Crime is slowly re-emerging as a campaign issue, reported the Associated Press.
From the 1960s to the early 1990s, Republicans hammered Democrats on crime for focusing too much on rehabilitation and not enough on punishment and imprisonment. That changed as crime rates plunged in the 1990s and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton inoculated Democrats by being an avid death penalty supporter, interrupting his 1992 presidential campaign to preside over an execution.
Now increasing numbers of states are turning away from mandatory prison sentences and embracing rehabilitation programs to thin out inmate populations and save taxpayer money. The shift has been particularly pronounced in conservative, Republican-dominated states like Georgia, Texas and South Carolina.
In California, which has conducted the most ambitious criminal justice overhaul in the nation, Republicans are targeting Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats over the state’s policy that sends lower-level offenders to local jails rather than state prisons.
The law went into full effect in late 2011, but already there have been several highly publicized cases of convicts released from prison committing crimes like rape and murder. The most prominent Republican to emerge as a possible challenger to Brown, former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, in May launched a ballot campaign to reverse the prison overhaul.
Frank Zimring, a University of California-Berkeley law professor who has written widely on crime and politics, noted that crime rates appear to have leveled out after a two-decade decline. He called the recent GOP efforts ‘‘the test run as to whether there could be a resurgence in hard-right, punitive’’ crime politics.
In California, the Republican Party has no statewide office-holders and less than one-third of the seats in the state legislature. In those circumstances, Zimring said, ‘‘you consult your greatest hits playbook from previous eras.’’
A political ad in Colorado seems like an artifact from an earlier political era — a grainy mug shot of a convicted murderer, flashing police lights, a recording of a panicked 911 call and then a question about Colorado’s Democratic governor, up for re-election next year: ‘‘How can we protect our families when Gov. Hickenlooper allows a cold-blooded killer to escape justice?’’
The online spot from the Colorado Republican Party appeared only hours after Gov. John Hickenlooper in May indefinitely suspended the death sentence of Nathan Dunlap, who killed four people in 1993 and was scheduled to be executed in August. The governor cited problems with the concept and application of the death penalty.
Crime focused ads doomed Gov. Mike Dukakis in the 1988 presidential race and dogged Lt. Governor Mark Singel in the Pennsylvania governor's race in 1994. Dukakis lost to George H.W. Bush on the Willie Horton ad and Singel lost to Tom Ridge on the Reginald McFadden ad.
Barry Goldwater in 1964 and then Richard Nixon 1968 introduced the fear mongering approach to politics while focusing on crime.