My View: Local Paper Buys Into Progressive DA Argument

The Davis Enterprise this week endorsed Jeff Reisig for district attorney.  Really, there is no surprise there.  In fact, the only surprise would have been had they endorsed challenger Dean Johansson.

However, the arguments they made were disappointing and at times inaccurate.  The Enterprise wrote, “In addition to being a tough, effective prosecutor, he’s a tireless worker for the rights of crime victims, always making sure their voices are heard. If he did nothing else, his effectiveness at the primary part of his job would merit his re-election.”

As I said, it is not really a surprise that the Enterprise would endorse Reisig.  What troubles me is this line: “Despite efforts by those opposed to him to portray him as something that he is not, Reisig is, in fact, one of the most progressive district attorneys in the state. His Neighborhood Court initiative brought restorative justice into the official fold, and set an example that is being sought by other D.A.’s. There’s also Mental Health Court, Drug Court and implicit-bias training for Yolo prosecutors. The truth is that under Reisig’s leadership, Yolo County is a leader in reforming the justice system.”

This is simply not true.  Yolo County has one of the highest trial rates in the state.  Dean Johansson has pointed out that, under Jeff Reisig’s watch, Yolo County has been at the top of the list of per capita incarceration, ranking as high as second in the state, and currently 14th.  For a county that is in the middle of the pack in crime, that is a high number.

Yolo County ranked at the top of the list in terms of direct filing of juveniles in adult court.  And there is a disproportionate prosecution as well – blacks are ten times more likely to be tried in Yolo County than whites, while Hispanics are twice as likely.

These are not signs of a progressive district attorney.  Neither for that matter is his opposition to statewide criminal justice reform matters.

Jeff Reisig is one of four DAs in the entire state to oppose the legalization of marijuana (Prop. 64).  That puts him in interesting company.  The other three were Anne Marie-Schubert, the embattled DA in Sacramento, Tony Rackauckas, the scandal-torn DA in Orange County in the center of the jailhouse informant controversy, and Mike Ramos of San Bernardino County, the outspoken head of the DA’s Association, who has been called an “innocence denier” for his insistence that wrongfully convicted people are guilty.

In addition, he opposed AB 109.  He opposed the death penalty ban – twice.  He supported speeding up the death penalty.  He opposed Prop. 47 and Prop. 57.  And he took no position on three strikes reform – when his office had infamously pursued a third strike for a man who stole a $3.99 bag of shredded cheese from the Woodland Nugget.

To call him one of the most progressive DAs in the state is either an indictment of all the other DAs or a misuse of the word progressive.

The Eric Pape case that we highlighted yesterday is a great example of what is wrong here.

We have been covering the courts for over eight years now and we see these kinds of cases all the time.  Usually they don’t end in suicide, obviously, but they are cases that are overcharged or perhaps criminalized unnecessarily and could be better handled in other ways.

For all of the talk about mental health court or neighborhood court, neither of them addressed this situation.

Reisig likes to tout his neighborhood court, but neighborhood court takes cases that no one else would ever prosecute and he puts them in the system.   At the same time, he has never expanded to a
whole host of other cases that don’t need to be in the court system.  The neighborhood court addresses “victimless” crimes rather than situations like this, where one person causes harm to another.

Counties like Fresno, on the other hand, have had VORPs (Victim-Offender Reconciliation Processes) for years.  we are actually far behind the times, despite the propaganda coming from his office.

No one covers these cases but us.  No one knows about them.  But they define Jeff Reisig’s tenure as DA.  But if you are not in the court, you don’t see it.  We’ve been there for eight years and we see these kinds of cases all the time.  The only difference in the case of Eric Pape is that he happened to end his life as the result of the long and drawn out criminal proceedings.

The Enterprise continued: “The attacks on Reisig have been driven entirely by ideology.”

It is not clear exactly what that means, but I would argue, what is wrong with replacing the prosecutor if you disagree with his charging policies?

Dean Johansson has modeled his candidacy after Philadelphia’s newly-elected DA Larry Krasner.  Mr. Krasner assumed the office as a man who cut his teeth as a civil rights attorney.  He is a strong proponent of police reform and criminal justice reform.

In media coverage, Mr. Krasner has said he had never thought about running for district attorney and spent his career on the other side of the courtroom, and even has sued police dozens of times for corruption and abuse.

When he looked at the candidates for DA, Mr. Krasner didn’t think any were fit for the job.

“I saw no potential for real transformational change,” he told the media, so he ran himself.

“The culture around criminal justice has not been justice,” Mr. Krasner said when he announced his candidacy. He described a record of mandatory and “excessive” sentencing and a system that disproportionately incarcerates minorities and poor people.

Sound familiar?  Dean Johansson likes to talk about the fact that when he first decided to run, he was looking for someone else to support.  First it was Larry Eichele, the longtime deputy district attorney, now fighting for his job in the DA’s office.  When Larry Eichele bowed out, Johansson was looking for a woman from outside of the county.

Not being able to find one, he said, “I wasn’t going to ask someone else to do what I wouldn’t do myself.”  So he ran.

He has been surprised by the reception and his insurgent campaign has picked up steam.  This week we have seen a series of attacks against him from various surrogates of the incumbent.

