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Bipartisan big names say no to 5

CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

Schwarzenegger, four predecessors denounce proposition that would divert drug offenders from prison to care.

October 31, 2008|Michael Rothfeld | Rothfeld is a Times staff writer.
  • Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks against Proposition 5 outside the Criminal Courts Building in Los Angeles. He was joined by, from left, former Gov. Gray Davis, former Gov. Pete Wilson, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, state Atty. Gen. and former Gov. Jerry Brown and former Gov. George Deukmejian.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks against Proposition 5 outside the Criminal… (Ken Hively / Los Angeles…)

SACRAMENTO — The battle over an initiative that would divert drug offenders from prison into treatment and loosen state parole policies has intensified heading into Tuesday's vote, with a bipartisan coalition of elected officials joining the state prison guards union to fight the measure.

Supporters of Proposition 5, whose heavy fundraising advantage has been whittled down, have cast opponents as shills for the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. and its alleged effort to keep the state prison system overcrowded. The union has spent $1.8 million to fight the initiative.

"Tell the prison guards the party's over," Proposition 5 supporters say in a television ad unveiled this week, telling viewers that correctional officers are "taking overtime pay right out of your pocket."

Most of the measure's financial backing has come from wealthy philanthropists in New York, including billionaire George Soros, a financier whose Open Society Institute has supported efforts to soften drug laws across the country. Of nearly $8 million raised by supporters, only about $350,000 has come from California donors, records show.

Opponents have raised about $2.7 million but have won broad endorsements from elected and law enforcement officials.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, was the target of an aborted recall effort by the guards union and has criticized it as a special interest group. But he found himself on the union's side Thursday when he joined former governors -- Democrats Gray Davis and Jerry Brown, and Republicans Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian -- to oppose Proposition 5.

"It is a great threat to our neighborhoods," Schwarzenegger said at a news conference outside the Criminal Courts Building in downtown Los Angeles. "It was written by those who care more about the rights of criminals."

Davis said the measure "will cost dollars and it will cost lives." Proposition 5 would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars a year initially, but a nonpartisan legislative analysis said it might save money in the long term by reducing prison overcrowding. Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, also a Republican, said he opposes the measure because it shows "compassion" for identity and car thieves.

"These are the types of people who will benefit from Prop. 5," he said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, and Brown, the current state attorney general, recently taped television commercials against the initiative.

"Say no to drug dealers," Feinstein says in her ad, while Brown -- whose spot was paid for by the prison guards union -- calls it "a complicated measure" that would "limit court authority over drug dealers and addicts who refuse treatment."

Meg Whitman, the former chief executive of eBay who has been mentioned as a possible Republican candidate for governor in 2010, also contributed $250,000 against the measure.

In a statement Thursday, Proposition 5 proponents called the governor and his predecessors "disgraceful" for refusing to help alleviate a prison crisis they created.

They said Schwarzenegger has "failed to reform the prison system"; they blamed Davis' recall in part on his acceptance of $3 million in political contributions from the guards union; and they accused Brown of "cozying up" to the union in anticipation of another run for the state's top job in 2010.

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michael.rothfeld@latimes.com

Raja Abdulrahim contributed to this article from Los Angeles.

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