Dan Walters

Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Friday, May. 10, 2013 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

Crime dominated California’s political landscape during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s before giving way to other preoccupations.

During that era, the state’s voters and politicians debated – and decided – issues such as capital punishment, “three strikes and you’re out,” and prison construction, all hinged on voters’ fears of becoming crime victims.

Governors and legislators were elected and un-elected on the crime issue, and voters ousted a chief justice who was against capital punishment. During one four-year span, Republicans defeated three Democratic state senators by accusing them of being soft on crime.

The state’s prison population increased more than eightfold after the 1970s, and costs rose from a few hundred million dollars a year to nearly $10 billion.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association became one of the state’s most powerful political players.

Crime faded as a decisive political issue largely because the crime rate, having hit a peak about 1980, receded sharply. Whether that was due to new tough-on-crime laws or demographic and economic factors is still a matter of debate.

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