In summary

Kamala Harris ends presidential campaign. PG&E wants to give coolers to low-income residents during power shutoffs. Why it’s hard to punish car burglars.

Good morning, California.

“Too bad. We will miss you Kamala!”—President Donald Trump, tweeted after Kamala Harris announced she was abandoning her presidential candidacy.

Kamala Harris confronts reality

A pro-Kamala Harris super-PAC canceled plans for a $1-million ad buy in Iowa after Harris dropped out on Tuesday.

On Monday, East Bay mega-donor Quinn Delaney gave $500,000 to fund an ad intended to boost Sen. Kamala Harris’ sputtering presidential campaign, and Gov. Gavin Newsom made plans to stump for her in Iowa. 

On Tuesday, Harris put her campaign out of its misery, becoming the first candidate who once was in the top tier to quit the Democratic primary race, sparing Newsom from spending part of December in Des Moines, and saving her wealthy backers from spending $1 million-plus on the Iowa ad buy. 

Chicken or egg: 

Promising start: 

  • Harris began seriously considering a run as soon as Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016. 
  • Hoping to give her a hometown advantage, Harris’ operatives pushed for 2017 legislation that moved California’s presidential primary up to March.
  • She drew 20,000 people to downtown Oakland for her kick-off in January. 

Her fundraising was middling, she failed to connect in the early voting state of South Carolina, a state she thought she could win, and she fell into single digits in polls.

The L.A. Times reported that a Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll done for The Times showed likely Democratic primary voters in California thought Harris should quit the race by 61% to 24%.

PG&E’s plan to stop food spoilage

PG&E CEO William Johnson testified at the Senate in November.

PG&E is proposing to give coolers to low-income customers living in wildfire-prone areas where deliberate blackouts are likely, starting in January 2021 at the earliest, CalMatters reporter Jackie Botts found. 

The offer is contingent on California Public Utilities Commission approval.

In a filing in November, PG&E proposed to provide what it calls cold storage units to poor people in zones subject to blackouts.

  • PG&E has identified 67,000 low-income customers in fire zones who qualify for reduced energy. They could receive what PG&E spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo called “best-in-class” coolers “that can store medicine that requires refrigeration and frozen foods for more than 24 hours.”
  • PG&E: “This measure mitigates the hardship of loss of food and medication requiring refrigeration for the customers most likely to have their power shut off.”

Advocates say the coolers would be too little, too late. 

  • Mark Toney, executive director of The Utility Reform Network: “I think many people will feel it’s a poor substitute for the reliable, safe power we rely on every month of the year.”

PG&E can’t yet answer how customers would get the coolers, what volume the coolers would hold, or how long they would keep items cold beyond a day.

Answers to those questions are relevant for people who buy food in bulk and freeze it to make it last.

To read Botts’ report on the impact of PG&E’s power shutdowns on low-income households, please click here.

The old car burglary loophole

Sen. Scott Wiener

A quirk in California criminal law allows car burglaries, a scourge in San Francisco and rising statewide, to go unpunished, The L.A. Times’ Patrick McGreevy reports.

The loophole: Prosecutors say their hands are tied because they must prove that the car door was locked to win a car burglar conviction, even if the crook busted out a window to gain entry.

Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, has failed two years running to win passage of the bill to close that loophole.

  • Wiener: “While it defies logic, the fact that a victim’s window was broken does not by itself establish that the vehicle was locked.”
  • The Times explains: “Lawmakers struggling with prison crowding and public pressure to enact criminal justice reform have been reluctant to do anything to put more people behind bars.”

However: Certain old-timers will remember that efforts to change the law date at least to 1997, when lawmakers were tough on crime and Republican Pete Wilson was governor. Then-Assemblyman Steve Kuykendall, a Republican, carried legislation to close the loophole. His bill failed to get out of its first committee.

A possible reason: Without requiring proof that a burgled car was locked, people who merely entered an unlocked car for shelter could face a felony, the legislative staff analysis noted.

From ‘fake news’ to ‘guilty’

California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter,plans to plead guilty to the misuse of campaign funds at a federal court hearing Tuesday in San Diego
Congressman Duncan Hunter walks toward the federal courthouse where he pleaded guilty on Tuesday. (AP Photo)

Moments after securing a guilty plea from Congressman Duncan Hunter, Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Halpern answered Hunter’s claim that he was the victim of “fake news” and a “witch hunt.”

Morgan Cook.

Cook is The San Diego Union Tribune reporter who, with her colleagues, started digging into Hunter’s use of campaign money in 2016, after the Federal Elections Commission issued a letter questioning Hunter’s use of campaign funds to purchase video games and pay for his kids’ tuition at a Christian school in El Cajon.

Halpern, outside the San Diego federal courthouse: 

  • “The fact is that the case began when Morgan Cook published an article in the U-T. I read that article. I discussed it with [colleagues] … I went to the FBI and we said, ‘Look at this. Is there a case?’ … Nothing could have been more a-political.”

Hunter and his wife, Margaret, were indicted in 2018 on federal charges of using $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses.

  • On Tuesday, Hunter admitted to a single count of conspiracy to misuse campaign money starting in 2010 to 2016. 

Hunter, a Republican and former Marine, was elected in 2009 to a North San Diego County seat held by his father. He endorsed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign early, and invoked Trump’s language to denounce his accusers.

  • Halpern: “No figure, regardless of what office they occupy, should be allowed in this country to cry witch-hunt or fake news and attempt to deflect their criminal wrongdoings.”

Hunter’s sentencing is set for March 17.

Commentary at CalMatters

Ted Lempert, Children Now: From criminal justice reform to environmental stewardship to humane immigration policies, California’s leaders make the state a model of effective governance for the federal government and other states. But no matter how you look at it, the state ranks near the bottom of states when it comes to our kids.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: The state has more than enough money to finance the 2020-21 budget, so the issue will be whether to save or spend a surplus. Schools will be clamoring for more aid.


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Dan Morain joined CalMatters in March 2018. He is the former editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee. Morain also spent 27 years at The Los Angeles Times, and has covered the Capitol since 1992.

Jackie covered income inequity and economic survival for the The California Divide collaboration from 2019 through 2021. She was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting in 2021 for a Reuters...