Efforts by Harris and her supporters to clear the field worked, for the most part. One after another, prominent Democrats passed on the race. Only Orange County congresswoman Loretta Sanchez said she would run.
Three lesser-known Republicans, San Diego Assemblyman Rocky Chavez and two former GOP state party chairs, Duf Sundheim and Tom Del Beccaro, are also making the run, but lag far behind in cash, name identification and poll numbers.
Conventional wisdom sizes up the race as the state attorney general's to lose. But unflattering national stories about her large "burn rate" of campaign cash have taken a bit of the varnish off Harris. Sanchez, while gaffe-prone and a bit erratic, could end up second to Harris in the June primary, setting up an unprecedented and fascinating Dem-on-Dem showdown in November.
Or will another Democrat sense an opening and jump into the race?
2. Let the Good Times Roll: Governor's Budget Will Divide Up the Spoils
With California's economy on a roll and state revenues coming in ahead of projection, the state's fiscal nightmare is fading into the rearview mirror.
Aided by additional revenues from Proposition 30, passed by voters four years ago, Gov. Brown will be pressed by fellow Democrats to restore cuts made to Medi-Cal reimbursement rates for doctors and programs to help those with developmental disabilities. The latter was supposed to be dealt with in the special legislative session on health issues, but so far that has not happened.
Even Republicans seem willing to restore cuts to the developmentally disabled, at least based on statements and press releases. And some Democrats are spoiling for a fight with the notoriously frugal governor over these and other issues.
We'll get a better sense of where this is going in early January when the governor releases his 2016-17 state budget.
3. Will the U.S. Supreme Court Clip the CTA's Wings?
For decades, the California Teachers Association has long been regarded as an 800-pound gorilla in state politics. Each political season it spends tens of millions of dollars for and against ballot measures and candidates it supports or opposes.
But a case before the U.S. Supreme Court this year could put a serious dent in that juggernaut.
On Jan. 11, the Supremes will hear oral arguments in Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, which will determine whether the CTA has the right to force teachers to pay "agency fee" dues to cover the union's expenses at the bargaining table.
More than 300,000 educators pay dues. If the Supreme Court rules against the union, it will be a political earthquake that's sure to shake up California's political landscape.
4. A New Speaker Who Might Actually Stick Around Awhile
In March, Southern California Democrat Anthony Rendon is expected to take over the Assembly speakership from termed-out San Diego Democrat Toni Atkins. Since term limits ended the 15-year reign of Willie Brown, the "Ayatollah of the Assembly," the lower house has had a series of relatively weak speakers, including some who served for as little as three months.
Rendon says he'll make education a top priority, a noteworthy choice since the 47-year-old legislator told the Sacramento Bee he was a "terrible high school student" with a grade-point average that "at one time was 0.83." He went on the earn a Ph.D. from UC Riverside.
The other half of that story will also be interesting.
Outgoing Speaker Atkins is taking on incumbent state Sen. Marty Block for his San Diego Senate seat. Challenging a fellow Democrat has not won Atkins any friends in the upper house, especially not Senate leader Kevin de León, who says Block deserves to be re-elected. Atkins had raised nearly $1 million as of the last campaign filing period and has no doubt added to that since then. Block, by contrast, had raised much less.
5. Will California's Presidential Primary Actually Matter in 2016?
For a state with more than 10 percent of the nation's population, California rarely has a say in presidential nominations. Our primary, once moved up to March in a reach for relevance, is scheduled for June 7. And once again politicos are speculating whether state Republicans might actually make a difference in choosing the nominee.
With Donald Trump continuing to defy gravity and mainstreamers like Jeb Bush and John Kasich failing to catch on, GOP leaders have been fielding questions lately about the possibility of an "open convention." That seems unlikely, but if Trump remains viable by mid-March it's at least possible the nomination will remain undecided until the end of the primary season.
