With Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman, in a close contest for governor of California, I have been undecided whether this blog would take a position. As I noted last Spring, Brown was governor before the war on crime took over California and made our prisons the leading institution in the state. His Determinate Sentence Law had flaws, but it did not produce mass incarceration, a policy that began under Republican governors George Deukmeijian and Pete Wilson, and continued under Democrat Gray Davis. Meg Whitman, having switched from business to politics only recently, had no track record of having to get behind the war on crime and its powerful interest groups. Since either will face a period of tight budgets in which the real costs of mass incarceration are likely to exclude other priorities of spending or tax cutting, both have every reason to speak honestly with voters now about the need to put the war on crime behind us and begin to address the new threats to California from natural disaster, drought, and economic decline.
In last night's final debate, however, Meg Whitman unambiguously played the crime card. The context was Jerry Brown asserting losing the endorsement of the police unions was evidence that he could be tough in his negotiations with public unions over pensions. Here is the exchange according to Kathleen Decker reporting in the LATimes.
"You got the endorsement of that union, I didn't, because they said I'd be too tough on unions and public employee pensions, and I'll take that," Brown said.
"I got that endorsement because that union knows that I will be tough on crime," Whitman replied. "And Jerry Brown has a 40-year record of being soft on crime."