After an adviser acknowledged this week that a felon Maldonado highlighted at a news conference Wednesday was not released under California's historic prison realignment - the program Maldonado called the news conference to criticize - the president of a civil rights group has accused Maldonado of engaging in racial politics.
Alice Huffman, president of the California state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in a letter to Maldonado on Thursday that his use of Jerome Anthony Rogers' photograph at his event in Sacramento appears to be a "despicable attempt to drag the Willie Horton-style racial politics of the past into California."
Before his arrest last year in San Bernardino County on a homicide charge, Rogers, 57 was last released from prison in 2003 - eight years before realignment took effect, according to state prison records.
Maldonado, who is preparing to challenge Gov. Jerry Brown in next year's election, announced this week that he will file a ballot initiative to repeal realignment, the 2011 law in which the state shifted responsibility for certain low-level offenders from the prison and parole system to counties.
In an effort to personalize his effort, Maldonado has pointed in public appearances this week to cases involving at least three felons, including one offender identified by the FBI as a member of a white supremacist gang.
In her letter objecting to the use of Rogers' photograph, Huffman called on Maldonado to "apologize to the African-American community and to decent Californians everywhere who have grown tired of and have rejected the politics of stereotyping, bigotry and racial imagery that have scarred our collective soul and cheapened our political discourse."
Her reference to Horton recalled a controversial ad in the 1988 presidential campaign in which an image of Horton, a released killer, was used to damage Michael Dukakis.
Jeff Corless, a Maldonado adviser, defended the inclusion of Rogers in Maldonado's news conference, saying a dramatic reduction of the state prison population under realignment has resulted, generally, in a state that is less safe.
PHOTO CREDIT: Abel Maldonado speaks to reporters in Sacramento on Wednesday, May 8, 2013. Hector Amezcua / Sacramento Bee