But even the opposition has been surprised by how much traction he has gotten.  Dean Johansson told a group that when he announced, veteran political consultants told him he was in too late and that he needed $150,000 just to get in the game.  Instead, they are making do with far less.

A Reisig supporter told me last week that they had spoken with a key volunteer for the Reisig campaign who said that when they walk precincts they are amazed by how many people are telling them not to bother talking to them, they are supporting Johansson.

Will it be enough to unseat the 12-year veteran DA?  Hard to say in a race without polling.  What we do know is that there is a clear difference between the two candidates – one stands for criminal justice reform and the other stands for traditional prosecutions.

Frankly, that is a good thing – the voters have a clear choice in the direction they want.  My only objection is not only that the Enterprise has endorsed one of the options, but rather that they have tried to turn Jeff Reisig into something he is not.  He is not one of the most progressive DAs in the state – he is one of the least.

The voters can decide for themselves what they want.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Tia Will

    Your article made me curious. If the Enterprise has taken the position that Jeff Reisig should be elected because he  is a progressive DA, is this in effect not an endorsement of a change to the progressive vision of a more equitable judicial system?

    If progressive is what the Enterprise sees as the goal, why not elect the individual that truly embraces a progressive vision rather than Reisig who is being pulled forward forcibly into a more progressive stance by progressive leaders in other communities ( Fresno) and locally ? Why not elect someone who’s own vision is progressive?

    1. David Greenwald

      Fair questions. In part I think they have bought into his rhetoric that he’s using even if its at odds with his record.

      They also add: “The attacks on Reisig have been driven entirely by ideology. We can’t fathom replacing a competent, effective prosecutor purely on those grounds.”

      So you shouldn’t replace a DA because you disagree with them?

  2. Tia Will

    “The attacks on Reisig have been driven entirely by ideology.”

    This is clearly an inaccurate statement. None of my comments on Reisig’s performance have been driven by ideology. My objection to Reisig centers around two issues:

    1. Poor judgement – Reisig does not appear to appropriately prioritize. In seeking “law and order” he spends resources on a marijuana sting while allowing the freedom of a methamphetamine dealer. At the same time he wants a third strike over a bag of cheese. He wants felony charges over an out of control patient suffering from anxiety.

    2. Poor utilization of resources – number of cases brought to trial vs number of convictions compared with other counties. Time & money spent on non-dangerous individuals when there are dangerous individuals at large.

    While it is true that my vision for how to achieve safe communities is ideologically far removed from that of Reisig since I prefer ( as does Johansson) a preventative rather than a punitive model with incarceration reserved for the dangerous while alternative routes are chosen for the non dangerous, I have not based my criticism on this.

    1. David Greenwald

      It still I think comes down to how you view ideology. If ideology is your conception of what the criminal justice system ought to be, then that is probably a key factor in your assessment. We have turned ideology into a bad word, and it need not be.

      1. Jeff M

        If you have the time, give this a watch and listen.  I think these two minds are our potential saviors for increasing understanding and ultimately helping all of us bridge our ideological divide.   https://www.bit
        [moderator: had to break up a word to get this past the filter. Copy, remove the space, and paste into your browser.]
        But I do agree with you that the support of Johansson over Riesig is likely ideological in part.  And I agree that it does not need be a bad word.   There is certainly benefits in liberal views about law enforcement, crime and punishment as there is benefit in a conservative view.

        The discussion on borders from Haidt and Peterson is very interesting and makes sense.  I think it covers a lot of ground with respect to the liberal and conservative view of the two DA choices… with liberals against a sort-of lack of movement/flow that is represented by strong law enforcement, and conservative against a sort of risk of contamination of the community by an increase in the criminal element that results from weaker law enforcement.  You can see how this plays out from Prop-47 where California’s homeless problems have exploded and there is a sharp increase in larceny in many communities in the state that are attributable to Prop-47.

        Of course the optimum choice for almost everything in life is to achieve balance.  That is why I see the criticism of Riesig and support of Johansson as out of balance… because Riesig has performed very well supporting both views.   Name other communities the size and scope of Yolo County where the DA has implemented neighborhood court and restorative justice while also having a performance record of being tough on crime.  Riesig is a progressive DA.

        It seems that Davis liberals are pursuing an extreme agenda here and working to “throw the baby out with the bath water.”   It isn’t ideology at the heart of the problem, it is ideological activism which has become its own industry pursuing business relationships and ultimately profit.

  3. Matt Rexroad


    Come on.  Just admit it.  You are completely 100% in support of Dean.

    I am 100% completely in support of Reisig.

    This blog/news source… is not an objective player in this race and hasn’t been since the start.

    Matt Rexroad

    (916) 539-0455





  4. Howard P

    Took someone’s previous advice to do a ‘walk-about’ @ Farmers’ Market… talked with 2 candidates… one for CC, the other fror another Co Office… thinking back, saw no “table” for the incumbent DA… was one for the challenger for DA…

    I’ll break one of my rules, and make an endorsement (hope that doesn’t hurt him)… Jesse Salinas for Clerk/Assessor/Recorder… have gotten to know him, and he and his staff (in elections, in particular) are continuing and enhancing the works of his predecessors… Tony and Freddie…

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