But Three Strikes has powerful defenders - in the Governor's office, the Assembly, and crime victims' groups. They reject any effort to soften the law. Follow the money behind California's tough-on-crime coalition and one group looms startlingly large: the prison guards union.
The Victims' March on the Capitol is sponsored by the prison guards' union. Photo: John Biewen
Just around the corner from the anti-Three-Strikes rally, on the Capitol's front steps, there's a distinctly different kind of demonstration - one with uniformed color guard, recorded music by John Philip Sousa played over loudspeakers, and the Pledge of Allegiance. A few hundred members of crime victims' groups sit in chairs arranged in neat rows on the capitol lawn. Poster-sized photos of murder victims line the steps in front of the podium. On the grass lie rows of white cardboard coffins.
Presiding at the podium: Don Novey, president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association - the CCPOA. Every spring, the prison guards union sponsors this event, the Victims' March on the Capitol.
Novey invites Mindy Russell, a Sacramento police chaplain, to deliver the invocation. Opening her Bible, Russell reads a passage from the book of Proverbs that, perhaps, captures this crowd's feelings about criminals.
"This is a description of worthless and wicked people," she reads. "They are constant liars, signaling their true intentions to their friends by making signs with their eyes and feet and fingers. Their perverted hearts plot evil and they stir up trouble constantly. But they will be destroyed suddenly, broken beyond all hope."
This demonstration has amenities: a big tent for those who want shade; lunch; and, lined up at the curb, the charter buses that brought in rally participants from up and down the state. The prison guards' union pays for everything.
"I have to say that CCPOA is very generous for us. They are our number one helper," says 69-year-old Harriet Salarno, the head of Crime Victims United of California. Salarno's daughter was murdered in 1979. Her group is devoted to "public safety" - that is, tough punishment for criminals. Though the victim's movement is often called "grassroots," Crime Victims United and another prominent California victim's group, the Doris Tate Bureau, owe their existence to the prison guards.
"I got a phone call from Don Novey to meet him in Sacramento at his office," Salarno says, recalling her first meeting with the union president in 1990. "And I said … 'We victims don't have any support. I've been coming up to Sacramento as a bleeding heart mother trying to get legislation and nobody would listen.' He says, 'OK, then, well, let's us help you.' So we founded Crime Victims United of California together, and in fact our headquarters is at the Correctional Peace Officers Foundation, which is part of their organization."
Next: A Successful Agenda