepares to lose its 100,000th life to coronavirus.

This, as states and localities see their reopening efforts, or lack thereof, responded to with anxiety, fear, and unrest. In turn, salons, gyms, churches, beaches, and face masks have become major political touchstones and points of contention.

Elex Michaelson breaks down those debates, and more, on this week’s The Issue Is.


The conversation begins with San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer,

As of this week, Faulconer’s county, which houses some 3.4 million residents, has conducted more than 120,000 tests, resulting in some 6,300 cases, and 241 COVID-related deaths.

This week, San Diego was granted approval from the state to accelerate through Phase 2 of the state’s phased reopening. As part of that approval, which Faulconer called a “major victory for small businesses,” dine-in eating and in-store retail will be allowed, as long as businesses have taken the necessary health precautions.

“It’s not about going back to normal,” the Mayor said. “It’s about, what’s the new normal? How do you do things differently in terms of everything from employee education, you know, sanitation, physical distancing, the number of folks inside, masks, all of that. It’s about the new normal, and getting ready so we can actually continue to open our economy, and do it safely.”

What Faulconer is looking to next, is reopening a number of sectors currently being held for reopening in Phase 3, namely hair salons, nail salons, and gyms, potentially using San Diego County as a pilot program for reopening those businesses in the rest of the state.

“Let’s allow, for example, some of our barber shops to open up, show how they can do that physical distancing, all of the protections for their employees and their customers, and let’s do it right,” Faulconer said.

As the Governor is now allowing San Diego to move more quickly through the reopening process, Elex asked Faulconer, who has been rumored to be considering his own run for CA Governor, how his working relationship has been with Governor Newsom through the crisis.

“It’s important that we all work together, at every level, whether it’s mayors, local mayors across the state, our board of supervisors, we want our state to succeed,” Faulconer said. “We all want to come out of this safely, in every part of the state, and I think when we do that, when we work together, that’s our best opportunity for success.”

That cooperation will be necessary during the next fiscal year, as Governor Newsom announced last week that CA is looking at a potential $54B budget deficit. San Diego, seeing a downturn in tourism, hospitality, and sales tax revenue, is looking at its own shortfall of some $350M.

Faulconer said he doesn’t want to kick the can down the road, so his new budget proposal does see cuts and reductions, including shortened library hours, but that he is prioritizing first responders and key services like sanitation and water.

The conversation with Mayor Faulconer wrapped up with a discussion of reopening beaches. 

As it hopes to do with its Phase 3 pilot program, San Diego’s phased approach to reopening their beaches was adopted by many other beach cities throughout California. Part of the guidelines included the allowance of running, jogging, surfing, swimming, but the prohibition of more stationary activities like sitting or sunbathing.

“I wanted to say ‘let’s act as one region,’ so I got all of my fellow mayors in other beach cities of San Diego county, I said ‘let’s develop a plan by our life guards, in conjunction with our public health folks, so we have one clear rules-of-the-road for all beach cities in San Diego.”

The Mayor added that the policy has been successful over the past three weeks, so as the summer approaches, adjustments will be made to allow for sunbathing and lying down.

“We want people safe,” he said. “But we want people to come out and the enjoy the beaches.”


In California, it’s not only nail salons and beaches that have caused a stir. With the reopening of churches being held for Phase 3, a debate has emerged over religious freedom, and whether or not houses of worship are indeed essential.

On Friday, President Trump added his voice to the debate, saying houses of worship were indeed essential, and that they should be opened immediately, regardless of what Governors have said. Shortly after that announcement, Gov. Newsom said he would be releasing revised church guidelines early next week.

To discuss, Elex is joined by Pastor Jim Franklin of Fresno’s Cornerstone Church. This week, Franklin was one of 1,200 CA Pastors who signed a letter to Newsom saying they would be reopening for services on May 31, regardless of the Governor’s approval.

“We just want to be treated fairly, we just want to be treated like every other business that has been allowed to open, with obvious CDC guidelines,” Franklin said. 

“If somebody can go into a big box store, if somebody can go sit down at a restaurant, if they can walk down an aisle and pick up a home improvement item, why can’t they walk down our aisle, sit in a pew, and get something that will help improve their lifestyle?”

Franklin emphasized that when Cornerstone Church reopens on May 31, safety is still the priority. The church will follow social distancing guidelines, spacing parishioners out, directing one-way traffic, offering sanitation, and recommending that at-risk worshippers continue to watch remotely from home.

