What Kamala Harris Hopes We Will Forget
Quentin Kopp on Kamala Harris’s sketchy early career as a California DA.
Reason Magazine provides a public service by reminding us what Kamala Harris would have us forget: Until her recent about-face, Harris was a hardcore drug warrior and draconian prosecutor.
Her record as a prosecutor isn’t the only thing Harris has to explain heading into the general election. With Joe Biden’s health in question, she has quickly become the most important Vice Presidential nominee in recent memory — yet little has been said about her early career in the Bay Area as a District Attorney and rising star in the Democratic Party.
This Sunday, I’m joined by former San Francisco Supervisor and Judge Quentin Kopp — an elder statesman and fiercely independent veteran of California politics — to discuss his eye-opening article on a little-known story of corruption from Harris’s early days as SF District Attorney. From earning multiple salaries for cushy political appointments, to denying knowledge of a hush-money settlement paid to a top aide over sexual harassment allegations, the Democratic Vice Presidential hopeful has quite a bit of explaining to do.
Kopp, who recently resigned from the San Francisco Ethics Commission (calling it a waste of taxpayer dollars), has also became the chief critic of the High Speed Rail effort he led back in 2008. As it stands, he says the project has watered down the original vision too much, while the price tag has exploded.
What Kamala Harris Hopes We Will Forget
published on Reason Magazine provides a public service by reminding us what Kamala Harris would have us forget: Until…
We’ll discuss his new effort to found a third party in California for Independents under the banner of “Common Sense “ to bring about the change that a majority of Californians want, but which neither party seems capable of delivering.
Don’t miss the live conversation, this Sunday (9/6, 8–9am PACIFIC), and call in with your questions for Quentin about Harris, High Speed Rail, or whatever else is on your mind.
Bob Zadek: Welcome to the Bob Zadek show, the longest running, live libertarian talk radio show in all of radio — always the show of ideas, never once the show of attitude.
These are difficult times politically. It’s hard to see into the future, and it’s really hard to keep faith in the government our founders have given us. It’s very difficult, and I speak from my own mind and from my own heart.
I’ve invited this morning’s guest, Quentin Kopp, because his career has been long and productive, replete with integrity from the moment he took the first oath of office. He has been an effective judge and legislator both at the city and the state level. Everything that Quentin Kopp has done has been independent of political influence — effective, smart, with no hidden agenda other than to do the right thing. It’s important that we remind ourselves that these public officials do exist, and that they will continue to exist. They represent, in my opinion, the hope for the future of our state, our city, and our national government.
Quentin has been a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the legislative body governing San Francisco, and was a member of the California State Senate. He was also a California state court judge in all positions. As I said, he served with intelligence, integrity, independence, and effectiveness. He also just missed beating then mayoral candidate Diane Feinstein for the mayoral post in San Francisco in 1979.
Quentin Kopp was also the principal sponsor for the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Last time he was on the show, we discussed the High-Speed Rail Authority, and what has happened to the project. Although myself and the listeners out there have had a visceral reaction against high-speed rail as a boondoggle, the original high-Speed rail proposal that Quentin first put before the voters was one I could support, and I daresay my listeners could support.
A Failed Promise: California High-Speed Rail Project Example of Corruption
Bob Zadek: Now, Quentin, I’d like to start the show revisiting how a policy such as high-speed rail was presented to the voting public as one that made sense. I could have supported it, and probably did, back when it was on the ballot in the early 21st century in California, but it got corrupted (I’m not suggesting due to dishonesty, but maybe there was some of that). Tell us briefly about your thought process, in creating the High-Speed Rail Authority. What was the vision and what happened?
Quentin Kopp: High speed rail in California as presented to voters in November of 2008 in the form of a state general obligation bond issue in the amount of $9,950,000,000, and was supposed to be from San Francisco to Los Angeles, over the San Luis Pass to Merced, from Gilroy, after a stop in San Jose, and from Merced all the way to Los Angeles, and then from Los Angeles to Anaheim in Orange County. That was the so-called first segment, and thereafter, as money was available, high-speed rail would be extended from Anaheim to San Diego on the south, and from Merced to Sacramento on the north. The concept financially was that the state ceded money from the $9,950,000,000 general obligation bond issue approved by voters in 2008, supplemented by federal funding and private investment, as high-speed rail in other countries makes a profit.
