Death row, Gitmo and family leave

Good morning. On behalf of The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board, welcome to The Take, your opinion-politics newsletter. Please sign up for it here.

Here’s what’s on our mind: death row, Gitmo, the need to extend paid family leave, and a smart piece in National Review about why conservatives in Congress didn’t stand up to Donald Trump.

Taking a tour

As voters prepare to decide initiatives to abolish or speed the death penalty, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation opened death row at San Quentin for four hours Tuesday to 14 reporters and photographers.

Some sights: A new psych ward houses 40 of the most severely mentally ill condemned. It’s immaculate. Legal notices tacked to the walls detail plaintiffs’ attorneys fees paid in prisoners’ rights lawsuits. Lawyers in a case limiting inmates’ time in security housing units received $4.55 million, plus $176,915.61 in expenses. In another case, the lawyers made $2.375 million.

The sign at the entrance to the original death row, North Seg, reads “Condemned Row.” A Mickey Mouse clock hangs on the wall. “The happiest place on Earth,” is written beneath it. Some inmate painted murals of old war planes and ships on the walls.

North Seg is reserved for the most well-behaved, about 60 of the 726 men on California’s death row. They have the privilege of being able to walk on the cellblock, though they’re separated by steel bars from the officers.

One of them, who declined to give his name, has been on the row since 1990 for murdering five women in Southern California in 1984. He said there’s a waiting list to get onto North Seg. I’m not identifying him because as a condition of taking the tour, reporters agreed to department ground rules that we name only inmates who consented.

No one has been executed in California since 2006, and no one is likely to be any time soon. But they do die.

“I’ve had a whole lot of friends die of natural causes. You lose a lot of them,” said Keith Allen Lewis, sentenced in 1999 for the murder of a child in Alameda County.

Lewis, like the guy who didn’t want to be named, and many others, seem so normal. They’re not. Nothing about California’s system of capital punishment is.

Take a number: 83,669

A fascinating article in The National Review questions why conservatives in the so-called the Freedom Caucus didn’t challenge Donald Trump, as they did against other perceived apostates to their cause such as Speaker John Boehner. Pretty simple. Their voters are his voters. That explains why Rep. Tom McClintock, the Republican who lives in Elk Grove but represents the Sierra, is all-in for Trump. Trump received 83,669 votes in the June primary in McClintock’s district, more than any other district in the state. It is all about principle, principally saying in office.

Our take

Editorial: Being commander in chief is complicated. A case in point: the terrorist prison at Guantánamo Bay.

Editorial: Workers in other states may envy California’s paid family leave program. They don’t know that, for some 40 percent of workers, it’s effectively out of reach.

Nancy McPherson: Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León’s Secure Choice proposal will help workers save.

Paul Schott Stevens: Secure Choice is risky for workers and for the state.

Their take

Mercury News: Assemblywoman Autumn Burke’s Tesla-backed legislation requiring that California meets the 2025 zero-emissions target isn’t perfect and demands careful scrutiny from lawmakers. But the basic concept deserves support.

L.A. Times: The Times reluctantly endorsed Felipe Fuentes for L.A. City Council, noting that he was “smart enough to be really good one day, if he wants to be.” Apparently he doesn’t want to be. He’s quitting mid-term to become a Sacramento lobbyist.

Kansas City Star: At least Americans now aren’t forced to figure out how to live with a freed Thomas Blanton in their midst.

Lexington Herald-Leader: Here’s the story of The Kernel, and why the independent University of Kentucky student newspaper is important.

Denver Post: Austin James Wilkerson was convicted earlier this year of sexual assault on a helpless victim. His crime is all the more heinous given that his victim was drunk and Wilkerson assured her friends he would care for her.

The Trump follies

Donald Trump had a rather abnormal reaction to new polls that show him on the ropes. Hillary Clinton leads Trump nationally 50 percent to 41 percent, a new NBC News/SurveyMonkeyWeekly Election Tracking poll shows.

Things are more dicey in swing states. In Florida, Clinton is up 48 percent to 39 percent, says a Monmouth University survey released Tuesday. In Virginia, Clinton leads 52 percent to 38 percent among registered voters, a Washington Post poll says.

Trump’s response: “I don’t want to pivot.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell thinks the Republicans’ chances of retaining control of the Senate are “very dicey.” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is barnstorming from state to state to stump and raise money for down-ballot GOP candidates.

“The leader is not taking our majority in the House for granted,” spokesman Mike Long told Politico.

When a loose cannon like Trump is your party’s nominee for president, desperate times call for desperate measures. – Erika D. Smith, @Erika_D_Smith


Let Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party Candidate Jill Stein participate in the presidential debates. – Jeff Schwartz, Woodland Hills.