Good morning, California.

“California’s death penalty system is ‘expensive and dysfunctional.’ And it violates foundational principles—like equal justice before the law and the timely administration of justice—upon which our entire legal system is built.” —Gov. Gavin Newsom, lauding a concurring opinion by Justices Goodwin Liu and Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar criticizing the capital punishment system.

Justices speak out on death penalty...

Then-Gov. Jerry Brown with California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu, Jan. 3.

Two weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom put a halt to the death penalty, two California Supreme Court justices took the extraordinary step Thursday of putting into writing the obvious:

“California’s death penalty is an expensive and dysfunctional system that does not deliver justice or closure in a timely manner, if at all.”

Justices Goodwin Liu and Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar voted with the other five justices in a unanimous decision upholding the death sentence of Thomas Potts.

  • In 1997, Potts broke into Fred and Shirley Jenks’ Hanford home, and stabbed and hacked the elderly couple to death.

“[O]ur decision affirming the judgment does not alter a fundamental reality: A death sentence in California has only a remote possibility of ever being carried out.”

Then-Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Liu and Cuéllar. In their opinion, they echoed critiques of the capital punishment system by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, appointed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and her predecessor, Ron George, appointed by Pete Wilson.

  • Liu and Cuéllar were pointed in their criticism of Proposition 66, the voter-approved initiative that promised to speed executions, saying it “did not enact or put to the voters the key reforms that leading authorities consider fundamental to a workable death penalty system.”
  • The justices’ bottom line: “The judiciary will continue to do its duty under the law, leaving it to the voters and our elected representatives to decide whether California should double down on the current system or chart a new course.”


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And so do voters

San Quentin State Prison has dismantled the execution chamber.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision two weeks ago to impose a moratorium on the death penalty tracked with the sentiment of California voters, a new poll shows.

The Public Policy Institute of California survey issued earlier this week showed that by 58-38 percent margin, likely voters believe murderers should be sentenced to life in prison without parole, rather than given death sentences.

CALmatters’ Ben Christopher reported: “That’s the lowest level of support for the death penalty since the institute began asking nearly two decades ago, said its president Mark Baldassare.”

  • In 2000, likely voters favored death sentences by a 49-46 percent margin.

The new poll shows Newsom is particularly aligned with voters who are part of his base:

  • Democrats support sentences of life without parole rather than death by a 76-21 percent margin.
  • Voters ages 18-44 support life-without-parole sentences 64-32 percent.
  • College grads support it 64-33 percent.
  • Naturalized citizens support it 65-35 percent.

Newsom is a moral opponent of capital punishment. He’s also a canny politician.

State gives Wells Fargo a second chance

Wells Fargo is once again bidding on state bond sales.

California Treasurer Fiona Ma believes San Francisco-based banking giant Wells Fargo has paid a hefty enough price for its various misdeeds, including systematically opening accounts for unwitting customers.

  • Ma’s predecessor, John Chiang, reacted to the bank account scandal in 2016 by barring Wells Fargo from doing certain types of business with the state, including being the lead underwriter on any of the billions in bonds issued by the Treasurer’s office.
  • With no fanfare, Ma, a Democrat elected in November, concluded in February that Wells Fargo had spent enough time in what she called the “penalty box.”

“Three years in the penalty box has been long enough.”

Earlier this week, Wells Fargo won a competitive bid on the sale of $420 million in general obligation bonds. It is expected to bid to become lead underwriter on future bond deals.

  • Wells Fargo Chief Executive Tim Sloan announced his retirement Thursday, a step Ma applauded.
  • The L.A. Times reported that Sloan had “struggled to get the giant San Francisco bank past a seemingly endless series of customer abuse scandals.”

Ma: “I think they have been proactively taking care of the scandals.”

She also cited the company’s value to California: “Wells Fargo has been in business and headquarters in California since 1849. They employ 40,000 people in California. … North Carolina was wooing them.”


Newsom rattles saber at PG&E

Gov. Gavin Newsom warns PG&E on board appointments.

Pacific Gas & Electric again pushed back its deadline Friday for nominating candidates for its board of directors Thursday, a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom demanded that PG&E cease what he fears is the utility’s plan to install new executives from outside California and “hedge fund financiers” on its board.

The state’s largest utility is in bankruptcy, faces billions in costs from wildfires sparked by its equipment, and is on criminal probation from a deadly 2010 explosion on a gas line it owned in San Bruno.

  • In the Capitol, officials worry that PG&E could install directors offered by hedge funds, possibly including Elliott Management and others.
  • Bloomberg has reported a group of investors—Knighthead Capital Management, Redwood Capital Management and Abrams Capital Management—that own about 10 percent of PG&E’s shares have been in discussions over the board for week.

Newsom’s letter to PG&E’s interim chief executive officer, John Simon:

“With this move, PG&E would send a clear message that it is prioritizing quick profits for Wall Street over public safety and reliable and affordable energy service.”

And: “I strongly urge you to reconsider and appoint board members who understand the imperative for change and the need to prioritize the interests of the people of California. PG&E’s board should be comprised by a majority of Californians who have experience as regulators, safety experts and clean energy leaders.”

PG&E is privately held, but California has leverage.

  • Newsom can speak from a powerful bully pulpit.
  • Legislators could affect its operation in a variety of ways.
  • The California Public Utilities Commission could intervene in bankruptcy court and object to reorganization that would harm ratepayers.

PG&E: “We recognize the importance of adding perspectives to the board that will bring about the right changes in safety, as well as help address the serious operational and financial challenges the business faces now and in the future.”

Note: This item has been updated.

Sacramento Dems silent on Mueller report

The Capitol resistance is no longer talking about Russian collusion.

White House critics in the California statehouse have been at “peak snark” since Gov. Gavin Newsom took office, but since Robert S. Mueller III handed in his report finding no Trump collusion with Russia last weekend, the reaction from California Democrats has been “crickets,” CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall writes.

Rosenhall: “In the hours and days following Mueller’s revelations, prominent Democratic state leaders took to Twitter to talk about abortion access, college funding, homelessness, gun violence—almost anything, it seemed, other than Russia.”

As far as we can tell, Newsom’s first public remarks on the report didn’t occur until Tuesday. Turns out there are good reasons for the Capitol Democrats’ muted reaction. For the backstory and analysis, click here.

Take a number: 8,700

Long Beach Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez.

California’s 40 state Senate districts have an average population of 931,349.

Democratic Long Beach City Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez is all but assured of winning a Senate seat after she received 8,700 votes in a special election Tuesday.

That made her the top vote-getter in the race to replace Ricardo Lara, who left the Senate when he was elected Insurance Commissioner. Gonzalez will face Republican Jack M. Guerrero, a Cudahy city councilman, in the June runoff. He was runner-up with 4,224 votes.

Commentary at CALmatters

California's housing crisis needs to be addressed.

Jared Martin, California Association of Realtors: California’s 4.2 percent unemployment rate is at a 10-year low. Wages are accelerating at their fastest pace in nearly a decade. But prospective home buyers continue to see sticker shock, with median prices still hovering in the $530,000 range. The affordability problem must be addressed and fast if California is to remain a place where middle class people can live.

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See you Monday.