Checking in with politics here in the Golden State, the basic situation for next year’s governor’s race is that Jerry Brown is going to ice whoever Republicans manage to scare up to oppose him. Not only has the state become impossible territory for a Republican (due to some extent to a variation of heighten-the-contradictions that the state GOP played with Ahnuld, which clearly worked out for them), but Brown has been a genuinely good manager and has a number of solid accomplishments to his name. Ideologically suspect as always, but damn if he hasn’t been effective. I don’t know if you could say he “fixed” the state, but he has engineered a pretty remarkable turnaround, and he’ll win in a landslide in 2014. And should wind up being the longest-serving governor ever in CA history, a record that can no longer even be challenged.

The GOP’s sacrificial lamb might well be one Abel Maldonado, former Lt. Governor, failed candidate for Congress and my state senator once upon a time. I’ve often called Marco Rubio an overrated commodity, someone without the brains to govern effectively and probably without the guts to do it either, and almost certainly lacking the mythical minority-converting Republican Jesus powers that his party desperately hopes he has. But Rubio, at least, is able to play politics at a national level, cultivating an image and taking on some responsibility for passing immigration reform. This is vastly more than one can say for another heavily hyped Hispanic GOP politician, who seems to think that the best way of winning California in 2013 is to play to white conservatives’ ancient fears:

Former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, the Republican running to challenge incumbent 3-term Democratic Gov.Jerry Brown in 2014, filed papers Wednesday to form a committee in support of a ballot measure to end prison realignment. […]

The issue of realignment and early prison release has been a hot button for Brown since a federal court order was issued mandating the move to alleviate state prison overcrowding.

The order demanded California reduce its prison population to 110,000 inmates by the end of 2013. The order cited needed improvements in treatment of sick and mentally ill inmates in the state’s 33 prisons for adult inmates.

Putting aside the politics for a second, let’s get real about this. California has a huge prison problem. Too many prisons, which cost a lot of money, is the gist of it. And all those prisons are crowded to the max, to the extent that the state was sued in federal court over it and lost. That money has been siphoned off from schools to a large extent, godawful symbolism to be sure. Jerry Brown won my vote with his strong, perceptive attacks on this very trend, and if you read my prior posts on him, I’ve noted how he’s paid close attention to this problem, stopping a billion-dollar prison project in the state. He cares about education a lot, has identified this specific problem, and he’s taken steps to fix the problem.

So, essentially, it’s deeply irresponsible for Maldonado, often referred to as one of the brighter bulbs in the state’s GOP (heh), to attack Brown for trying to comply with a court order and fix a very real, costly problem. What’s especially interesting is the timing. Maldonado’s attack would have been par for the course in the 1980s or early 1990s, back when Deukmeijian and Pete Wilson (an alleged moderate) decided it would be just swell to lock up as many people as possible for as long as possible. (Shocking that another of California’s intractable problems is due to something the GOP did back in the day, huh?) But the state’s politics have changed since it voted for George H. W. Bush in 1988, and so have the politics of the GOP. One of the very few positive developments in the Republican Party in recent years has been a much deeper skepticism toward old “tough on crime” policies, reflecting a decreased crime rate and spending that is wasted by definition (if necessary to some extent). And in this state, the public has shown a greater understanding of the problems wrought by overincarceration. Last year the electorate defanged the Three Strikes Law here, and very nearly repealed capital punishment outright. The electorate in this state gets that this is a problem, as the media has covered the crisis well. There is little indication that Brown has jumped too far in front of the public on these issues, and it’s unlikely he will do so since it was exactly that which caused such problems for his 1982 Senate race, and allowed the GOP to take his seat in Sacramento as well. He’s cautious but deliberate on this. It’s not really a weakness.

Essentially, Maldonado is working against two trends here, both within his party and within the state’s electorate. And it makes Maldonado’s candidacy for governor ironic. I basically assumed that the idea was something concocted by GOP consultants so that way they could run another minority for high office, as the guy wasn’t even able to win an election for Lt. Governor against Gavin Newsom (and had severe difficulties fundraising in that race as well). He has no base, his ideology is too moderate for the state’s GOP, and the Marco Rubio argument seems utterly hilarious in light of this announcement. Minority voters are unlikely to be won over by a “tough on crime” politician regardless of a skin color, as they bear the brunt of these unsuccessful policies. It makes me think that he’s a very silly, unperceptive person with poor political instincts and little awareness of the state. Of course, this makes him pretty much like every candidate the GOP has run for governor since Pete Wilson, so it’s not a shocker.

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