That’s the rationale for a private company to invest in it. We also thought there could be some local and regional money invested, particularly in places where a high-speed rail train station would be the fulcrum for economic development that would generate income and revenue for local and regional government. To make it short, after I retired from the San Mateo County Superior Court in 2004, I served as a state senate appointee to the High-Speed Rail commission. I was then elected President of the commission immediately and stayed for three years to get us through the 2008 campaign to pass the bondage. Among other things, that bond issue specified there’ll be no taxpayer money used for operational expenses. When I left that board in 2010, people in Atherton in Menlo Park in Palo Alto, and to some extent in Burlingame, California, the San Francisco peninsula demanded that high speed rail not acquire any right of way for itself, and would have to use the right of way of the Caltrain system, which is the commuter rail system that runs from San Jose to San Francisco.
High-speed rail throughout the world, in Europe and Asia operates on its own right-of-way, which meant that additional right-of-way would need to be acquired. People complained about losing properties that might be needed for a specific right-of-way for high-speed rail, and induced their representatives in the legislature to pass a bill prohibiting any further right-of-way on the San Francisco Peninsula. After Jerry Brown became governor, the High-Speed Rail Board changed the plan so that the first segment wouldn’t be from San Francisco to Los Angeles, but from Merced to Bakersfield in the Central Valley.
It also wouldn’t be electrified, but would be conventional, diesel-operated rail, and it wouldn’t be from Merced to Bakersfield, but actually from Coachella to Wasco, about 30 miles north of Bakersfield in Kern County, which is the present plan. Of the $9,950,000,000, there’s about 5 billion or so left unspent. The project is no longer high-speed rail, as it is in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, France, Spain, Germany, and other countries throughout Europe and Asia — it’s conventional rail, and it is laundering taxpayer money. It should be stopped and reformed, or the remaining money in the bond issue should be used to supplement commuter rail services in the San Francisco Peninsula and Los Angeles Basin, dividing it between the Metro Link system and the Caltrain system.
“After Jerry Brown became governor, the High-Speed Rail Board changed the plan so that the first segment wouldn’t be from San Francisco to Los Angeles, but from Merced to Bakersfield in the Central Valley. It also wouldn’t be electrified, but would be conventional, diesel-operated rail, and it wouldn’t be from Merced to Bakersfield, but actually from Coachella to Wasco.”
Bob Zadel: When voters voted for the bond issue, they weren’t voting for a boondoggle. They weren’t voting for a budget that got as high as 80 or $90 billion. They made a promise. The bond issue was pretty clear if I’m not mistaken — there was a commitment to voters. There was a promise that the project would not go forward unless there was proof that it would be cash flow positive. There never was that proof, but it went forward anyway. Am I correct in accurately describing the promise made to voters?
Quentin Kopp: You are indeed correct, and the promise also included specific speeds from San Francisco to Los Angeles, in two 2 hours and 40 minutes. Likewise, from Fresno to San Jose in 65 minutes.
Bob Zadek: Therefore, the proposal you sponsored contained a sacred promise to voters. When you vote for this, this is what you will get. Once the wealthy homeowners of south San Francisco got the bill through the legislature in Sacramento denying high-speed rail right-of-way, the project at that moment couldn’t meet its promises, and therefore had to be closed up if the promise was sincere. However, it proceeded anyway.
Now, you were in the process of mitigating against the very agency you helped create. Tell us briefly about the litigation. What prompted you to litigate against the agency that you helped form, and that you gave life to with the successful bond issue.
