Johansson Claims Victory Even Though His Electoral Quest Falls Short

Dean Johansson speaks at a recent rally

If we had predicted that Dean Johansson would finish Election Day trailing 54-46 and by just 2037 votes, we would likely have been accused of drinking the Kool-Aid.  But that just serves to illustrate just how improbable the run he made against incumbent Jeff Reisig was.

In an exclusive interview with the Vanguard on Wednesday, Mr. Johansson broke down several times, overcome with emotion from his efforts to change the criminal justice system in Yolo County.

“This isn’t about numbers, it’s about people.  That’s been the message from the very beginning,” Mr. Johansson told the Vanguard.  “What we did here, it was a victory.  It was a victory before any of this other stuff.  We motivated large groups of people that weren’t motivated before.”

He talked about people who signed up for the first time in their life to vote for him.

“That’s something that I wish could be put into some kind of quantitative analysis – how many people voted, that wouldn’t have voted before, because of this campaign?” he asked.  “That’s to me a success.”

Dean Johansson believes that his campaign has already changed the way that DA Jeff Reisig and his office conduct themselves.

“I don’t care what type of window dressing they give to their system of doing things,” he said.  “I’m there every day watching on the front lines.  I’m a witness.  I know how things go on and they’re nothing like they purport.

“That’s why the people that I resonate with – like in the West Sac and the Broderick area – people who actually see it first hand and know what lies look like, they know the reality,” he said.  “I’ve watched the arraignment calendar.  We get maybe one decline to file a day, maybe.  On a good day maybe two.”

During the campaign one day, “I saw five or six in one day on the calendar after Reisig’s feeling the heat,” he said.  He said that he and several people in the court looked on in disbelief asking “what’s going on” and “we all knew it was because of this campaign…  They’re trying to say that they reject cases from law enforcement and they don’t.”

He doesn’t think they can go completely back to the way it was before.

“I hope the people of Yolo see him for what he is,” he said.  “This has blown the candy-coated veneer off of the system that is inherently flawed and brutal.

“This has forced people to wake up from their comas,” he said.

He said that during jury selection, they asked prospective jurors what they thought about the protest taking place outside.  “It’s not a protest,” he explained.  “It’s an election.”

But he said, “That’s the kind of effect it’s had on the psyche of the people of Yolo, it’s causing them to ask questions.  And that is the success of this campaign.”

Supervisor Don Saylor told the Vanguard, “Dean came from nowhere on the political scene and, in a short period of time, established himself as a credible candidate and built a vast network of volunteers.”

The key, he said, is “his message resonated with a lot of people.  He changed the conversation on criminal justice policy in Yolo County.

“I think the conversation will continue even though the election has passed,” Supervisor Saylor said.

Don Saylor feels that getting to 46 percent of the vote against a sitting incumbent “is pretty significant.”

The belief early one was “the only way a challenger of an incumbent DA would have any chance is if there was some sort of an active scandal of some kind.  In this instance, there should be a focus if not a scandal, certainly a significant policy discussion, about what we’re doing.

“The fact that Dean got as many votes as he did in the current count is pretty significant,” he said.

Don Saylor pointed out that this comes at an interesting time, as they are considering the next version of the community corrections plan, which could become an access point for the Board of Supervisors and the community to push for change.

One interesting tidbit is that the grant that has been funding the Neighborhood Court program is likely to go away and thus the program would lack funding.  While DA Jeff Reisig has touted this as a way to avoid recidivism and divert from the criminal justice system, people like Dean Johansson and Supervisor Saylor argue that the program is underutilized and focuses mainly on actions that would not be charged as crimes in other jurisdictions.

Don Saylor pointed out that a low recidivism rate “is not that meaningful if you’re dealing with offenses that people are not likely to commit again anyway.”  For example, public urination: “if you just leave them alone, they’re probably not going to make a habit of peeing on the street.  They did it one time and most people are probably going to be embarrassed by that.”

The low recidivism rate, he said, “is not compelling on the surface.”  Can the Board push for new policies when the DA is independent and directly elected?  That has to come through the funding, and the fact that the Neighborhood Court money is about to dry up due to the Trump administration cracking down on Sanctuary Jurisdictions might given them leverage that they ordinarily lack.

In the meantime, the question is what happens now.  One person told the Vanguard the next campaign, day one, was Wednesday.

For Dean Johansson, he is going to wait and see what happens in the next day or two.  He will go back to work on Thursday, sitting in court, “doing my job.”

He said he had no plans for running again.

“I was surrounded by human wreckage, the carnage of the system that’s broken.  It’s currently mean and generation destroying.”  He said, “I’ve done it for 20 something years.  I’ve served my tour of duty.  I’m ready to move on to something else.”

Breaking down, he said, “I’m honored to have worked for these volunteers.  This campaign was run by these volunteers.

“That’s where the leadership rests, I was glad to follow their lead and to have been a part of the movement,” he said.  “I was just watching it go on – like everyone else.”

The final message from Dean Johansson: “I started off saying this is not about me, it’s about we.  We’re all in this together.”

—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

    Politically the numbers can be spun either way. I would like to share some things I feel may make a difference going forward. Things I encountered during campaigning for Dean.

    1. I was surprised by the number of registered voters who did not realize the DA was an elected position. This is partially a product of 12 years of Reisig being unopposed. This race will have changed that.

    2. I realized that even those who knew it was an elected position do not seem to connect it to their own lives. They are willing to just assume that the police and DA are working in the best interest of the community, or at least their portion of it.

    3. Many do not connect their tax dollars to the choices made by the DA. What frequently changes this view is the realization that education costs less than incarceration. Dean made this point clearly and repeatedly.

    4. Many assumed that because Reisig was the incumbent, no change is possible. I think this campaign may have changed that view.

    1. Howard P


      1.  Reisig was unopposed when he was first elected?  Weird… I thought he ran unopposed in only two cycles… guess Lenzi (sp?) was a figment of my imagination…

      2. Yes, scary how uninformed many voters are… maybe we need a quiz to qualify voters… I could go for that… I only learned about DA’s being elected 4-5 years before I could vote, at age 18.

      3.  Pass, as that is speculation/conjecture.  Possible correlation, not clear on causality… might be correct.

      4.  Last sentence I agree with… Reisig has had a “shot over his bow”… he may change, to avoid a “direct hit” if he contemplates running for another term.

      Now for a bet… how long will Johannson choose to stay in his current position?  Waterhole may have become poisoned.

      I say this as someone who voted (as did the other members of our household)  for Johannson.

      1. Alan Miller

        Yes, scary how uninformed many voters are…

        Thus:  Pancakes & Politics

        “Before Pancakes and Politics, I was un-informed, now I’m highly MIS-iformed!!!”
        — Johnny Pancake

  2. Ken A

    I’m wondering if David thought Dean had no chance of winning (and only a Kool Aid drinking crazy person would even predict a loss by less than 10%)?

    Just like I didn’t think Trump would win, I didn’t think Dean would win but the large number of people I knew that were voting (and supporting) Dean sure thought he could win just like the few Trump voters I know really thought the guy would win (and would “Make America Great Again”)…

    1. David Greenwald

      I think when you analyze races in advance you don’t have the benefit of hindsight. I think Dean thought he would run and raise critical issues. I don’t think Dean when he started believed it was reasonable that he could win. THat was certainly my assessment. I updated that assessment as the campaign progressed and saw that his message was catching on.

    2. Jim Hoch

      “I don’t think Dean when he started believed it was reasonable that he could win.” Which makes me think we have not seen the last of him on the ballot. 

        1. Jim Hoch

          It seems to be a brilliant point of entry into Davis/Yolo politics. Lots of exposure and instant allies, it seems a waste not to leverage that.

  3. Tia Will

    I have a Dean volunteer’s perspective on this. At least a significant number of us were very cautious about Dean’s prospects of winning. Many of us worked very hard with the idea that getting the message out that there might be more cost effective and humane means of ensuring community safety was worth the effort even without an electoral win. I feel that Dean was able to achieve that goal. I believe that Dean’s late entry into the race was a significant factor as was Reisig’s incumbency. I am very hopeful that this message may resonate in the future, with Reisig in the short term, and with whomever musters the courage to challenge him in the future.

  4. Jeff M

    Johansson claims victor and Hillary won the popular vote.  I understand how losers need to make themselves feel better, but then I think they might keep being losers unless they face the facts honestly.

    There are similarities in the political forces that were behind Johansson and Hillary Clinton in that they are critical of things they don’t like without every putting out the detailed and comprehensive plan that rational voters can calculate as resulting in real improvements in their lives.

    Frankly, those forces are stuck in their exclusive and gated communities filling their elitist guilt box with virtue signals supporting a hierarchy of victim groups… most that cannot afford to live within their exclusive and gated communities.

    From my perspective these people are more dangerous to society than the criminals they tend to multiply.  History is rife with examples and proof.  I think we escaped a major mistake not giving the role of Yolo County DA to Johansson.  The forces of victim group advocacy should stay in their non-profit entities of activism where the rest of us can actually value and support what they do, and state out of the jobs of law enforcement where they would make a mess out of things and then blame Trump.

    1. David Greenwald

      He’s not claiming electoral victory.  He believes he succeeded in getting his message across to the voters and highlighting problems in the system.

      1. Jeff M

        Reisig disagrees and so do the people that voted him in for another term at a time when voters tend to be irritated with all incumbents and want to vote for change.

        I don’t see anything changing and that works for me because I think it is as balanced and good as we could hope if we are realists and not chasing unattainable fantasy.

        Sorry to break the news to you but general societal morality is in the toilet and on decline and the victims group you tend to agitate for tend to fall below the norm.  Without strong law enforcement that cohort would steal everything they can and would enlarge their gang membership and push greater malice.

        So much irony and blind hypocrisy with California politics.  It is the most liberal state, yet the state with the largest economic disparity that keeps growing.  It is a state filled with open-borders people, yet that deny the resulting increase in crime with so many new poor and uneducated immigrants… that have little to no stake in the communities they live in, and hence don’t factor the harm done to the community when they commit crimes.  It is a state that adopted the global warming faith and exploits it to continue to generate hostility toward business and housing development… again producing even more poor that end up looters and moochers committing crimes.  The voting power in CA protects the education status quo… one that is crappy even by historical standards let alone measured to what the modern economy requires… adding even more kids into the system with limited options other than crime.

        And instead of advocating for solutions to these things the liberals that control the state rail against law enforcement for having to deal with the mess.

        If you really cared about the people you routinely agitate for you would advocate for more law enforcement, more economic opportunity, better education and stronger immigration control.

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