The Morning Jolt

Law & the Courts

Kamala Harris’s History of Jailing Parents of Truants

Making the click-through worthwhile: Kamala Harris sets the tone for the 2020 Democrats with some wild far-left plans, why the Koch network talks so much about charities and nonprofits, news and notes from the winter meeting, and a bit of perspective about forgiveness in American history.

Kamala Harris 2020: You Can’t Keep Your Plan, Your Car Is Banned, and If Your Kids Miss Class I’m Sending You to Jail

Last night, presidential candidate Kamala Harris participated in a town hall with CNN and announced that she wanted a Medicare-for-all plan that would eliminate all forms of private insurance. (If you like your plan . . . you can’t keep your plan.) She said she supports the Green New Deal — no follow up questions on banning private ownership of cars, banning internal-combustion engines entirely, and cutting the military in half.

Also last night, Twitter started buzzing about an old video of Harris talking about her decision to start prosecuting parents for the truancy of their children.

I believe a child going without an education is tantamount to a crime. So, I decided I was going to start prosecuting parents for truancy. Well, this was a little controversial in San Francisco! (laughs) Frankly, my staff went bananas. They were very concerned, at the time, we didn’t know at the time whether I was going to have an opponent in my reelection race. I said, look I’m done. This is a serious issue, and I’ve got a little political capital, and I’m going to spend some of it. And this is what we did. We recognized, as a prosecutor in law enforcement, I have a huge stuck. The school system has got a carrot. Let’s work in tandem around our collective objective and goal, which is to get those kids in school.

Maybe there’s something in the water out here in Indian Wells, but am I soft on crime if I think a situation of a student’s chronic truancy probably needs a social worker, and not the state AG or local DA threatening to put the parents in jail? How much teen truancy occurs with parental consent? How many parents of truant kids are dealing with some other significant issue — drug use, an absent parent, financial pressures, unusual working hours, or some other complication that enables the truancy? In the above video, Harris gleefully tells a story of a parent “freaking out” upon receiving the letter announcing the policy. Does that . . . sound like reassuring law-enforcement judgment to you?

We’re in an era during which we’re decriminalizing some drug offenses, repealing mandatory minimums, giving prosecutors and judges more discretion . . . and of course, Kamala Harris has never encountered an illegal immigrant she wanted to deport in a state full of sanctuary cities. But we’re going to throw parents of truant kids in prison? This is where we get tough and lock ‘em up?

“I believe a child going without an education is tantamount to a crime.” That sounds really good as an applause line in a speech, but “crime” should not become a synonym for “something bad” or “something tragic” in the minds of prosecutors. Because not every bad situation can be resolved by putting somebody in jail — particularly putting parents in jail in order to resolve a family problem.

But hey, if you like Harris’s views on jailing parents of truants, wait until you hear her views on civil-asset forfeiture!

Why the Koch Network Spends So Much Time Talking about Helping Nonprofits

This was the third Koch seminar network winter meeting I’ve covered, and some of the other reporters here are concluding that the group is attempting to depoliticize its image, or at least distance itself from its Tea Party–era association with so many Republicans.

Fairly or not, it will be a long time before anyone in the general public hears “Koch brothers” and doesn’t think of politics, particularly libertarian, small-government, generally right-of-center politics. As I’ve written before, the wealthy donors of the Koch network crowd are not necessarily Republican party loyalists and they’re not classic capital-L Libertarians either. They don’t talk about guns much. While they want to help fight drug addiction and see those convicted of drug offenses avoid prison, you don’t hear a ton of talk about marijuana legalization (although Mark Holden mentioned it to me during a brief interview). A lot of the network members are religious, but the group as a whole doesn’t really fit the traditional definition of “the religious right.” Controversies like abortion or gay marriage are never mentioned.

