[Hpn] CALIFORNIA'S GOVERNOR PLAYS TOUGH ON CRIME, NY Times, 5/23/00

CAVC CAVC.Sam@att.net
Tue, 23 May 2000 14:50:19 -0700


CALIFORNIA'S GOVERNOR PLAYS TOUGH ON CRIME
Moderate Democrat Embraces Hard Line
By Evelyn Nieves
New York Times
Tuesday, May 23, 2000

SACRAMENTO, May 16 -- It was the height of the bitterly fought 1998
campaign for governor of California, and Gray Davis, a Democrat, was
trying to prove that he would be tougher on crime than the Republican
attorney general, Dan Lungren, who was running on a record of two
decades in law enforcement. As governor, Mr. Davis -- then the state's
lieutenant governor, with a record as a moderate -- insisted he would be
harder on crime than anybody. He would give judges discretion to
sentence 14-year-olds to death; he would let them consider supporting
nonunanimous jury verdicts. Indeed, Mr. Gray said in a televised debate,
on issues of law and order, he considered Singapore -- a country that
executes drug offenders -- "a good starting point."

No one took that remark literally. But these days, Democratic lawmakers
say it sometimes seems as though Mr. Davis was only slightly
exaggerating.

Halfway into his second year in office, the governor is establishing
himself as more of a conservative on criminal justice issues than his
Republican predecessors, or any other elected official in California --
if not the nation.

The governor has essentially removed the "time off for good behavior"
incentive that makes inmates model prisoners by refusing any
recommendation the parole board has made to grant a release. He has
announced that any judge he appoints should reflect his sentiments "or
resign."

He has blocked efforts to soften the state's "three strikes" law, which
can put someone in prison for life for stealing a bicycle if it is his
third felony conviction. He has vetoed a modest bill that would grant
reporters greater access to inmates in the state's closed-door prison
system, which has been rocked in recent years by corruption scandals and
has indicated he will veto a similar bill introduced this year.

Moreover, the governor -- who broke with the Democratic Party and
endorsed Proposition 21, the youth crime initiative passed in November
that allows 14-year-olds convicted of felonies to be locked up in adult
prisons -- has stocked the parole board and other posts with ex-law
enforcement officials who are considered hard-liners, very much like his
Republican predecessor, Pete Wilson, had done. Mr. Gray has also sided
with police groups against civil rights groups in refusing to approve a
bill to track racial profiling by police agencies.

California, already in a class by itself in terms of crime and
punishment because of the "three strikes" law, continues to be one of
the strictest states in the nation, if not the strictest, on law and
order, said Frank Zimring, director of the Earl Warren Legal Institute
at the University of California at Berkeley.

Governor Davis, through a spokesman, has declined repeated requests over
several weeks for an interview, saying he was too busy. But the governor
has continually cited polls showing his approval rating at more than 65
percent as proof that voters endorse his stance on law and order.

His spokesman, Michael Bustamante, says that the governor campaigned as
a centrist, made moderation a theme of his first two State of the State
speeches and told Democrats at last year's state convention exactly how
he planned to lead. "Governor Davis laid out how he intended to govern
from the center," Mr. Bustamante said then.

As a calculation, political observers say, the governor's move to the
far right on crime and punishment is a safe bet.

California is rather conservative when it comes to crime issues, with
voters consistently approving initiatives that strengthen laws against
offenders.
In fact, California, which has the biggest court and prison system in
the country, led the prison-building boom, and Governor Davis is
expanding it.

Both his supporters and critics regard the governor's stand as a
political buffer against potential challengers who might fault him for
being soft on crime. But to the state's Democratic leaders -- eager for
change after 16 years of Republican governors who made hard lines on law
and order the benchmarks of their administrations -- Mr. Davis's
inflexibility on criminal justice issues is becoming the defining
characteristic of his administration as well.

Former Governor Wilson, who started the Proposition 21 youth crime
initiative that Governor Davis endorsed, praised his successor as "a
pleasant surprise on the stance he has taken on criminal justice, both
in terms of his appointments and his support of tough standards as well
as prevention."

California is enjoying a drop in its crime rate, though there is no way
to tell if it is attributable to such policies. Most other states,
including those with less stringent stands on criminal justice, have
experienced declines in their crime rates as well.

Even so, the governor's critics -- almost all of them from within his
own party -- say that in these good times, when the public is content
and the state coffers are flush, any governor would receive similar high
approval ratings.

In fact, they say, it is precisely during these times that the governor
can afford to show some independence rather than plod along the
politically safe path to a second term.

"The thing that has been somewhat surprising is the kind of iron-clad
approach he has," State Senator Tom Hayden said. "Absolutism is
something that you expect from an ayatollah, but it's surprising in a
governor in a state that's very complex and diverse.

"It's O.K. to lay down the rules, but there's been any number of
occasions when flexibility is called for," he added. "I've seen any
number of his appointees who share the same approach, but who display
routine flexibility. He's not bending to them. He's the hard-liner in
their ranks."

