Bee Opinionated: California con man + Climate suffers in budget + Women at work | Opinion

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I’m Robin Epley, with The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board.

Last May, Brandon Johnson wrote to Bee Metro Columnist Melinda Henneberger from the El Dorado County Jail in Placerville, describing himself as “a proud father of two young girls,” cruelly separated from them because “the county sheriff beat me almost lifeless from head to toe after approaching me over mistaken identity.”

Except none of that was true.


What Henneberger found was a rolling, massive con that spread over years and included several ex-wives and girlfriends, assault, kidnapping, and a number of cons, including a fake cancer diagnosis and the lab work to “prove” it, faking advanced degrees, jobs, and at one point, even faking his own death.

Five women with whom he’s been involved told Henneberger in interviews that he got away with so much for so long “because he is pretty much the GOAT of con men.”

Two of those wives have teamed up on a podcast about their mutual ex that they call, “Ex-Wives Undercover.”

“The first thing that a third ex, who didn’t want to be named publicly, told me was this: ‘What you have to understand is that I’m terrified of Brandon,’” Henneberger wrote of the woman. “And (she does not) feel safe even with him in custody. ‘He can fool anyone,’ she said.”

Johnson is finally going to prison on charges of assault and attempted kidnapping with intent to rape yet another ex. In the 10-year plea deal he accepted in an El Dorado County courtroom last week, he waived his right to appeal and will be formally sentenced on Feb. 24.

The story is long, winding, frustrating and shocking — and entirely worth your attention.

Climate What?

Just six months ago, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and his administration were boasting a budget surplus of $97.5 billion, but the state is now facing an unforeseen budget deficit of $22.5 billion.

Newsom’s proposed cuts are coming at the expense of climate-related projects, a curious decision from a governor who often speaks about how confronting climate change is one of his key priorities, as The Bee Editorial Board wrote last week.

The new budget proposal, ironically released on the heels of catastrophic flooding across the state, suggests slashing approximately $6 billion dollars from climate-related projects. In fact, most of Newsom’s proposed budget cuts involve scaling back key climate initiatives.

“For example, the governor’s new budget plan proposes to reduce local rail projects budgets by $2.2 billion. Zero-emission vehicle credits and programs would also receive approximately $2.5 billion less, a reduction Newsom suggests could be offset by as much as $1.4 billion via cap-and-trade credit fees from the state’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters — a program once hailed as revolutionary but is tainted by recent research that claims to prove the credits do little to actually counteract climate change.”

Just last year, the governor pushed a five-year, $54 billion climate package through the legislature that he said proved his commitment to being a global climate leader; he now proposes to reduce it to $48 billion.

More than half of that decrease in funding, or approximately $3 billion, directly concerns the state’s clean transportation initiatives, which are necessary to cutting vehicle emissions that are the state’s largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, as well as smog and air pollution.

“It is so like Newsom to first propose these goals and then backpedal when a reduced budget materializes. California cannot seek to be known as a leader in climate change and reducing emissions, but put key climate initiatives first in line to the financial guillotine. We do not have time to ‘wait and see.’”

Women’s Work

Last week, I wrote about how women have long struggled to create equity in the workplace, only to lose it since the coronavirus pandemic. COVID has set back working women by decades, according to a new study by the California Commission on Women and Girls.

“Women in the workplace were forced to leave their jobs during the pandemic, and many returned to a pre-WWII set of duties — the kind that too often falls to the women of the household such as child care, medical care for ailing family, teaching and cleaning. For example, while schools were closed, more than 41% of California’s working mothers reported providing extra childcare, while only 17% of fathers did.”

This cannot stand: California’s working women cannot be treated as second-class citizens when it is their vital work that contributed to making this state the fourth-largest economy in the world.

Women are overwhelmingly labeled as “essential workers” in jobs such as teaching, nursing and childcare. California women get the job done only to have their needs abandoned so they can pick up the slack at home, too. That is an unconscionable continuation of a tired legacy and devalues the work women do every day.

“It is critical to understand that it is not just certain professions or service workers that we call essential — it was women who dominate those sectors as employees, and it is women who are essential to the functioning of our economy,” said the commission’s executive director, Holly Martinez.

Opinion of the Week

“Some folks blame Big Poultry. Others are hard at work trying to implicate President Biden.” — San Luis Obispo Tribune Opinion Editor Stephanie Finucane on the cluckin’ high price of chicken eggs and a column that will have you chucklin’.

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Hasta la pasta baby,

Robin Epley