This year featured a new effort on fighting poverty including the “Giving Together Initiative.” By the end of the month, the Koch network’s social capital branch, Stand Together, will have handed out $20 million in grants to nonprofit organizations. What’s more, for the rest of 2019, they will match all donations of up to $1,000 to any of 115 nonprofits that are fighting poverty, from Ace Scholarships in eight states, to Bonton Farms in Dallas, to Coalfield Development in West Virginia (despite the name, it’s not about coal, it’s about job training), to Thistle Farms in Nashville to The Phoenix addiction recovery centers.

I get the feeling that some think spotlighting these nonprofits is the Koch network’s window dressing, or a way of softening their image, or an attempt to distract from the political fights they’ve been in over the years. But some of this reflects the fact that if you’re skeptical of the government’s ability to solve these problems, you want private organizations to step in, and you need these private organizations to be well-funded, well-managed, and well-connected. When you hear conservatives talking about Edmund Burke’s little platoons, this is pretty close to it — small, local, community-based organizations (although a lot of these plan to expand to new communities) that aim to get a homeless person a job and a roof over their head, an addict into a system for lasting recovery, an at-risk youth a path to continue his education, or a woman who’s been trafficked and abused a new life in a safe environment.

Assorted Notes from the Koch Network Winter Meeting

  • Russ Latino, vice president at Americans for Prosperity, noted that Louisiana is the only state in the country that requires a state license to be a florist. To acquire a florist’s license, you have pass a 40-question test and arrange flowers in a way that other florists deem adequate. How do you flunk? “Good God, man, you don’t put carnations and daisies together like that! That combination is more volatile than nitroglycerin!” (You know my position on the Second Amendment; but does it seem strange that you don’t need a license to purchase a gun in Louisiana, but you do need a license to be a florist?)
  • A discussion about the opioid crisis and how to fight it brought some unnerving observations from Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University.* “People have an opioid addiction or drug problem, they get put in the county jail, they dry out in a sense while they’re there,” Berman said. “When they’re released, they’re released back into the neighborhood and community they had been using, but their tolerance level goes down. I believe the statistic is you’re twelve times more likely to die from a drug overdose within weeks of being released from incarceration.”
  • Berman observed that research into reports from coroners in Ohio revealed that “one of the latest cutting-edge issues is that people are still dying with opioids in their system, but it’s not seemingly coming from heroin or direct use of fentanyl, it’s cocaine and methamphetamine that happens to be laced with fentanyl. Fentanyl is getting into the drug supply in a way that was unanticipated.” One of the ideas being discussed among drug policy analysts is whether it would make sense to give addicts a place to have their drugs tested for fentanyl. As Berman dryly observed, if an addict takes his drugs to the cops, worried the drugs might have fentanyl in them, the cops will arrest him.
  • Mark Holden, discussing Kim Kardashian’s influence on the commutation of the sentence of Alice Johnson and the passage of criminal-justice reform last year, said her role had to be “some divine intervention or something.”

Seriously, the way I understand it is that day she hadn’t looked at her phone, and she picked it up and it was Alice [who had posted a video essay about her life sentence on mic.com]. And the next thing you know [she retweeted it and it went viral and] it went all the way up to Jared Kushner. It went to the president, she met with the president, and the president okayed it. I met Kim Kardashian at the White House, we had a clemency reform meeting. She’s very serious about these issues. I knew who she was, my kids watch her, but I never had that much of an opinion on her. But I think it’s great she’s involved. She’s using her place in society for better.

*I know, I know, “THE Ohio State University.”

ADDENDUM: The next time you feel like your political side needs to take a particular course of action to “get back” at the opposition for some unforgivable act of wrongdoing, remember this: George Washington urged his countrymen to show mercy to the Tories after the American Revolution (with mixed results), and Abraham Lincoln urged citizens of the north to do the same to the former Confederacy (also with mixed results). And these men were addressing groups of foes that had tried to kill each other! And, with some notable exceptions, Americans did generally, eventually, grow to forgive and put their animosity behind them.

Kind of puts all of today’s endless vindictive score-settling and petty grievances into perspective, doesn’t it?

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