Good Monday morning, California.

Death penalty: What would candidates do

A life-or-death decision: California’s next governor could quickly face a stark choice: allow an execution to take place or commute it.

As part of our 2018 election guide, which we introduce today, we asked major candidates for governor how they would confront that decision, and compiled their answers in this video.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the leading Democrat and a moral opponent of the death penalty, said he would give “voters a chance to reconsider,” presumably through a new initiative.

San Diego businessman John Cox, the leading Republican, cited his Catholic religion to explain his opposition to taking a life. But he said he wouldn’t put his views above the law.



Some history: After a long court-imposed moratorium, California resumed executions on April 21, 1992, when it strapped Robert Alton Harris into a chair in the death chamber at San Quentin and released deadly cyanide gas. I was there.

The state later switched its method to lethal injection. In 2006, federal and state judges placed executions on hold as they questioned whether California’s version of lethal injection amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and how the protocol was devised.

What changed: Voters in 2016 rejected an initiative to abolish capital punishment and approved an initiative that promised to speed up executions. It was the fourth time since 1972 that California voters supported death penalty ballot measures.

A few numbers:

Condemned population: 723 men and 23 women.

Length of stay: 118 have been on death row at least since 1988, including one who has been there since 1978.

Deaths: 13 men have been executed at San Quentin since 1992. Another 112 have died of natural causes, suicide, overdoses and other causes.

End of the line: 22 condemned inmates have exhausted all appeals.

More legal hurdles remain. But Kent Scheidegger, of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation and a co-author of the 2016 initiative to speed executions, predicts executions could “be a reality by the end of this year or early next year.”

Politicians are job applicants. You’re on the hiring committee

Think of yourself as chair of the hiring committee, and politicians as job applicants. Your task is to pick through the resumes and find the ideal candidate to fill the most important jobs in California.

With that weighty responsibility in mind, we at CALmatters offer our nonpartisan election guide, giving you the resumes of the top candidates for governor, U.S. Senate and the other statewide offices.

We’ve interviewed the top candidates for governor and provided you with their answers to questions you might want to ask.

Want to know where Gavin Newsom, applicant for governor, stands on taxes? We’ll show you. Care where Antonio Villaraigosa stands on high speed rail? Look here.

We asked each gubernatorial candidate what he or she would do to help severely mentally ill people, how to address homelessness and much more. We think you’ll be surprised by some of their answers. We were. We will be adding more as the June 5 primary and November general election nears.

Enter the Supreme Court

The California Supreme Court regularly affirms death sentences, 268 during the past four decades.

The justices also have final say when a governor grants a pardon or reduces a sentence, including when a governor seeks to block an execution. Under the California Constitution, a governor cannot commute a death sentence unless at least four of the seven justices concur.

But then: On March 28, the six sitting justices (there is one vacancy) signed an order that curbs their own power on matters of commutation. They said they would intervene only if governors abuse their power.

“The role of this court … is not to express a substantive view on the merits of an application; the court takes no position on whether the governor should, as an act of mercy or otherwise, extend clemency to a particular applicant.”

The order was a surprise.

Justices occasionally have intervened to block a governor’s commutation power. But the issue hasn’t come up in a death penalty case since the early 1960s. Now that executions have become more likely, the justices have made clear they will defer to governors who opt to show mercy.

A #MeToo turn-around

Traditionally, the Legislature slow-walked and fought release of records detailing sexual harassment by legislators and senior staffers.

No more, at least for now.

Legislative leaders are releasing records as they become available, as became apparent when the Senate disclosed by email late Thursday afternoon  a case against former Sen. Leland Yee’s chief of staff Adam Keigwin.

Keigwin, who works for Mercury Public Affairs in Sacramento, called the allegation “absolutely untrue.” His former boss, Yee, a San Francisco Democrat, pleaded guilty to selling his vote in a federal organized crime case, and was sentenced to five years in prison.

CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall is among the reporters who has been tenaciously seeking the records, and she has compiled the harassment complaints in this handy spreadsheet.

Our taxing tax system

CALmatters’ Dan Walters reports on a Franchise Tax Board analysis showing that the federal tax bill, approved by Congress and signed by President Trump last year, could cost California taxpayers $12 billion in higher federal taxes over time. That burden will fall heaviest on the wealthiest among us.

A reckoning. Sooner or later

In a hearing today, Sen. Steve Glazer will offer a bill to give new state workers a choice: sign up for a traditional defined benefit pension plan or opt for a 401(k) with a generous state match.

The Orinda Democrat believes a 401(k), with a match, could appeal to millennials, who might not plan to work for the state for 30 years and would want to take their retirement savings with them from job to job.

Public employee unions have come out in unison against the idea, and will show up in force at the hearing.

CALmatters’ Dan Walters on Sunday cited a new study of state pension systems, writing: “California’s contribution shortfall, in fact, was the nation’s sixth highest in relative terms.”

Glazer said of his bill:  “It is a small but important step forward to right-size our pension system. … If the legislature cannot fix the problem, then the only recourse is through the initiative process.”

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.