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October 25, 2012

"An odd conservative split on Propositions 34 and 36"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new piece in the Los Angeles Times, and here is how it starts:

A fascinating dichotomy has emerged between the two criminal justice initiatives on the Nov. 6 California ballot.  Both are aimed at reducing harsh sentences and thus saving the state money, yet one has attracted support from conservatives and is expected to win handily, while the other is opposed widely by conservatives and trailing in the polls.  Why?

Proposition 36, which would tweak the state's three-strikes sentencing law by making it less likely that third-strikers who commit minor crimes end up with life terms, has been endorsed by Republican law-and-order types such as L.A. County Dist. Atty.  Steve Cooley, and such GOP heavy-hitters as tax watchdog Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.  Bipartisan support for the measure probably explains why its passage is all but assured.  A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll last month found 66% of voters supporting the measure with only 20% opposed, and although other surveys have pegged the race as a closer call, none have shown a margin of less than 2-to-1 in favor of the initiative.

That's a sharp contrast with Proposition 34, which would replace the state's death penalty with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.  The USC/Times poll found it trailing 38% to 51%.  And while it does have some conservative backers, they're not as influential as those supporting Proposition 36.  Perhaps the most prominent is Don Heller, a Republican prosecutor who drafted the ballot initiative that reinstated California's death penalty in 1978 but who now thinks it was a terrible mistake.  The overwhelming majority of Proposition 34's supporters are Democrats or liberal organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union.  A Field Poll last month found that 50% of Democrats support it, but only 23% of Republicans.

What's puzzling about this is that in many ways, the two initiatives are quite similar.  In his statement endorsing Proposition 36, Norquist said: "The Three Strikes Reform Act is tough on crime without being tough on taxpayers.  It will put a stop to wasting hundreds of millions in taxpayers' hard-earned money, while protecting people from violent crime." One could say the exact same thing about Proposition 34, which has not met Norquist's favor.

October 25, 2012 at 03:31 PM | Permalink


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Somehow I think we conservatives can make up our minds about these initiatives without the gratuitous assistance of the LAT.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 25, 2012 3:40:48 PM

Prop 34 is a liberal initiative meant to do one thing ABOLISH the death penalty. Its not about fair treatment or punishment its about DEMANDING an end to a form of punishment from the days our republic was founded. You just dont get it. When left to the people to decide no state would ever eliminate the DP...they want a just sentence for the worst killers. They want it carried out and they want it done. CA is a poster child for dysfunction. Even with that and a promise to save Billions the people aren't foolish enough to get rid of it. This will send a strong message to the abolishonists: get over it and give it a rest. There's no price to put on JUSTICE.

Posted by: DeanO | Oct 26, 2012 7:29:03 AM

The 3-Strikes initiative is a modest reform that lessens unnecessary sanctions on the less culpable/dangerous while carefully preserving severe sanctions for the most culpable/dangerous. It is a true reform, and is attractive to many fiscal conservatives and crime-fighters.

The anti-DP initiative is not reform but rather abolition. It would get rid of the DP for all murderers, no matter how many people they killed (and no matter how grisly the rapes/torture they inflicted before the killing), and without regard to the severity of their prior record and the clear signs of dangerousness. It is therefore attractive only to hardcore DP-abolitionists. If the sponsors want to try again with a narrower initiative that simply reforms the DP to make it more targeted, that might have appeal for fiscal conservatives.

Posted by: I'll explain | Oct 26, 2012 10:27:32 AM

"When left to the people to decide no state would ever eliminate the DP."

By the way we generally pass laws in this country, representative government, states have eliminated the DP and have done so for over a century.

"fair treatment or punishment"

Said states and others think "fair" here includes not executing people, just like over the years "fair" treatment or punishment involved severely limiting death eligible crimes as that was defined in 1787. It assumes the conclusion to just assume that away.

"Hard core" abolitionists involve several states, many others in reality (somehow only THREE people were executed by the feds in fifty years; another state referenced recently executed three in a century -- did both not have any more heinous murderers in all that time?), the norm in the Western world. Duly noted that some here (toss in Catholic doctrine) fine this norm so very shocking. The presence of 'wrong' so prevalent helps explain the tone.

"Hard core" abolitionists of torture also don't want to allow exceptions. Ditto "hard core" abolitionists of not killing ten year olds. But, as we saw in recent years, actual hard core abolition of torture was controversial in this country. So, yes, it is an uphill battle in CA, especially when only 13 people were executed there in my life time.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 26, 2012 4:01:17 PM

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