In the race for Attorney General, Kamala Harris emphasizing she will be a tough enforcer of law protecting the environment won’t be enough to blunt Steve Cooley’s attack that Harris is soft on the death penalty.

In the debate between Los Angeles D.A. Steve Cooley and San Francisco D.A. Kamala Harris at UC Davis yesterday, Cooley went right for the death penalty issue with his opening comment. Harris emphasized environmental issues in an attempt to connect with voters and to avoid her controversial stand on the death penalty.

Cooley spoke of Harris’s refusal to pursue the death penalty for the killer of San Francisco Police Officer Isaac Espinoza. Cooley was quick to point out his endorsement from the Espinoza family, who earlier this week issued a tough press release stating in part: "Kamala Harris’ arrogant contempt for the sacrifice of law enforcement officers, for the rule of law and for the will of the people has disqualified her from being California’s chief law enforcement officer. She is simply not worthy."  

Harris wanted to talk about environmental laws, law enforcement innovation … perhaps anything but the two issues that have been highlighted on her record, Espinoza’s killing and the murder of a father and his two sons by an illegal immigrant who had benefited from San Francisco’s sanctuary city doctrine.

Harris seemed frustrated in the debate’s early going as the debate centered on the death penalty issue. She said the job of Attorney General should not be centered on one issue. Then she was immediately hit by a question from one of the reporters on the panel about her ability to overcome her own feelings when carrying out the death penalty.

Cooley pointed out that 47 out of 47 law enforcement agencies had endorsed him for Attorney General. He implied his stand on the death penalty had a great deal to do with the law enforcement agencies’ decisions.

Harris’s stand on crime in the liberal city of San Francisco will be a difficult problem for her as she campaigns statewide. As a Los Angeles Times headline declared recently:  Kamala Harris’ San Francisco Credentials May Not Fly in Rest of the State.

Harris vowed to carry out the death penalty law as Attorney General. In turn, Cooley listed his success enforcing environmental statutes while he took a shot at the current AG and gubernatorial candidate, Jerry Brown, saying Brown may have overreached with environmental lawsuits that have hurt the business community.

The death penalty issue carries a lot of emotion, especially considering the San Francisco cases that continue to haunt Harris. I may be old fashioned but I believe for the voters of California the death penalty issue, tied to Harris’s history in San Francisco with the notorious murder cases, will trump her vision of innovative crime fighting.

(Full disclosure: my son is a volunteer on the Cooley campaign.)