Quentin Kopp: The Caltrain system is governed by a board composed of three people from Santa Clara County, three from San Mateo County, and three from the city and county of San Francisco, and is a joint powers authority created by the legislature in the early 1990s. That system has succeeded beyond my expectations before the pandemic occurred. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission researched and published the fact that the Fairfax recovery ratio for Caltrain, which is not an electrified system, was 73.5% highest in the Bay Area.
Not only people from San Mateo County, but from San Francisco and Santa Clara County have increased ridership on Caltrain. Caltrain should be electrified, and it has obtained money to electrify with an estimated cost of almost 2.5 million dollars. Two years ago, a San Mateo County legislator introduced a bill, which, contrary the law, used about 775 million from the High-Speed Rail general obligation bond issue of November 2008 to reach that goal of raising two and a half billion dollars to electrify Caltrain.
We five, with eight or nine others, filed suit in the Sacramento Superior Court to abnegate that action on the grounds it was illegal and violated the provisions of that general obligation bond of Proposition 1A in November 2008. We lost in the Sacramento County Superior Court, and the case is on appeal in the California Court of Appeal of the first district, which is in Sacramento. It is a sorry state of affairs when the legislature disregards the law, and disregards a promise made to voters and taxpayers as to how the proceeds of that $9 billion general obligation bond issue should be spent. Caltrain, while it has been succeeding beyond my expectations, is not high-speed rail.
“It is a sorry state of affairs when the legislature disregards the law”
Bob Zadek: Now, the reason I wanted you to tell this story, and the reason your career in government gives me hope, is that you started to make sure that promise that you made via prop 1A was being honored. That action on your part gives us some hope that there are public officials out there who make a promise to voters and keep it.
Looking into Kamala Harris’s Background of Lies and Opportunism
Bob Zadek: One of the reasons I asked you to be on the show this morning is because we have a presidential election before us and the vice-presidential nominee, Kamala Harris, had her entire career in California as Attorney General. Most of her career was about law and order, good government, and being an aggressive public servant.
You have had the experience of being active in government and observing the rise of her career, and you recently published a piece about government in which there was a fair amount devoted to Kamala Harris with interesting stories that give us some insight into her career, and how she got to be the presidential nominee. It also tells us with unfortunate cynicism about how government works under the hood, so share with us your experience with Kamala Harris, and what you wrote about in your recent piece.
Commentary - Quentin Kopp
Once upon a time, presidential campaigns were relatively short. Not now in the era of Trump, especially for Democrats…
Quentin Kopp: I’ve had no virtually no experience with her. I’m basing my comments on the public record. She appeared as a candidate for district attorney in San Francisco in 2003, and had previously been hired by the incumbent district attorney, the late Terrence Allen, as a deputy district attorney, and then she ran against him. Before that, she was appointed to the California unemployment insurance appeals board by then assembly speaker Willie Brown in 1993. That paid her $97,000 per year while she was working as a prosecutor.
The following year he appointed her to the higher-paying California Medical commission that has the responsibility of regulating the practice of medicine in California in 2003. Under San Francisco law, provided that if you agreed under oath with a written statement to spend no more than $250,000 on your campaign, that promise would appear in the voter information hand books distributed to every registered voter before the election. It was an advantage to have such a promise printed in the voter information handbook, and she signed the requisite written form under penalty of perjury in 2003 as part of her campaign against the person who had made her a Deputy Prosecutor with a salary of six figures in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.
After spending $1,150,000 on her campaign, she filed a form with the San Francisco Ethics Commission that administered this program, stating she would not abide by the $250,000 spending limitation. Unfortunately, the voter information handbook had already been given to the printer and was printed. It was too late to change it in her name after having agreed to this principled promise not to spend more than a quarter of a million on her campaign. The violation was clear, and the maximum penalty for violating that spending promise was a fine of $275,000 and a prohibition against running for any public office in the city and county of San Francisco.
“The violation was clear, and the maximum penalty for violating that spending promise was a fine of $275,000 and a prohibition against running for any public office in the city and county of San Francisco.”