After a year in which the governor's stance on crime caused barely a
ripple of attention, except for regular scoldings in newspaper
editorials, his stance has received greater scrutiny and political
disapproval in recent weeks. Or, as an editorial in The Los Angeles
Times put it, "the honeymoon is over, brought to an end partly by his
prickly, controlling style and partly by his aversion to taking
political risk."

In March, the governor suffered his first major political defeat when
the State Senate blocked a conservative Republican from serving another
term as chairman on the state parole board, a consequence of a federal
court ruling that the board had violated the Americans with Disabilities
Act.

James W. Nielsen, a former Republican state senator, had been named to
the board of prison terms, as the parole board is called, by Governor
Wilson in 1991 and re-appointed in 1995. Mr. Davis re-appointed him to
fill out the remaining nine months of a term last May and tried to
extend it.

But the Senate leader, John Burton, a Democrat from San Francisco
considered the state's most powerful legislator, refused to hold a
confirmation hearing on the appointment.

Mr. Burton, increasingly vocal about his disagreements with the governor
over law and order, said he was outraged by a federal judge's ruling
criticizing Mr. Nielsen -- who actively campaigned against Mr. Davis in
1998 -- as "callous" to the rights of disabled prisoners seeking full
access to parole hearings. Some prisoners who used wheelchairs had to
crawl up stairs to attend the hearings and deaf prisoners who used sign
language had their hands shackled at hearings.

Mr. Davis turned the political defeat into a victory of sorts by naming
Mr. Nielsen to head the state youth parole board.

In a recent interview, Mr. Burton said that Mr. Davis's inflexibility --
"because he thinks a Democrat becomes a moderate by being tough on
crime" -- ignored the possibility that people could be "redeemed."

Mr. Burton was referring to the high-profile parole case of Robert
Rosenkrantz, who has served 15 years in prison for second-degree murder.
In June 1985, Mr. Rosenkrantz, who is now 34, killed the man who
exposed his homosexuality to his father at a high school graduation
party; he was sentenced to 17 years to life.

Prison officials have said he is a model inmate; numerous psychologists,
as well as the prosecutors, trial judge and detective who worked on the
case all recommended that Mr. Rosenkrantz be released.

Last month, a state appellate court took the unprecedented step of
ruling that the parole board had abused its discretion when it found Mr.
Rosenkrantz unsuitable for parole. Under the order of a state court
judge, who sided with Mr. Rosenkrantz when he challenged the board's
denial, the board reluctantly set a release date for Mr. Rosenkrantz
last year. But the governor stepped in and rejected the parole, saying
Mr. Rosenkrantz "was not currently suitable" for release. The appellate
court, ruling against the board's appeal, upheld the lower court's
order.

The case became an issue concerning another appointment to the board Mr.
Davis has made. The appointee, Leonard G. Munoz, a former Los Angeles
police officer who had been serving on the board since last year without
confirmation by the state Senate, was part of the panel that rejected
Mr. Rosenkrantz's bid for release.

[On Thursday, the State Senate confirmed the Munoz appointment 30-4,
after hard lobbying by Governor Davis. Senator Burton, who voted against
the appointment, warned in a floor speech that unless the governor
loosened his parole policies, the Senate might abolish the board.]

John Vasconcellos, a Democrat from Santa Clara who is chairman of the
State Senate's Public Safety Committee, said that the board, under the
governor's edict to never approve the release of anyone convicted of
murder, "have held Kafkaesque hearings in which conclusions have nothing
to do with the facts."

The governor, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment on the
Rosenkrantz case.

In recent days, the governor has had to confront reporters who want to
know why he continues to reject a bill that would grant journalists
greater access to inmates.

The bill, which is similar to one he rejected last year, would restore
the ability to conduct interviews with inmates, a policy changed in 1995
by the California  Corrections Department after a series of scathing
articles in The Orange County Register about conditions in state
prisons.

Carole Migden, a Democratic Assemblywoman from San Francisco who wrote
both bills, said she thought it was important to keep the issue alive
even if the governor vetoed it again. Ms. Migden added that though she
was disappointed, she did not think the governor's stance on law and
order was out of line with the voters.

"I'm sure he wants to get re-elected," she said, "just as you want to
keep your job. Everybody wants to keep their job."

Indeed, a politician, especially a Democrat, loses nothing in gaining a
reputation as an unyielding hardliner on law and order, said Mr.
Zimring, the University of California professor.

"He loses nothing except if someone were writing the next 'Profiles in
Courage,' " he said. "I don't think Davis would make it into that. But
politically? There is no serious downside."

------------------------------------
Citizens Against Violent Crime (CAVC)
"Three strikes and you're out for VIOLENT AND SERIOUS FELONIES"

CAVC is a Political Action Committee whose goal is to amend California's
three-strikes law to apply ONLY to violent and serious felonies.

Sam H. Clauder II, Political Director
12922 Harbor Boulevard, Garden Grove, CA  92840
714.780.8901, 714.543.6400, CAVC.Sam@att.net