With only a fraction of the votes counted in California’s low-turnout, off-year primary election, the New York Times said confidently last Wednesday what it all meant: Voters had rejected progressives and their vision of criminal justice reform in favor of tough-on-crime candidates.
“The election results in San Francisco and Los Angeles were the latest signs of a restless Democratic electorate that remains deeply dissatisfied and concerned about public safety,” the Times caption read, referring to the recall of progressive San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin and the first frontman of billionaire candidate for mayor of Los Angeles, Rick Caruso.
Heiress Nellie Bowles, the descendant of a Californian land baron, went further, claiming that San Francisco had become a “failed cityunder progressive leaders because they have not criminalized poverty and drug addiction enough.
The San Francisco District Attorney’s recall, a well-funded campaign that began before Boudin took office in California’s 12th most populous county, has never been a good indicator of statewide sentiment. Although Boudin’s ousting is a blow to the progressive prosecutorial movement, it is not necessarily indicative of a broad rejection of his policies, which are more popular than him.
“With more mail-in ballots counted, the notion that California voters had resoundingly embraced a more prison-like approach to governance began to crumble.”
And the following week, with more mail-in ballots counted, the notion that California voters had resoundingly embraced a more prison-like approach to governance began to crumble. This was not surprising in a state where every registered voter receives a mail-in ballot. People who vote by mail tend to be progressive, and because they have until Election Day to mail in their ballot, many of their votes won’t be counted until days or even weeks later. County election officials have until July 8 to report the official results to the Secretary of State.
In Los Angeles, the state’s most populous county, Caruso now sits second to the most progressive Karen Bass, despite spending $39 million of her own fortune. Caruso, a longtime Republican who recently became a Democratcampaigned on the hiring of 1,500 additional police officers in the country deadliest law enforcement agency and forcibly evicting people from homeless camps. Although Bass also called for a much more modest increase in LAPD personnel, she promised to fund programs to help people find jobs, housing, food and transportation, warning that “Los Angeles can’t stop getting out of crime.” Under California’s two main primary systems, Caruso and Bass will contest a runoff election in November.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who oversees a law enforcement agency invaded by gangs of deputies, currently holds less than 32% of the vote, which leaves him vulnerable in the second round if his opponents unite behind a single candidate. Villanueva unexpectedly ousted the incumbent sheriff in 2018 by portraying himself as a progressive, but once in office he worked to cover up misconduct within his agency, pushed for the dismissal of reformist district attorney George Gascón and railed against the “woke left”. Although several of Villanueva’s eight challengers have positioned themselves as reformers, many activists remain skeptical and were wary of throwing their weight behind anything other than getting rid of Villanueva.
Two candidates for Los Angeles City Council who both received endorsements of the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America are currently conducting their races. Abolitionist organizer Eunisses Hernandez — who worked to shut down a Los Angeles prison, scrap California sentencing enhancements for drugs and allocate taxpayer dollars to alternatives to incarceration — is narrowly ahead of incumbent Gil Cedillo with 50.65 % of votes against 49.35%. Union organizer Hugo Soto-Martinez, who called to end the ‘traumatic’ sweeps of homeless encampments ‘which waste millions of dollars pushing people from block to block’ are nearly five percentage points ahead of incumbent Mitch O’ Farrell, who oversaw last year forced deletion of homeless people from Echo Park.
Kenneth Mejia, a 31-year-old CPA and housing justice activist who ran signposts Illustrating how little Los Angeles spends on homelessness compared to police, is 16 percentage points ahead of veteran politician Paul Koretz in the race for city controllers. And one list of public defenders and a civil rights attorney running for the judgeships are on track to make it to the November runoff.
Outside of Los Angeles, other races complicate the picture of a desperate state for more punitive elected officials. California Attorney General Roy Bonta is on track to easily keep his job, despite a challenge from Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. Schubert, who ran as an independent, failed to secure 10% of the vote.
In Contra Costa County, about 40 miles east of San Francisco, voters re-elected District Attorney Diana Becton, who is part of a Progressive prosecutor alliance with Boudin. Becton, the first county prosecutor to bring felony charges against a law enforcement officer for an on-duty shooting, won his primary outright by obtaining more than 50% of the vote, thus avoiding the challenge of a colleague supported by the trade unions of the forces of law and order.
In Alameda County, home to Oakland, voters ousted Sheriff Gregory Ahern, who oversaw the mortal prison, cooperated with ICE on evictions and launched the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia. Ahern lost to Yesenia Sanchez, a sheriff’s commander who called for alternatives to jail for people with mental illness and reducing the use of solitary confinement.
Ballots are still being counted and the results of close races could still change. With statewide voter turnout hovering around 29%, progressives who have done well in the first two primaries could still lose in the general election as candidates consolidate and more voters show up. But with the information currently available, the grips on an electorate terrorized by crime and desperate for law and order simply don’t hold up.