“These are not our customers that are walking through our doors, these are our parishioners,” Franklin said. “I’ve pastored here for over a quarter of a century, I’ve known these people, I’ve buried their loved ones, I’ve married their children, I’ve been with them the good times and the bad times, if anyone wants to keep these people safe, it’s pastors.”

On the subject of being essential, Franklin said the original inclusion of churches in Phase 3, alongside theaters and the entertainment industry, was a major concern for him. 

“Just like food places need to be open, just like hospitals need to be open, churches should have been open from the very beginning.”

The conversation ended on the subject of mental health, and how people are coping as they shelter-at-home.

Franklin cited reports of rising suicide, addiction, anger, and domestic violence, saying that churches offer hope, and “even though we can’t hug each other and shake each other’s hands, we can stand there in proximity to each other and worship God together.”


This week’s The Issue Is wraps up with a return of our political panel, last seen in early March, before the coronavirus pandemic was declared.

Elex is joined by two legendary political strategists, and friends of the show, Mike Murphy and Bob Shrum. Murphy, who hosts the “Hacks on Tap” podcast with David Axelrod, advised the likes of John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Jeb Bush. Shrum, the director of USC’s Dornsife Center for the Political Future counts Al Gore, Michael Dukakis, and John Kerry among the candidates he’s worked with.

Their discussion kicks off with the Presidential race, and how coronavirus has changed the electoral landscape.

“The President was hoping he could run on the state of the economy, he clearly can’t do that at this point,” Shrum said.

Shrum added he believes the President’s re-election campaign will throw out every negative ad it can at Vice President Biden, hoping something sticks, because they see there really isn’t any big argument that does Biden in.

Murphy had a similar assessment about the President losing his ability to call out his success on the economy, adding “There’s no doubt the virus has infected and taken over American politics, it’s been very hard for Joe Biden to get a platform to really compete, but he’s still doing well, because, frankly, he’s not Trump.”

On the subject of Biden, the two also addressed the former Vice President’s headline-making comment on Friday’s “The Breakfast Club,” where Biden told Charlamagne Tha God “if you have a problem figuring out if you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”

Biden later apologized for the statement, calling it cavalier, and saying he would never take the African American community for granted.

Shrum and Murphy had a different take.

Shrum called the whole event a press obsession that the Trump campaign is jumping on. He added: “I’ve known Joe Biden for 40 years, he’s always done stuff like this, I don’t think the voters care.”

Murphy said that given the nature of the political culture, the moment would be fleeting.

“There’s so much political news, especially on cable, everyday, no matter how trivial the thing is, it’s covered like the Hindenburg explosion,” Murphy said. “This will be the embarrassing thing of the day, but it’s not going to rock Biden’s connection to African American voters, that’s what put him there.”

Murphy added that what Biden really needs to do is get his story out there, because he might not be as well known as the political class of D.C. assumes he is. Biden also needs to be aggressive on the messaging, having surrogates go on offense against President Trump.

From the Presidential race, the conversation shifted to the Veepstakes.

Murphy said that Biden needs a good governing partner to avoid risk, so he would recommend Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar or Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. More of a long-shot, Murphy said Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo would also be a smart pick.

“The pool of uncertainty that I’m willing to jump into consists of Klobuchar, Warren, Whitmer, Val Demings, Kamala Harris,” Shrum said. “I think that the most likely pick, the person Biden is probably going to settle on, is going to be Kamala Harris.”

Shrum said there is pressure on Biden to pick an African American running mate, plus Harris would also likely do well in a debate against Vice President Pence, making the case against the Trump administration.

Murphy disagreed, saying Harris would be a “disastrous” choice, and that the California Senator was a terrible candidate for President, whose only good day came when she went after Biden during a Presidential debate.

The conversation wrapped up with talk of two Governors, Newsom and Cuomo, who, following Biden’s pledge to pick a female VP, are not under consideration.

“I am happy to criticize Gavin,” Murphy said. “But on this one, I think he’s done a great job. He was early, smart and strong, hell, he was earlier than Cuomo. While I don’t think it means anything for this election cycle, he’s building a story that in 2024, depending on the political environment, he’s getting to the point where he could be a credible Presidential candidate.”

“Newsom closed the state early, he saved tens of thousands of lives, I think he’s done a terrific job,” Shrum added. “Now he’s doing a pretty good job, in fact an excellent job, of managing the politics of reopening.”


The Issue Is: with Elex Michaelson is California's only statewide political show. For showtimes and more information, go to