California political history is replete with politicians who seek elected office by tying their aspirations to a hot-button ballot initiative fight, and the state's former lieutenant governor may himself use the strategy in 2014.
Abel Maldonado, the Republican who vaulted from the Legislature to an appointment to briefly fill the state's vacated number two slot, on Wednesday launched a political campaign to repeal the 2011 law that has diverted thousands of newly convicted felons from prisons to local jails and supervision.
"Our families want to be safe in their homes," said Maldonado, flanked by victims rights advocates while standing on the top deck of a Sacramento parking garage with a view of the state Capitol. "We will get the resources, we will get the signatures, we'll be on the ballot, and it will pass."
The Central Coast Republican, who lost the 2010 lieutenant governor's race and a 2012 race for Congress, admitted that he's likely to challenge Gov. Jerry Brown next year. Brown has not confirmed he'll seek an unprecedented (and non-consecutive) fourth term, but seems all but certain to run again.
Maldonado's professional Facebook page has been hammering Brown for weeks on violent crimes he blames on realignment. And he didn't pull any punches in his Sacramento event when it came to the governor.
"The captain of the ship over there is Governor Brown," said Maldonado, pointing to the Capitol. "You can't be the lifeguard of the wreck, when you've been the captain of the ship. Get it fixed."
Maldonado and others say the realignment law, which shifts the punishment for many newly committed crimes to local sentences, described the process as "early release," a characterization others dispute.
"There is no early release," said Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. "It changes where you serve the time."
Maldonado dismissed any suggestion he's been mischaracterizing the state law, calling it a "shell game" that is responsible for a number of recent high profile crimes across California.
He didn't name any donors to move the nascent initiative campaign forward, though it will no doubt take significant money to collect signatures for a 2014 ballot measure.
Perhaps the most successful candidate in state history to use the strategy of riding an initiative into political office is the man Maldonado may run to replace. In 1974, then secretary of state Jerry Brown sponsored a landmark political reform act -- in the wake of Watergate -- to his first victory as governor.
Others have used the strategy, too. In 1994, incumbent Gov. Pete Wilson latched on to the hotly debated anti-illegal immigration initiative, Proposition 187, to win a second term.
And while Maldonado, whose family came to California from Mexico in the 1960s, declined to formally announce a gubernatorial campaign, he did lay out the issue of crime and realignment in decidedly anti-Brown terms.
"It's the son of Sacramento, versus the son of immigrant field workers," he told reporters.