Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Sunday, Sep. 30, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

California’s voters turned sharply to the right on taxes and crime during the 1970s, and the two visceral issues dominated its politics for the next two generations.

This year, however, with the state’s political hue having drifted from red to at least purple, and perhaps blue, a half-dozen ballot measures are testing whether its voters are still tough on crime and taxes.

Two multibillion-dollar tax increases (Propositions 30 and 38) and a change in corporate taxes (Proposition 39) frame the taxation question, while a repeal of the death penalty (Proposition 34), a modification of the state’s “three strikes, you’re out” law (Proposition 36) and harsher sentences on human traffickers (Proposition 35) test whether attitudes on punishment have softened.

California’s political ambiance had drifted leftward in the 1970s as the Ronald Reagan era faded, so when crime and taxes suddenly erupted as defining issues, it caught the state’s liberal politicians by surprise.

Then-Gov. Jerry Brown, a vocal foe of capital punishment, vetoed a death penalty bill but was overridden by the Legislature. He appointed an anti-death penalty chief justice of the Supreme Court, Rose Bird, only to see her later ousted by voters.

Brown also opposed Proposition 13, the landmark property tax cut, but quickly reversed course after it was passed overwhelmingly.

Democratic legislators also felt the backlash in the 1970s.

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