The newly minted ballot measure to repeal the death penalty came under attack at the Capitol on Tuesday, as law enforcement and crime victims groups assailed the initiative as an assault on the public.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who opposes capital punishment but has enforced it while in office, said he is happy that the repeal will be on the ballot in November.
"Just like I think it's a good thing that people get a chance to vote on taxes," Brown said earlier Tuesday in San Jose. "Death and taxes are things we can't avoid, so it's good that people get to weigh in occasionally."
A few hours later, speakers at a Crime Victims United rally on the Capitol's west steps took turns blasting the initiative.
"Don't let people tell you life without parole is just as good as the death penalty," said Nina Salarno Ashford, who sits on the board of the nonprofit victims advocacy group.
Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, declared, "This initiative spits in the eye of justice. We must defeat it."
It was red meat for the rally, which assembles every year to remember murdered friends and family and press for victims' rights.
The group had invited Brown to speak, even though he vetoed a bill to restore California's death penalty during his inaugural term in 1977. The Legislature overrode the veto.
As attorney general, Brown backed capital punishment cases. During his 2010 campaign, he promised to uphold the law.
That won't change, he promised the victims rights group.
"I will carry out the law," he said, "without fear or failure and with fidelity to the will of the people."
Crime Victims United, backed by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, also opposes a program Brown launched in October that is shrinking the state's prison population by sentencing more convicts to local jails. The group contends the policy merely shifts overcrowding and costs from the state to local governments, which are more likely to release prisoners early and put the public at risk.
Brown wants to put a tax measure on the November ballot that would guarantee money for local jails.
The governor didn't take on the critics directly. Instead, he called for the hundreds assembled at the event to take a wider view. Administrations come and go, Brown said, leaving thousands of laws intended to curb crime on the books. Still, violent crime remains.
"It is not our lot to totally overcome evil," the governor said in one of several biblically flavored references in his five-minute speech, "but to not be overcome by it."