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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Prop. 34: California Keeps Death Penalty, Once Again Shows It's Not as Liberal as Some Think

Posted By on Thu, Nov 8, 2012 at 4:10 PM

The death penalty lives on in California.
  • The death penalty lives on in California.
California: that big blue state that handed President Obama 55 easy electoral college votes and gave his campaign more money than any other state. The state on the brink of Democratic supermajorities in both the state Assembly and Senate, that contains a voting population in which registered Republicans make up less than 30 percent. It's the state whose governor once lived on a commune.

You can't blame somebody in the outside world for thinking our state is little more than a collection of hippies, gays, hoodie-and-jeans-wearing techies, latte-sipping Hollywood elites, Jeff Spicolis, and of course, lots and lots of brown people. In short, a liberal paradise. A state filled with the folks the tricorn-hat-wearing types want to take their country back from.

But, somehow, we keep proving them wrong. And Tuesday was a prime example: California voted against repealing the death penalty, a policy that has sat at the heart of liberal orthodoxy for years.

See also: California Officials Debate Least Inhumane Way to Kill

Gov. Jerry Brown Has a Chance to Usher in Major Prison Reforms in California

There's a trend here.

In 2008, California voters banned gay marriage. In 2010, California voters decided to keep recreational marijuana use illegal.

On Tuesday, Maine and Maryland voters legalized gay marriage while Colorado voters legalized recreational weed use. And Washington voters did both. Now nine states recognize gay marriage. California only sort of does, after its state Supreme Court ruled 2008's Prop. 8 unconstitutional.

So while Maine, Maryland, Colorado, and Washington are moving their social policies to the left, 53 percent of Californians chose not to join the 17 states that have outlawed capital punishment.

Opponents of the death penalty have sought to spin some optimism out of Prop. 34's demise: as former Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti told NPR, "Look at how many voters in 1978 passed the death penalty law that's in effect today. That's 71 percent. Now we're down to 53 percent in favor of the death penalty. They'll come over, so it's a matter of time, that's what it is."

Indeed, the Golden State's progressive bona fides do not necessarily reflect its true diversity. There are significant pockets of conservatism in San Diego, Orange County, the central corridor, and the rural eastern counties -- more than enough voters to balance out the San Franciscos of the state on certain issues.

At the voting booth, S.F. did live up to its reputation. In addition to giving Obama 83 percent of their votes, San Franciscans overwhelmingly supported Prop. 34, with more than 70 percent in favor.

For criminal justice reformers, Tuesday wasn't all bad. More than two-thirds of California voters passed Prop. 36, which amends the state's "Three Strikes" law so that non-violent offenders won't get hit with life sentences. From a pragmatic perspective, this policy has wider reaching consequences than does Prop. 34. Currently, around 3,000 state inmates are serving life sentences after committing a non-violent crime as their third strike. Those inmates can now petition the court for a reduced sentence.


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Albert Samaha

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