[guest post by JVW]
Here’s a news item from last month which escaped my notice. Do you all recall Esteban Nuñez, the son of former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez? Patterico wrote about him nearly a decade ago when then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger reduced the younger Nuñez’s sentence for manslaughter stemming from his participation in an attack at a San Diego State fraternity party which left a college student dead. The arrangement was unseemly, poorly-considered, and, by the governor’s own admission, a one hand washes the other gift from one politico to another. In many ways it was the perfect capstone to Arnie’s awful second term as governor, and it justly remains a stain on his legacy to this day.
So I was a bit surprised to come across the name Esteban Nuñez while reading through the great CalMatters news site yesterday. After receiving his early parole did Nuñez el hijo vow to live a normal life of quiet contemplation and service to his fellow man, far away from the limelight? Nah, he’s gone into the family business as a lobbyist.
In early March, before the pandemic closed the state Capitol to visitors, Esteban Nuñez led former prisoners through the regal building where his father was once one of California’s most powerful politicians.
He exuded know-how, his shiny loafers clicking across marble floors as they moved toward an elevator. Down a hallway. Into the office of a lawmaker they hoped to convince to grant voting rights to Californians released from prison, but still on parole.
Not long ago, Nuñez himself had been one of them.
Esteban Nuñez is an $80,000 per year policy director for a nonprofit group called Cut50, which is a celebrity-driven organization largely funded by the usual cast of Hollywood activists and leftist or libertarian foundations such as George Soros’ Open Society, the ACLU, the Charles Koch Foundation, Abigail Disney, the Ford Foundation, and others. It was on behalf of Cut50 that Kim Kardashian visited the Trump White House and lobbied Jared Kushner who has become the administration’s most notable advocate for sentencing reform and leniency.
Most recently, the younger Nuñez has devoted his attention to two reform-related items: securing the release of inmates at California prisons which have seen COVID-19 outbreaks and restoring voting rights for felons. According to CalMatters, Cut50 and their well-connected policy director have a Bernard Sanders/Kamala Harris-like belief that even incarcerated felons ought to be allowed to vote, though Cut50 acknowledge that controversial idea is still an uphill struggle and have thus shifted attention towards accelerating the process by which paroled felons can have their voting rights restored.
One person who will never be able to vote again is Luis Santos, the young man killed in the fight started by the younger Nuñez and his friends. Mr. Santos died on the scene from a knife laceration to his heart, and the father of one of the surviving victims of the Nuñez party’s attack strongly rebuts the claim that the knife-wielding assailants acted in self-defense. Indeed, after two members of the party cut plea deals requiring them to testify against Esteban Nuñez and fellow-stabber Ryan Jett, who is believed to have delivered the fatal blow to Mr. Santos’ heart, the Assembly Speaker’s son and his associate were forced to cop to a manslaughter charge or else face a murder sentence which could have brought them 25 years incarceration. Esteban Nuñez was released from prison in April 2016 after serving six years, and his parole period ended fifteen months ago after lasting three years. Mr. Jett, who had a prior conviction and whose sentence was not commuted by Gov. Schwarzenegger, is serving time in Valley State Prison and is eligible for parole next month.
Navigating a fairly fraught path, Esteban Nuñez strives to express remorse for the death of Mr. Santos while at the same time still failing to take complete responsibility for it. He also seeks to paint himself as a victim of an allegedly oppressive prison atmosphere which targeted him for his status:
At Mule Creek State Prison east of Sacramento, Nuñez was focused on survival. The young man who had once dined with his family at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s home was now a prison cook making 16 cents an hour.
“Everybody knew my father was a politician,” Nuñez said. “For people inside, it was like I had a life that I squandered away, which I understand and respect. And for correctional officers, I think it was like, ‘Oh, you’re in our house now. Let me show you how it goes down in here.’
“I think there was just a lot of desire to humble me.”
In contrast to Mr. Nuñez’s recollection, Bruce Henderson, the father of stabbing survivor Evan Henderson, reports that while at Mule Creek State Prison the politician’s son was “transferred to a ‘sensitive-needs’ unit after the Nunez family sent to the warden’s assistant a new Kindle, which was later returned.” Esteban Nuñez expresses a desire to “someday” apologize to the Santos family, and the CalMatters article suggests that he makes monthly restitution payments to them from his $80k lobbyist salary.
I would have a lot more respect for Esteban Nuñez had he become an engineer (he initially studied mechanical engineering upon leaving prison), a teacher, a salesman, a prison counselor, or any number of occupations that lack the taint of a well-connected Sacramento insider. Instead he has become a lobbyist, and no matter how much he tries to spin this as “giving back” or “trying to effect positive change” in the criminal justice system, I can’t help but see this as yet another offspring of the band of criminals who runs the Golden State making an undeserved living from family connections. Once Cut50 gets all of their agenda enacted — and make no mistake: in the post-George Floyd world a left-wing state like California will enact pretty much every item of criminal justice reform that Cut50 demands — don’t be too surprised if the younger Nuñez moves into the well-heeled boutique lobbying firm where his dad is currently a partner.
Speaking of fathers, let’s let Luis Santos’ father have the last word on what society “owes” the killers of his son:
“I don’t think people that committed violent crimes should be allowed to vote,” Fred Santos said. “Because they violated other citizens’ rights, they should not have their rights.”
Santos, a Bay Area software engineer, is resentful that Nuñez is trying to earn more rights for criminals while he and his wife still grieve for their son. The family visits Luis’ grave several times a year, Santos said, on Christmas, Valentine’s Day, his birthday and the anniversary of his murder. They return at the start of every football and basketball season to adorn the gravesite for Luis’ favorite teams: black and silver for the Raiders, blue and gold for the Warriors.
“People get together and talk to their children; we go to the cemetery and put flowers and decorate,” Santos said. “That’s as much as we can do.”