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Essential Politics: Seismic shift in prison sentencing may go to voters

Essential Politics: Seismic shift in prison sentencing may go to voters
(Los Angeles Times)

I'm Christina Bellantoni, today's Essential Politics host.

We saw action with just about every political faction Wednesday, starting with Gov. Jerry Brown's major decision to propose California prison inmates convicted of nonviolent offenses be given a chance at early release.

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As John Myers explains on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, the issue is an evolution for Brown, who four decades ago signed a law mandating strict sentences for the most serious crimes.

The Democratic governor is seeking to ask voters to streamline the rules — aiming to allow corrections officials to more easily award credits toward early release based on an inmate's good behavior, efforts to rehabilitate or participation in prison education programs.

Brown estimated it could affect thousands of current inmates — but first the governor's political team will need to gather more than 585,000 valid voter signatures to qualify the measure for the Nov. 8 ballot.

You can follow the latest from Sacramento on our Essential Politics news feed.

CAMPAIGN TRAIL LIGHTNING ROUND

The Republicans running for president — some of them, at least — meet tonight on a Fox News debate stage for their eighth gathering of the campaign season, and the final forum before Monday's Iowa caucuses.

Donald Trump has opted to hold an event for veterans instead. Sen. Ted Cruz has shifted his debate strategy with the front-runner opting out of showing up. An adviser tells Seema Mehta that Cruz is preparing for incoming from Sen. Marco Rubio, and will aim to tie Rubio, Trump and Hillary Clinton together.

Watch the debate with us on Trail Guide, and join us at 5:30 p.m. PT tomorrow before the debate for a Twitter chat with our politics team. They'll let you know what to look out for and who stands where in the polls. Tweet your questions to @latimespolitics.

To get ready, here are some things to watch for from Lisa Mascaro.

She also explores how Rubio has shifted from being a sunny candidate to showing his gloomier side. The results have been mixed: Negative Rubio has not amounted to a more popular Rubio.

And a Trump erotica novel is a huuuge hit on Amazon.

As Democrats kicked off their policy retreat in Baltimore, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi took on Bernie Sanders, pouring cold water over his plans for healthcare.

"Does anyone in this room think that we're going to be discussing single payer?" Pelosi said at a news conference, Sarah Wire reports.

"I've been for single payer for 30 years," Pelosi said. But, she said, "that's not going to happen."

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Back in Washington, Sanders sat down with President Obama for 45 minutes to discuss domestic and foreign policy issues, specifically how to fight Islamic State and the president's assessment of the U.S. relationship with Iran.

HEADED TO IOWA?

Are you a Californian who's going to Iowa to help, observe or participate? Tell us why! Email us or tweet @LATpoliticsCA using #IAtoCA.

RHCP FEELING THE BERN

The Red Hot Chili Peppers are holding a fundraiser for Sanders on Feb. 5 at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, Colleen Shalby reports.

Tickets range from $500 to $2,000. Those who dish out the big bucks will get to meet the California rockers, and receive a commemorative poster signed by the band and notable street artist Shepard Fairey — the man behind the Obama 2008 "Hope" posters.

'MODERN FAMILY' STAR RAISES CASH FOR HARRIS

A star-studded list of LGBT activists and Hollywood elites gathered in Hancock Park on Wednesday night to raise money for Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris' Senate campaign.

David Cooley, owner of West Hollywood's iconic gay bar the Abbey, hosted the event for tickets ranging between $250 and $2,700, according to an invitation obtained by The Times.

Other hosts for the fundraiser included: Beverly Hills philanthropist and tech entrepreneur David Bohnett; actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson of "Modern Family" and his husband, Justin Mikita; Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl; Susan LaVaccare, a founding member of the Los Angeles County Lesbian and Bisexual Women's Health Collaborative; philanthropists Dr. Bill Resnick and Michael Stubbs; and attorney Dana Perlman and his husband, Hugh Kinsellagh.

Harris will be in Laguna Beach on Thursday night for a stop on her "Winning Results for California" tour.

ANOTHER GARCETTI CHALLENGER

Peter Jamison and Howard Blume report that Steve Barr, who established the successful Green Dot Charter Schools group and has been a high-profile player in the battle to overhaul the L.A. school system, is considering running for mayor in 2017. He's the second person in as many days to muse aloud about challenging Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

(Former Obama operative Mitchell Schwartz also has jumped in the race.)

As we reported, Barr attended a pro-Clinton event last fall.

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GUN-CONTROL EFFORTS

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced legislation Wednesday to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which prevents people from suing gun manufacturers, sellers and interest groups.

Schiff told Sarah Wire that because the gun industry is shielded from liability and negligence charges, it has no incentive to make weapons safer or keep a close eye on who is buying them.

He acknowledged it would take a "seismic shift" in Congress to pass the bill, but said it's important to keep putting pressure on gun control issues.

"It takes years of sustained pressure and suddenly you reach a tipping point when something gets done," Schiff said.

TODAY'S ESSENTIALS

— George Skelton takes a look at the presidential race and warns Republicans about anti-immigrant rhetoric.

— With the owners of L.A.'s professional sports teams lined up in support, the state Assembly on Wednesday approved a bill that would license daily fantasy sports websites — including DraftKings and FanDuel — to operate in California, Patrick McGreevy reports.

— The Assembly cleared a bill mandating double pay on Thanksgiving for large retailers. Melanie Mason explains its chances this second time around.

— The Supreme Court is being asked to make a quick decision on another of President Obama's far-reaching regulations and to put on hold climate-change rules that would force a 32% cutback in carbon emissions by 2030, writes David Savage.

LOGISTICS

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Please send thoughts, concerns and news tips to politics@latimes.com.

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