Newsletter: Essential Politics: It’s not legality but legitimacy that’s being debated over Newsom’s halt to death penalty
There’s been little serious dispute that Article V, Section 8 of the California Constitution says the governor — under any conditions he “deems proper” — may grant a reprieve from a prisoner’s sentence, even if that sentence is death.
But it’s the properness of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to block the executions of 737 condemned men that remains a hot topic across the state, not the legality. Newsom’s sudden action caught some by surprise, and he’s now spent almost an entire week trying to explain his thinking.
Agree or disagree, it’s hard to dispute the magnitude of the governor’s decision. It could remain a potent political topic well into next year’s state and national elections.
THE DECISION, THE VOTERS, THE FAMILIES
Rather than crack open some of the more thorny legal issues on the ultimate fate of death row inmates, Newsom simply paused the process for the duration of his time in office. However, some legal watchers raised questions concerning the two not-so-talked about parts of last week’s executive order: the repeal of the new lethal injection protocol and the symbolic closing of the execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison.
Then there’s the political debate. With voters having refused efforts in 2012 and 2016 to repeal the death penalty, wasn’t Newsom thumbing his nose at their wishes? Each time he was asked the question, the governor sought to pivot back to his singular constitutional power — given to him, he noted, by the voters. And it remains to be seen whether he’ll champion a third attempt, aimed for the November 2020 ballot, to ask Californians to reconsider their stance.
Thought its support has hovered just above the 50% line in recent years, the death penalty has enjoyed decades of approval from voters. But it’s a very polarizing subject — with no clear consensus even among the families of victims whose convicted killers now sit on death row.
And what about those prisoners? There were no celebrations in their wing of San Quentin, said the man who’s been on death row longer than any of them.
Supporters will say Newsom took bold action and, by rooting his defense in morality, elevated it beyond the political. Critics will say it’s simply the latest in a line of capricious decisions by a governor in a hurry to throw a lot of big ideas onto the playing field all at once. Either way, we may be talking about this one for a while.
THE DEMOCRATS KEEP ON COMING FOR 2020
Add another Democrat now officially running for president: New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who said in her announcement video that a “brave” nation “doesn’t spread hate, cloud truth, build a wall.”
Meanwhile, the waiting game continues for a decision from former Vice President Joe Biden. During more than 40 years in public life, he’s taken an array of stands at odds with today’s Democratic Party consensus. Scrutiny of that record could become a big obstacle to his success in a third national campaign.
And all of the candidates must confront some changes in the rules governing the Iowa caucuses, a key contest on the road to the White House. Democratic voters may not have to show in person, instead backing a preferred candidate by participating in one of six “virtual” caucuses, submitting a list of as many as five candidates, ranked by preference.
NATIONAL LIGHTNING ROUND
-- The 2020 Pentagon budget proposal is shaped by national security threats that acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has summarized in three words: “China, China, China.”
-- Colorado has joined a list of states, including California, that plan to eventually give all of their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the nationwide popular vote.
CANNABIS CASH AND THE THREAT OF CORRUPTION
The broad legalization of marijuana by California voters two years ago was supposed to bring the industry out of the shadows and help ensure it was a well-regulated business that no longer provided incentives for a criminal black market.
And yet, there have been some astonishing cases of attempting to bribe local government officials across the state — looking for advantages in a new system that’s still coming into its own.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the multibillion-dollar nature of the marijuana industry is corrupting public officials,” said Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey.
-- Newsom, during a national media tour to defend his decision to ban California death row executions, decried “legal bribery” in the college admissions process, including favors given to big donors.
-- After last year’s defeat of a sweeping rent control initiative, Proposition 10, there’s a new bid at the state Capitol to control what California landlords can charge tenants.
-- Newsom is pushing the timeline back for his plan to strip transportation money from communities that miss housing goals.
-- The Fresno County district attorney charged Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno) on Tuesday with one misdemeanor count of cruelty to a child three months after the state legislator was arrested on suspicion of injuring his daughter.
-- California’s new surgeon general, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, has been a leading voice behind efforts to screen children for trauma and stress that can cause physical ailments later in life. Now, she has a larger stage from which to reach out to her fellow doctors.
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