2018 in Review: The Near Upset in the District Attorney’s Race

Dean Johansson Anounces

In the fall of 2017, veteran Deputy District Attorney Larry Eichele announced he was going to run against his boss for District Attorney.  It was a contest that did not last very long as Mr. Eichele, citing a variety of personal factors, quickly bowed out of the race.

But his foray into the race would cost him his job as he was subsequently placed on administrative leave and then either fired or resigned – neither the county nor Mr. Eichele will comment on the specifics of what happened.

In various speeches during the campaign, Mr. Johansson said that after Larry Eichele bowed out, he began to search for someone to run against him.  He couldn’t find anyone and said, “I didn’t want to ask people to do what I wouldn’t do myself.”

When he announced in January, he acknowledged, “I know it will be a vertical climb. I’ve been told that it was too late to run. But I have to run because of all the human wreckage caused by the current DA.”

“I am tired and sickened by his over-prosecution of cases, and prosecuting cases that should not be prosecuted at all,” Mr. Johansson said. “But these are different times. Fair and just lawyers are winning DA races all over the country,” specifically citing Larry Krasner, a private defense attorney who won the DA race in Philadelphia last November as a “reform DA.” Johansson suggested he sees himself in that role in Yolo County – a reformer.

“I’ve watched in this county as the DA has circumvented the law, including charging peaceful demonstrators with felonies. I sit in a courtroom daily and see overcharged cases all the time,” he continued.

“Yolo County is the incarceration capital…we are in the top six of counties in the state in per capita incarceration rates….it’s unnecessary and costs taxpayers in Yolo County. We need justice but it needs to be fair,” he added.

It was a dirty and at times nasty race.  Mr. Johansson faced questions about his dismissal from Tulare County DA’s office more than a decade before.  He faced a leaked police report that was never prosecuted which contained allegations of an alleged assault against his son.  And he even faced criticism that he did not pledge allegiance to the flag at a candidate’s forum in Woodland.

Despite all of this and being heavily outspent, Mr. Johansson came within an eyelash of knocking off the now four term District Attorney of Yolo County.

We have noted that there has been a wave of progressive DA’s elected across the country.  In 2018, George Soros put money into several of those races – but with mixed results.  The regressive DA’s in San Bernardino and Orange County were knocked off, but many others including Anne Marie Schubert managed to survive.

The Soros folks donated at least $400,000 to Noah Phillips challenge in Sacramento County.  However, the campaign maintains, backed by financial filings, that the Johansson campaign, which raised a total of $70,000 never received anything from Soros.

Meanwhile the Davis Police Officers Association – not normally active in politics, at least not since 2006 – pumped nearly $20,000 into the race for the incumbent on their own.

In the end, Mr. Johansson made it close – far closer than anyone, even his supporters dared to believe.

As Mr. Johansson told the Vanguard, “This isn’t about numbers, it’s about people.  That’s been the message from the very beginning.”

He continued, “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 lives – 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 told me that he believes 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.”

The Davis Enterprise called Jeff Reisig a progressive prosecutor. But in the national movement, he is part of the old guard fighting against things like bail reform, legalization of recreational cannabis, death penalty reform, and more.

He is one of four DA’s in the state that opposed Prop 47, Prop 57, both death penalty reform bills and Prop 64 (which legalized cannabis.

Those DAs were: Anne-Marie Schubert, Mike Ramos, Tony Rackauckas, and Jeff Reisig.

Those in my mind were the four LEAST progressive DAs in the state.  All four were challenged.  Two of them lost – Mike Ramos and Tony Rackauckas.  Jeff Reisig nearly lost.

It remains to be seen if Mr. Johansson ventures again to challenge Jeff Reisig – though he has indicated this was a one-time deal for him.  It also remains to be seen if the DA’s office softens its stances.

In one indication the DA’s office attempted briefly to prosecute Maria Grijalva, a large donor to Mr. Johansson, for alleged campaign finance violation.  But the violations appeared precluded by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and the DA very quickly dismissed the charges.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

* Correction: The article originally noted: ” The regressive DA’s in Riverside and Orange County were knocked off…”  However, it should have reference the San Bernardino DA Mike Ramos not the Riverside DA who was re-elected in 2018.

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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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