Crime and homelessness rocked the California primaries. And after?

Less than three years after scoring a major victory for a national movement seeking to elect progressive prosecutors, San Francisco Dist. Atti. Chesa Boudin was recalled from his duties on Tuesday evening.

In Orange County, Republican Dist. Atti. Todd Spitzer beat his progressive challenger by a more than 3-1 margin and will avoid a runoff in November despite multiple scandals, including the release of a video in which he used a racial slur.

And in a contest for mayor of Los Angeles where U.S. Rep. Karen Bass once seemed dominant, it was billionaire developer Rick Caruso who ended up leading the prime domain after a campaign heavily focused on public safety and policing.

Tuesday’s key findings are by no means a death knell for California politicians focused on criminal justice reform. But the results of some of the most-watched races have underscored just how hard Democrats — especially those on the party’s left flank — are scrambling to balance their goals of a revamped justice system with growing voter anxiety over crime and homelessness.

“What voters are looking for is an acknowledgment of the concerns they face, whether it’s crime, public safety or the cost of living,” said David Binder, a pollster who has worked on Bass’s campaign and with other Democrats nationwide. “We have to recognize that voters are scared, unhappy, feeling there is chaos on the streets and in society that needs to be addressed.”

While there was near unanimity among Democratic strategists that crime has become a major problem, there is less agreement on how to fix it. Some in the center of the party are promising to step up prosecutions, while those on the left have called for more patience and investing in alternatives to incarceration.

Strong performances by progressive district attorney candidates in Alameda and Contra Costa counties on Tuesday night further muddied post-primary diagnoses.

“Voters sent a clear message last night: Both parties need to step up and do something about crime, as well as gun violence,” President Biden said Wednesday. It’s time, he added, for states and cities to “spend the money they have on fighting crime.”

A May poll by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies and co-sponsored by The Times found that 75% of voters believe crime has increased statewide in the past two years and 83% believe the homelessness worsened. Tuesday’s results showed that even in cities where crime had actually fallen, voters voted with safety concerns in mind.

Boudin has been described as soft on crime by both local critics and national media despite the fact that property crime and violent crime have declined overall in San Francisco from 2019 to 2021. Some individual crimes such as burglaries and motor vehicle thefts rose dramatically under his tenure, and remember supporters told voters that Boudin’s policies were to blame for a number of high-profile crimes.

Brian Van Riper, a political consultant from Los Angeles who didn’t run in any of the primary races, said crime statistics are less and less likely to gain traction with an electorate frustrated by homeless encampments or the troubles they can see, smell and touch.

“The streets don’t look as well maintained as they used to… You just don’t feel safe in many ways, and then we see these outrageous crimes, the home burglaries, and people don’t feel safe. basically not safe,” he said.

Boudin’s loss and its potential to energize efforts to recall Los Angeles County Dist. Atti. George Gascón might set off alarm bells for some Democrats, but Tuesday’s results weren’t universally strong for those who embarked on traditional policing campaigns.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who pivoted to the right during his tenure and re-election campaign and repeatedly attacked Gascón on the trail, appears to have missed the 50% plus one vote count he needed to avoid a runoff in November. A one-on-one contest, likely with former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna, could reveal new vulnerabilities.

Sacramento District. Atti. Anne Marie Schubert, who spent months attacking Boudin and Gascón, finished last in the race for state attorney general which was easily won by incumbent Rob Bonta. And in Alameda County, Reform candidate Pamela Price garnered more than 40% of the vote and will enter a runoff in November as the favorite to become Oakland’s chief prosecutor.

Miriam Krinsky, director of a national organization that supports progressive prosecutors, warned Tuesday night against reading too much into Boudin’s defeat, which she said was motivated by heavy Republican spending in an election in low turnout.

Expenses related to the recall exceeded $10 million. More than two-thirds of that sum — about $7.3 million — came from recall backers, including billionaire hedge fund manager William Oberndorf, who has donated millions to Republican campaigns, including the Minority Leader’s fund. Senator Mitch McConnell for Republican Senate candidates.

“Even in the face of this isolated outcome, the reforming prosecutor movement continues to grow stronger because communities recognize that criminal justice reform makes us safer,” Krinsky said.

Sean Clegg, a Caruso campaign adviser, said Californians were recalibrating what they wanted in a criminal justice system, not rejecting reform wholesale.

“Most voters want racial justice. They want fair prosecutions. They want the police to be held to account,” he said. “And they want the tents down. They want crimes to be prosecuted.

That view was echoed on Wednesday by San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who will appoint Boudin’s replacement. She told reporters that while voters have been frustrated with a “lack of accountability” when crimes are committed, it is a “false choice to think we need to drop criminal justice reform or drop criminal justice reform.” the police”.

“It’s not just about law and order, cracking down on crime, locking people up and destroying the key,” Breed said. “That’s not what it’s about. It’s about being accountable…and coming to a reasonable conclusion about justice and what it really means.

The idiosyncrasies of Boudin’s recall – including that the election was a referendum on Boudin instead of a choice between two candidates – should give pause to those trying to predict November’s results, including in the race. for mayor of Los Angeles, Binder said.

Opponents, however, see blood in the water. Tim Lineberger, spokesman for Spitzer’s re-election campaign and Gascón’s recall effort, said Tuesday was a resounding defeat for politicians who he says are ignoring voters’ pleas for help against the crime and homelessness. “None of this was a referendum on any particular candidate or race. I think this was all just a referendum on soft on crime and pro crime policies that devastate the communities where they are put. implemented,” he said. “People react and they push back.”

To force Gascón into a recall election, the campaign to oust him must collect around 567,000 signatures by July 6. As of May 31, it had 500,000. Experts have warned, however, that the group will likely need to collect more than 700,000 petitions to succeed, as some signatures will be rejected in a verification process.

Boudin’s loss is an urgent reminder to advocates and donors who support progressive criminal justice reform that they cannot abandon candidates once they take office, said DeAnna Hoskins, president of JustLeadershipUSA, a non-profit organization working to halve the US prison population by 2030.

She said progressive prosecutors working to undo “years of destruction, years of underinvestment, years of mass incarceration” face an uphill battle.

“We have to build infrastructure to win, but we have to have the infrastructure to champion reform,” Hoskins said. “We cannot retreat once a victory is achieved. We have to keep our collective foot on the accelerator pedal. That’s what we don’t traditionally do. On election night, we say to ourselves ‘Check, it’s done’ and we move on to the next one.

Los Angeles Times

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