Donnelly issues ‘Willie Horton ad’ vs. Jerry Brown

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly on Monday released what he calls his “Willie Horton” ad against Gov. Jerry Brown, blaming the incumbent for prison realignment that set free a convict who then raped and murdered his own grandmother.

The “ad” is actually a two-and-a-half minute online video, not a paid broadcast ad. And, upon viewing, it almost seems like more of an ad for Jennifer Kerns – whom Donnelly has just promoted from communications director to campaign manager.

In the video and in his news release, Donnelly – an Assemblyman from Twin Peaks – makes hay of the fact that he’s hired one of the first Republican female campaign managers to run a gubernatorial race in a large state, and then says talk of a GOP “war on women” was “conjured up by ‘consultants’ inside the Beltway.”

“If there IS such a thing as a War on Women, Donnelly says it’s being waged by Governor Jerry Brown as he releases violent criminals onto the street to prey upon women in California, at the same time he has stripped women of their 2nd Amendment rights by signing the strictest gun control laws in the nation,” the news release says. “The video shows footage of the criminal that some say will be Governor Brown’s ‘Willie Horton’ in this race – a convicted criminal who was released from prison, only to rape and murder his own grandmother. The inmate was released after the passage of California Assembly Bill (AB) 109, Governor Brown’s so-called realignment program aimed to save money and reduce overcrowding in prisons.”

The convict at issue, Jerome DeAvila, is accused of slaying his grandmother in Stockton a few days after he was released early from San Joaquin County Jail, where he’d been serving 30 days for failing to register as a sex offender.

Willie Horton was serving a life sentence for murder in Massachusetts when he was allowed out of prison as part of a weekend furlough program, fled, and eventually committed assault, armed robbery and rape. He was featured in attack ads against 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis, who had been governor of Massachusetts when Horton got out; Dukakis hadn’t started the furlough program, but had supported it.

UPDATE @ 2:07 P.M.: I asked Gov. Brown’s office to comment on this, and staffers there passed me along to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation – which quickly disputed the ad’s core claim.

“There has never been one inmate released early from prison due to realignment – not one,” said CDCR Assistant Secretary Deborah Hoffman.

The 25,000-inmate reduction in the state’s prison population since realignment was put into effect is due to attrition, not early releases, CDCR contends. Parole violators now go to county jails instead of to prisons, and those jails institute their own policies to deal with their populations.

In DeAvila’s case, he was in and out of San Joaquin County’s custody about a dozen times in the year preceding his alleged murder of his grandmother, for parole violations including failing to meet with his parole officer, failure to register, use of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine, and public drunkenness.

“We take absconding from parole very seriously,” Hoffman said. “Realignment provides counties with the funding and tools needed to manage offenders at the local level. Parole violators can be held in county jail for up to 180 days and we know sheriffs take their responsibility seriously and are making difficult decisions every day.”

San Joaquin County got $7.6 million in 2012 and $15.2 million in 2013 to implement realignment, but has struggled with jail overcrowding since long before realignment ever came along.

UPDATE @ 2:40 P.M.: Dan Newman, a political spokesman for Brown, just responded that he’s “rarely at a loss for words, or willing to pass on an opportunity to criticize an opponent, but… um… wow. It rivals Demon Sheep and Herman Cain’s smoking mustache guy in the genre of classic weird political videos, but left me a bit confused about who the candidate is and what state she’s running in.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Dale Warner

    There are a couple of things that are really wrong here. First, we see a politician express disdain for an African American by referring to him by his servitude name, “Willie.” The felon’s name is really William R. Horton.
    But the shocking thing is that the writer repeats the patronizing, supremacist claim to have the right to name Mr. Horton anything at all, as is shown in the first sentence of the last paragraph above. I don’t know what “race” Mr. Richmond is, but his claiming a privilege of demeaning nicknames for African Americans is very telling.
    The second sentence of the last paragraph is cringe-worthy for its creative avoidance of which party and who started the whole Horton image. It was featured in attack ads against Governor Dukakis, but the first level of attacks came in the Democratic Presidential Primary in 1988 by Senator Gore, and the second level came in the General Election. Covering up the Sen. Al Gore role, who kicked the whole Massachusetts furlough controversy off, is something that shows a serious bias of Mr. Richmond.

  • I believe your own biases might be showing, Mr. Warner – and seeing as how you’re very concerned about proper use of names, perhaps you should look again for the correct spelling of mine.

    Mr. Horton has been widely and commonly referred to as “Willie” for the past 25 years, and I see no reason to vary from that now. I claim no special privilege; I’m using the name that the American public widely uses and knows.

    It is true that Gore alluded to the furlough issue first – though he never mentioned Horton’s name or race – but it wasn’t until after the primaries that the ads aired and became a significant part of campaign history.

  • RRSenileColumnist

    What’s your “servitude” name? Any other ex-slaves posting here?

  • Dale Warner

    Certainly Mr. James Crow agrees with you about nicknames for African Americans.
    Sorry about your name.

  • Tell it to Willie Brown, Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. I just don’t see how this is derogatory.

  • Elwood

    Dale, you a loon or a troll.

    I’m betting there are 52 race cards in your deck.

  • stevefromsacto

    Wow, have we sunk so low that people brag about running racist ads or is that just the Tea Party talking?

  • JohnW

    Funny thing is, Donnelly could have raised legitimate issues related to realignment and spikes in property crimes without going all Willie Horton on us. But he just can’t help himself. The guy is, in fact, a racist. Doesn’t matter. He’s got about as much chance of unseating Brown as I have of becoming an astronaut.