For five years, the San Francisco Ethics Commission, which is a toothless convention, assessed her $34,000 after the election, in which she defeated Mr. Allen, and who agreed to and abided by the $250,000 spending limit. She was the deputy district attorney at the time she ran, and violated her own written promise under oath. She’s a liar, and that’s the person who is the vice-presidential candidate of the Democratic Party.
Bob Zadek: Now, lest our listeners would think that you are clearly just joining the right in making accusations against Kamala Harris, it must be mentioned that you have always been politically independent. That will be a segue into our next part of our conversation this morning.
Quentin Kopp: I was a registered Democrat from the time I was first eligible to vote (that time, you couldn’t vote until you were 21) until May of 1985. In May of 1985 I re registered as an independent, and I’ve been an independent ever since. I was elected to the California State Senate in 1986, as the first non-incumbent independent since 1876. Then, I was the first independent in the State Senate to ever be reelected as an independent in 1990. Last time I was reelected was in 1994.
“She’s a liar, and that’s the person who is the vice-presidential candidate of the Democratic Party.”
Bob Zadek: Before we leave the subject of Kamala Harris, she has a bit of a challenge before her, because she was a fairly extreme drug warrior, although now her position seems to have softened because she is so purely political. She was quite aggressive in prosecuting low-level drug crimes, and she strongly supported civil asset forfeiture. We have had many shows on civil asset forfeiture here at the Bob Zadek show, and of course vehemently oppose civil asset forfeiture. It is policing-for-profit as has often been said, and she has been very protective of the police being able to take somebody’s property. Now, she may have softened her position. She also opposed marijuana legalization as recently as 2014.
Now, of course, the winds of change are before us and she no doubt will adjust that position. Not so well known of her prosecutorial career is she vehemently supported keeping a convicted felon in jail after he had served 13 years and was found to be wrongly convicted in the exoneration project, an organization that tries to get people who are wrongly convicted out of jail. The exoneration project supported his release, but she continued to oppose it, even though he was serving a 27-year sentence for the crime of using a knife as a dangerous weapon. He was in prison for 13 years, and yet she opposed his exoneration. Ultimately, he was released, but she was a very aggressive law and order advocate in her career.
At best, it simply shows she was opportunistic and went with the times. Now that those positions are no longer are not politically viable, she will conveniently change — not that she has a monopoly on hypocrisy, but she certainly has no monopoly on integrity, either.
San Francisco Ethics Commission: “Toothless,” “Waste of Taxpayer Money”
Bob Zadek: Now, Quentin, you had mentioned earlier in talking about Kamala Harris the San Francisco Ethics Commission. And it’s interesting that you did that. You were asked to serve on that very same Ethics Commission. One would think you would have found a home, because now you get a chance to root out unethical public officials. This would seem to me to be your dream job, getting rid of the bad guys, but then you quit.
What’s that all about, Quentin?
Quentin Kopp: I was appointed in the beginning of 2016 by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and filled an unexpired term of a prior appointee of the board of supervisors who had resigned. I was then reappointed the following year for a four-year term and resigned in 2018. I did so because I concluded the Ethics Commission was toothless. It was wasting taxpayer money with a budget of over $7 million a year.
What finally was the straw that broke my back was the report of an investigation of a former San Francisco Mayor, Willie Brown, regarding a transaction in which he was the lobbyist for a Chinese manufacturer of light rail cars that wanted to bid on and get an award of a San Francisco contract to supply 3,040 new light rail cars to the San Francisco municipal railway. He arranged a meeting with the then Mayor for that purpose, and with representatives of the Chinese manufacturer, Brown’s legal associate, as well as the vice president of the bank of San Francisco, which would finance the transaction floor. He and the Chinese company failed to sign a form that requires you to state your name, who you represent, and the matter on which you are meeting with the mayor to discuss, and somebody filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission. The investigators then made a report to the Ethics Commission almost two years later in which they concluded they shouldn’t proceed with a formal hearing against him.
