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June 9, 2010

Will three strikes or other California sentencing issues become a hot political topic?

I do not see too many huge sentencing stories emerging from yesterday's primary elections in a bunch of states.  But this report from the Los Angeles Times on California's Attorney General race notes the place that the state's three-strikes law has already played in the run up to that state's primary yesterday:

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley convincingly won the GOP primary for attorney general on Tuesday, giving Republicans a strong chance at capturing the state's top law enforcement job in the November contest.

His San Francisco counterpart, Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris, appeared to overcome an aggressive — and expensive — challenge in the Democratic primary as she seeks to become the first woman, first Asian and first African American to serve as attorney general. Harris claimed victory late Tuesday, though her nearest rival had yet to concede.  Former Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo was running well behind in a crowded field.

Cooley, a political moderate who has won three district attorney elections in heavily Democratic Los Angeles County, was leading despite a bruising primary battle in which his two GOP rivals unsuccessfully attempted to portray him as being too liberal for the Republican faithful.

Despite his numerous law enforcement endorsements, Cooley came under fire for his attempt four years ago to seek changes to the "three-strikes" law that would have — with some exceptions — limited the law's sentences of 25 years to life to criminals whose third strikes were violent or serious.

It seems unlikely that California Democrats will attack the GOP's candidate for Attorney General for being soft on applying the state's tough three-strikes law.  Still, because DA Cooley has long staked out a notable position on California's most notable (and notorious?) sentencing law, it will be interesting to see if his sentencing record becomes a campaign issue this fall.

More generally, sentencing fans should be sure to keep an eye on all the big races in California this fall.  Sentencing topics ranging from the death penalty, to prison crowding and costs, to marijuana prohibitions likely all will get some attention in the state campaigns.  I am especially interested to watch how current AG Jerry Brown and former E-Bay CEO Meg Whitman stake out positions on these issues in the months ahead.

June 9, 2010 at 10:56 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Cooley might expect some trouble from conservative Republicans for his three-strikes stance, but it will actually never materialize. The reason is that on the more important dividing issue in sentencing -- the death penalty -- he's for it and the Democratic candidate is against.

Republicans might, in a different setting, be expected to be "cool" to Cooley, but when the alternative is an abolitionist, they'll be fully motivated.

I don't know how the gubernatorial or senate races will turn out; the Democrats will start out as the presumptive favorites, given the overall Democratic registration advantage in California. But I strongly suspect they just cost themselves the AG's office.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 9, 2010 11:25:16 AM

So far Meg Whitman's criminal justice platform seems like a pastiche of "tough on crime" talking points of the past 25 years or so that makes little effort to address the actual problems facing California's prison system. It actually seems like she might not know much about those problems or how California differs from other states. See: http://www.megwhitman.com/platform_topic.php?type=crime&page=3

For instance, she goes on and on about "no early release" on her website even though most California inmates serve determinate sentences so "early release" isn't even a possibility. I also don't see any mention of how she would respond to the federal court order California's prison system is currently under (apart from a vague reference to building new prisons, which I'd be interested to hear how she expects to pay for and still fit with her overall theme of fiscal responsibility).

It'll also be interesting to see Jerry Brown's position, of course, since he was the governor in the years when California got started down this path of tough sentencing and new prisons.

Posted by: Sara Mayeux | Jun 9, 2010 2:39:04 PM

"I don't know how the gubernatorial or senate races will turn out; the Democrats will start out as the presumptive favorites, given the overall Democratic registration advantage in California. But I strongly suspect they just cost themselves the AG's office."

I'm not sure about the whole office but I'm a registered Democrat who frequently votes that way but this lost my vote. I'm voting for Cooley for sure. Admittedly, I've always been a fan of him (especially after having worked as intern in Kamala's hurricane of an office) and would have seriously considered him no matter who won "my side's" nomination. But this definitely sealed it. Ultimately, I think Bill is right, the Republicans are giong to take the AG's office. (Wow, Bill that's 3 of 4 times I've agreed with you in less than a week, I'm starting to get a bit nervous.)

Posted by: da2b | Jun 9, 2010 5:47:13 PM

Sorry, meant to say "3 OR 4 times..."

Posted by: da2b | Jun 9, 2010 5:51:46 PM

da2b

Be of good cheer. I once found myself agreeing with Barbara Boxer and lived to tell.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 10, 2010 6:18:25 PM

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