Gavin Newsom sees racism in California death penalty case

In this March 13, 2019, handout provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

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In this March 13, 2019, handout provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation a closed sign is placed on the door leading to the gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison, in San Quentin, Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order, Wednesday, placing a moratorium on the death penalty. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP)

AP

Good morning! It’s officially four days until Halloween and one week until the election. Which is spookier?

FIRST UP: Kamala Harris is heading out to court Nevada voters as the final week of campaign season descends. The latest polls show Democrat Joe Biden leading the state in the presidential race by an average of about five points, according to RealClearPolitics, but many still consider Nevada to be a swing state. Follow the Capitol Bureau’s Hannah Wiley on Twitter for live updates on the VP candidate’s visit in Reno

Harris is pushing hard to get out the Black vote, and voters and analysts see evidence that the first woman of color on a major party presidential ticket could make a difference in some of the nations most closely-contested swing states. Read more about whether Harris will increase turnout among Black voters in today’s story by McClatchy’s David Lightman and Joe Kovac.

NEWSOM WANTS TO RAISE STANDARDS FOR THE DEATH PENALTY

Via Sophia Bollag

Gov. Gavin Newsom is arguing in the California Supreme Court that the state should raise its standards for when death penalties can be issued because the current process is tainted by racism against Black people.

Newsom filed the amicus brief, a type of filing made by an interested party not involved in the case, Monday in People v. McDaniel, a death penalty appeal case before the court. In it, the Democratic governor points to documented racial disparities among the state’s death penalty cases. He argues that to eradicate racial bias from the process, the court must raise the standards for unanimity and proof beyond a reasonable doubt in death penalty decisions.

“California’s capital punishment scheme is now, and always has been, infected by racism,” Newsom’s lawyers write in the filing. “Governor Newsom submits this brief because the life-and-death decisions in capital cases need the protections that would be provided by the requirements of unanimity and proof beyond a reasonable doubt in the jury’s verdict.”

Newsom’s requested changes would make it even more difficult for prosecutors to secure death penalty verdicts, which are already extremely expensive for district attorneys to pursue.

Newsom is a staunch opponent of the death penalty, and issued a statewide moratorium on executions in March 2019. His order has not stopped death penalty cases from proceeding up until the point of execution, however.

Newsom has said he wants to end the death penalty permanently in California through a ballot measure. He tried and failed to do that in 2016, when voters instead supported a counter-measure intended to speed up executions.

LARA V. THE INSURANCE EXECS

Via Hannah Wiley…

Last year, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara caught heat for accepting more than $50,000 in campaign contributions from a string of donors connected to insurance companies after he pledged during his campaign that he wouldn’t take industry money.

He faced greater scrutiny in the aftermath after caving to calls that he make available his calendars, which once released, showed he had a lunch meeting with insurance representatives with a matter before the department.

Here’s what I wrote in September of last year:

“Scheduled to be at the table: Steve Menzies, CEO of Applied Underwriters; Jeff Silver, Applied’s attorney; Jamie Sahara, CEO of United Insurance Company; and Eric Serna, a New Mexico attorney and the former insurance superintendent of the state who resigned amid investigations into his department’s business.

“The March 12 lunch meeting came just weeks after Berkshire Hathaway announced it was selling Applied Underwriters to a then-unnamed company.

“Public documents now show United Insurance Company and Menzies are acquiring separate portions of the agency — a transaction that requires review in California from Lara’s department.”

Lara returned the money. He apologized. He promised to do better.

But since then, any image of camaraderie between the commissioner and the executives has dissolved into legal disputes.

Lara and his attorneys have blocked Applied Underwriters from moving its subsidiary, California Insurance Company, to New Mexico, which requires the department’s approval.

Instead, they’ve placed CIC into a conservatorship, a move approved by a San Mateo Superior Court judge last year.

Last Monday, Lara’s legal team filed a rehabilitation plan that urges the court to approve the exit while protecting policyholders.

Applied Underwriters responded by filing a lawsuit against the department last week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, alleging an “unlawful and bad faith campaign” for keeping the company in a conservatorship.

In a statement, Silver, the attorney for California Insurance Company, said the action is an “ugly, illegal, ‘bait and switch’” tactic.

“There are implications here that are directly harmful for policyholders in California and there is a wrongful message implicit for all insurers at a time when the State’s consumers face availability and pricing issues,” Silver said.

Due to ongoing litigation, the department declined to comment.

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION AND RENT CONTROL STRUGGLE TO GAIN SUPPORT

Nearly half of voters oppose Proposition 16, which would reinstate affirmative action in California, according to the latest poll from the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies. The institute reported 49% against the measure, and only 38% in favor.

Similarly, Proposition 21, which would expand local government authority to enact rent control on residential properties, shows 48% of polled voters in opposition and 37% in support.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“We won’t forget this.”

– California Sen. Kamala Harris tweeted after the Republican-led Senate voted to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barret to the U.S. Supreme Court. Democrats across the country criticized what they say was a rushed effort to confirm Coney Barret before the election.

Best of the Bee

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  • Why did the state turn down private sector help in fighting recent California fires? Contractors, who have, in the past, assisted in wildfire emergencies, say what was already a complicated system has turned into a bureaucratic mess. The end result, they say, was that the Forest Service found itself outgunned when the worst wildfire season on record exploded across California. via Dale Kasler
  • Three CalPERS health plans are in a “death spiral.” The plans may be salvaged, but a proposed solution likely will involve price increases for young, healthy workers, Health Plan Research and Administration Division Chief Marta Green has told the CalPERS board. via Wes Venteicher

Lara Korte covers California politics for The Sacramento Bee. Before joining The Bee, she reported on Texas higher education for The Austin American-Statesman. She is a graduate of the University of Kansas.

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