I asked what the investigation consisted of, and was told they didn’t interview Brown — they interviewed his attorney. They didn’t interview his legal associate — they interviewed that same attorney who was representing both of them. The same was true with the vice president of the financing bank. They didn’t put any interviewee under oath before interviewing. When I discovered that, I said it was senseless for me to try to spend time because the commission never brought any cases against anybody.
There were only a couple that were pending and were disposed of with settlement agreements and payment of minor fines. One candidate for mayor some years before that was fined about 10% of what the maximum was for failing to provide information on donations and expenditures to and of his campaign, and he’s running now for the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco after such a violation. So, it was not a good use of my time and that’s the reason for the resignation. Since then, (about two years ago) I haven’t seen a single case brought by the Ethics Commission. That’s $9 million a year of taxpayer money, just for show with no substance.
There was a recent appointment by the Board of Supervisors of Larry Bush, who has been president, and one of the Founders and Friends of Ethics, who is probably the most knowledgeable person in San Francisco about City Hall chicanery, and I have some optimism that they’ll be able to generate some changes. Those changes might include a new executive director, and it ought to include changing the rules for hiring investigators, because what you need as investigators is experience. You need retired FBI agents or retired police department detectives investigating. You won’t get them if they have to go through civil service — they’re not going to spend the time to do so.
The Inception of the Common Sense Party
Bob Zadek: Now, the last topic I would like to cover this morning is one that really put a spring in my step. I have lived all of my voting life on the political fringes, and I noticed that you popped up yet again in my life as one of the leaders and sponsors of a third party — the common sense party, with some interference due to the pandemic. So, for our listeners out there who care about how the government works, please share with us your concept of the common sense party and what you hoped to accomplish.
Quentin Kopp: I’d be pleased to do that. I was invited about two years ago by Tom Campbell, who now teaches law at Chapman University School of Law in Orange County. I served with him in the State Senate, and he’s also been in the House of Representatives. He’s probably the smartest person that I’ve ever seen in elective office, and I was invited to join others and him in forming a new party. For practical purposes, this is a one-party state, and is controlled entirely by the Democratic Party, which has over a two thirds majority of Democrats in the assembly, two thirds majority in the State Senate and in every state office, from Attorney General to the Secretary of State to comptroller.
Republican registration is somewhere around 23% or more, and more people are registered as independents. There are other parties too — the American Independent party, which was started by one-time and presidential nominee George Wallace, the Green Party, and the Libertarian Party. As you said, this is an idea of a party just for California, and now it successfully could be used in other states and as a major national party.
The goal is to get 68,000 registered voters, which you need to qualify as a political party in the Secretary of State and become certified as a political party. The principles of the party are to promote candidates whether or not they’re members of the common sense party or any party who are fiscally conservative, believe in fiscal discipline and spending taxpayer money, are socially inclusive with respect to race or gender, religion, age, and sexual orientation, are compassionate for Californians who can’t take care of themselves, and are independent thinkers basing decisions on facts rather than adherence to the orthodoxy of any other political party.
The pandemic stopped us from getting 68,000 registered voters. We had about 19,000 to 20,000 registered as Common Sense Party members as of March 8 of this year when the governor issued his first executive order that effectively stops signature gatherers from doing that in shopping centers or malls or in front of grocery stores or any place where people congregate. That’s happened in six or seven other states, both with respect to party inauguration and also ballot measures.
In California, with respect to ballot measures of the Secretary of State, we were allowed to be qualified for the ballot in November without obtaining the necessary initiative signatures, and we filed suit both in US District Court for the Eastern District of California and Sacramento in the Sacramento County Superior guard to accomplish that.
Bob Zadek: Fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Hmm. Sounds kind of libertarian to me. Is that just a coincidence?
Quentin Kopp: It’s a coincidence. We meet every week by telephone. I hadn’t thought about the fact. Nobody’s mentioned the word libertarian.
Bob Zadek: Well, tell your buddies that I’ve mentioned it. Now, Quentin. When you come back, I’m going to ask you as the first question to share with us all your lawsuit against the US civil service of all things questioning Don Trump Jr.’s trip to India. That’s a teaser to our friends out there so they email me to invite you back.