Capitol Alert

Loretta Sanchez accuses Kamala Harris of protecting ‘political cronies’ over California ratepayers

U.S. Senate candidate Loretta Sanchez greets supporters during primary election night at the Anaheim Brewery on June 7.
U.S. Senate candidate Loretta Sanchez greets supporters during primary election night at the Anaheim Brewery on June 7. TNS

Signaling an escalation in the U.S. Senate campaign, Rep. Loretta Sanchez on Thursday accused her opponent, state Attorney General Kamala Harris, of refusing to prosecute “well-documented, illegal” activity at the state regulatory agency amid a probe into the closure of the San Onofre nuclear power plant.

“The attorney general has made it clear that she would rather protect the PUC (Public Utilities Commission) and political cronies than the people of California,” Sanchez said in a stinging rebuke of Harris’ handling of the investigation. “She’s done nothing, basically. And the consumers have been left holding the bag.”

Sanchez, a Democrat from Orange County, and the underdog in the race, said the probe was being slowed by “inaction at the highest levels of state government,” and implored federal prosecutors in Washington to look into the activity.

“Ms. Harris’ failure to lead on this issue, I believe makes her the wrong choice for United States senator from California because I believe Californians need a senator that doesn’t bury the problems in the sand, but confronts them, moves people together (and) solves them,” she said.

The news conference in San Diego, where Sanchez was joined by former City Attorney Mike Aguirre and the ratepayer activist Maria Severson, injects a fresh jolt of politics into the longstanding legal morass surrounding the plant’s costly closure and plans to bury waste at the coastal site.

Last month, a state appellate court rebuffed efforts by Aguirre to obtain communications he says could have occurred between Gov. Jerry Brown and the PUC relating to the plant. Aguirre, who is appealing the decision, has repeatedly referred back to a meeting in Warsaw, Poland, where former PUC President Michael Peevey and ex-Edison executive Stephen Pickett hashed out the parameters of a deal that eventually assigned ratepayers with a $3.3 billion tab.

It has been nearly two years since Harris’ office served a search warrant on the PUC’s San Francisco headquarters, then followed up with a high-profile search of Peevey’s La Cañada-Flintridge home. Harris’ office stresses that the criminal investigation is ongoing, and that the statute of limitation has not expired, as Aguirre insists. Harris allies also have noted that the PUC has spent millions of dollars on private criminal attorneys.

Nathan Click, a spokesman for Harris’ Senate campaign, accused Sanchez of spreading falsehoods.

“Congresswoman Sanchez today is embarking on a deeply dishonest and negative campaign, falsely attacking and politicizing an ongoing criminal investigation,” Click said in a prepared statement responding to the news conference. “It’s what Californians have come to expect from Sanchez, who has been repeatedly criticized for her divisive attacks against Muslims, Native Americans and even President Obama.”

Sanchez praised outgoing Sen. Barbara Boxer for previously calling on the federal government to investigate San Onofre, and suggested that it’s impossible for Harris to fairly investigate the PUC while simultaneously defending in court Southern California Edison’s Coastal Commission permit to dispose of nuclear waste.

“Ms. Harris is completely conflicted in doing this,” Sanchez said. “Or, even sadder, she’s just been letting it go by ... hoping that she wins an election in November and she doesn’t have to deal with this, and she can pass it on to somebody else.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago