Abel Maldonado

The former Republican lieutenant governor, who is pondering a run for governor, wants to repeal the prison policy, saying it has endangered the lives of Californians.

By Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times
May 25, 2013, 7:41 p.m.

Abel Maldonado was a young Latino rancher and fresh-faced state lawmaker when he addressed the Republican National Convention in 2000 and was hailed as the GOP’s future. Nine years later, he parlayed his deciding vote on tax increases into an appointment as lieutenant governor, albeit for a brief stay.

He lost a bid to remain in that job in 2010, and was defeated in a run for Congress last year. But he jumped back onto center stage this month with a brash campaign to repeal Gov. Jerry Brown’s corrections policy known as realignment. The result of federal court orders to reduce prison crowding, the program keeps many low-level offenders in county jails rather than send them to state lockups.

Standing before news cameras at news conferences from San Diego to Redding, joined by victims-rights advocates and local politicians, Maldonado said Brown’s “early release” policy and the Democratic-controlled Legislature have endangered the lives of all Californians.

“The bottom line is that, under Gov. Brown, if you commit a crime you do less time. It’s just catch and release,” said Maldonado, who has formed an exploratory committee for a gubernatorial bid. “Lives are at stake.”

The logo of his Protect California Families campaign is the silhouette of a butcher knife, the brainchild of his top media advisor, Fred Davis.

“Abel Maldonado will not be governor if he runs a nice, little sweet campaign,” Davis said.

With California expecting a budget surplus after years of financial crisis and Brown cultivating an image as the cheapest man in Sacramento, the Democratic governor will be difficult to beat if he runs for reelection, analysts say. But even with years of declining crime rates in California, crime is typically a bankable issue.

It cuts across class, income and racial lines, said Stanford political scientist Bill Whalen, who worked for Republican Gov. Pete Wilson when California voters overwhelmingly passed the “three strikes” law that cracked down on repeat felons.

Brown could be vulnerable on the prison issue, especially if “someone falls through the cracks” and it turns into a scandalous, high-profile crime case, Whalen said.

“If you don’t attack Jerry Brown on crime, how do you attack him? You don’t have a lot of alternatives,” Whalen said.

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