6. Polar-Opposite Approaches to the Death Penalty
Everyone agrees: California's death penalty is dysfunctional. As we approach the 10th anniversary of the last execution, two political camps are pushing completely divergent fixes and both could appear on the November ballot.
One, supported by district attorneys, would expedite executions by assigning defense attorneys more quickly and speeding up the appeals process. The other would end capital punishment altogether and replace all death sentences retroactively with life in prison without the possibility of parole.
A 2012 effort to ban capital punishment failed narrowly, 52-48 percent. Since then several states, including Connecticut and Nebraska, have ended their death penalty. One way or the other, 2016 could bring some much-needed clarity to the issue.
7. Big Pharma on the Ballot Will Attract National Attention
Another ballot measure would limit the price California state agencies pay for prescription drugs to no more than the lowest price paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA, unlike Medicare, is allowed to use its purchasing power to obtain better prices for medication.
Without putting a dollar figure on it, the Legislative Analyst's Office says the initiative, if passed, "may result in a substantial net change in state or local finances." And it's sure to attract big dollars from drug companies determined to kill this idea before it spreads to other states.
8. Newsom's Ballot Measure Keeps Him and Gun Control in the News
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom doesn't have much power in his current job, but he's making the most of it anyway. The San Francisco Democrat has shown a knack for getting ahead of issues (see gay marriage, 2004) that other politicians regard as too politically risky.
He's played a leading role in efforts to legalize marijuana and raise the minimum wage. Two months before the San Bernardino massacre, Newsom announced plans to sponsor a ballot measure to expand the state's gun control laws by, among other things, requiring background checks on ammunition purchases and forcing gun owners to turn in their semi-automatic weapons.
The measure includes measures passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Brown. Think this will get much attention if it's on the ballot next year?
9. Will the U.S. Supreme Court Shift Power Away from Latinos and Cities?
This isn't quite as much the potential blockbuster as the CTA case, but Evenwel v. Abbott, a case out of Texas, ponders what "one person, one vote" really means. The issue is this: When political districts are drawn up in states, should they be drawn with equal numbers of people, or equal numbers of voters?
Right now, it's people, including undocumented and noncitizen immigrants, children and ex-felons who can't vote. The plaintiffs in this case live in a suburban district with relatively large numbers of voters, compared with other more urban districts in Texas. They argue their political clout is diminished, relative to districts with fewer voters.
If the court rules for them, it would mean less political clout for Latinos and urban areas and more power to suburban and rural areas that tend to be more Republican-leaning.
In California that would shift clout away from places like Los Angeles, where lots of non-voters live.
It wouldn't affect the total number of congressional seats in California, but it would potentially shift where those representatives are based.
10. What Will California Do About Its Embarrassingly Low Voter Turnout?
One reason we'll have so many ballot measures next year is that the number of signatures needed to qualify is based on the last gubernatorial election. And 2014's turnout was a record low, which set a very low bar for qualifying an initiative.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla seems determined to change that. A new "motor voter law" will automatically register new drivers to vote, unless they opt out. And Padilla is also looking to lower barriers to voting in SB450 (Hertzberg), which he's sponsoring.
California's approach to voting could not be more different from some "red" states, where voter ID laws are seen by many as barriers to voting, especially for some seniors, low-income folks and people of color.
11. Bonus: The Rest of the Ballot Measures, Too!
It's hard to pick 10 things to watch and not mention some of the other hot-button issues likely to be on the ballot.
Late last year Gov. Brown signed legislation creating a regulatory framework for the manufacture, distribution and sale of marijuana in the state. He established within the Department of Consumer Affairs a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation (nicknamed BuMMR) which is widely seen as setting the groundwork for full legalization should voters approve that this year. That proposition will get huge amounts of attention (but first proponents have to see if they can agree on a single measure).
Among the other notable measures are competing efforts to raise the minimum wage, repeal the plastic bag ban, raise taxes on cigarettes, led by billionaire Tom Steyer, and one to improve transparency of the legislative process by giving the public (and legislators!) more time to review bills before they're voted on.