Sunday Commentary: The Specter of DA’s Race, Progressive Prosecution, Battle in Supervisor Race

In 2018, Jeff Reisig, a three-term incumbent who hadn’t even been challenged in 2010 or 2014 faced a little known public defender, Dean Johansson.  Surprising everyone, including myself, Mr. Johansson pushed the incumbent to the brink in a campaign that featured a battle between a prosecutor who has given lipservice but not deed to reform, against one who pushed the envelope on reform.

In the end, despite a nasty campaign that saw the under-financed public defender nearly take out the incumbent, Mr. Reisig prevailed by a narrow margin that stunned even the most optimistic of observers.

This is a scenario we are seeing over and over again across the country.  Tiffany Caban, a young public defender narrowly lost the Queens DA race.  In San Francisco, Suzy Loftus is the somewhat progressive establishment favorite in a pitched battle against public defender Chesa Boudin.

In a strange move this week, we see San Francisco outgoing DA George Gascón now resigning his seat early and likely to move to LA to challenge incumbent LA DA Jackie Lacey.

Writes the NY Times this morning: “Such a race could help define criminal justice reform.”

Against this backdrop, we have the Yolo County Supervisor race.  If anything this could be a proxy battle that repeats much of the 2018 DA election.  After all, one of the few issues that separate three-term incumbent Jim Provenza from challenger Linda Deos is the DA’s race.

In 2018, Jim Provenza backed the incumbent, Jeff Reisig.  Linda Deos backed Dean Johansson.

Now they are returning the favor.  Dean Johansson has endorsed Linda Deos.  And Jeff Resig has endorsed Jim Provenza.

Jim Provenza, some will remember, was a long-time lobbyist for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.  You will recall he worked for Steve Cooley, who served as DA in Los Angeles from 2000 to 2012.  The Republican faced Kamala Harris in 2010 for Attorney General and lost.  He was preceded by Gil Garcetti (prosecutor of OJ Simpson and father of current LA Mayor Eric Garcetti) and followed by current DA Jackie Lacey.

This week Jim Provenza posted this endorsement on his Facebook page.

The question we have – is this is a good move or a bad move for Jim Provenza to not only take the endorsement from Jeff Reisig but feature it prominently?

The DA’s race figured to play a role in this election simply because it is one of the cleanest lines of demarcation between the two candidates.  You can argue that Jim Provenza is making a mistake injecting a highly polarized figure into the race, when he is the incumbent and probably had supporters from both sides of the DA-race divide.

The numbers are probably more evenly split in this portion of the city than you might think.  When we ran the numbers last year, we found that, overall in the city, Dean Johansson was supported by about 56 percent of the vote in Davis.  Once you got out of the city, Jeff Reisig was supported by about 60-40.

The Fourth Supervisorial District includes eastern portions of Davis, El Macero and a bunch of rural areas.

If you look at the math, the city of Davis went about 60 percent for Dean Johansson if you exclude four precincts in South Davis – all of which are in the Fourth Supervisorial District.  That gets Davis’ take to about 52 or 53 percent for Mr. Johansson in the district – add in El Marcero and the rural areas, and it becomes nearly a 50-50 wash.

One would be tempted to look at that math and argue there is no advantage either way electorally.

But they’d be wrong.

Let me explain why this is not a good idea for Jim Provenza.

Let us estimate that he came into the race with an inherent 70-30 advantage over Linda Deos on the basis that he is a 12-year incumbent, has a huge name recognition advantage and a strong base of voters.  Some might argue that that number is too high, but follow me here for the sake of argument.

Linda Deos wants to make this race about a few things – one is that she is a woman and there are no women on the board.  But also she wants to run to Jim Provenza’s left.  She wants to argue that she is the real progressive and Jim Provenza is too conservative.

The reality is that on most issues we are probably not going to be able to distinguish the voting record of Jim Provenza from that of Linda Deos.  But the DA is one of the few real sharp differences.  And Jim Provenza is now taking his immense electoral advantage and tying it to the polarizing figure of Jeff Reisig.

That is a huge advantage for Linda Deos because it puts people who support Jim Provenza but oppose Jeff Reisig in a bad position.

Jim Provenza is hitching himself to a weaker candidate who is polarizing, and thereby giving Linda Deos the inroads she needs to try to make this race a referendum on the current district attorney.  In short, he is handing her a way to get into this race that she may have lacked previously.

Will this have legs?  Hard to know.  Jim Provenza has a long track record of his own and his support may be solid enough to overcome this.  But he has now opened the door to an issue that can give Linda Deos traction.  We will see if this one has legs.

—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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15 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

    Nice guilt by association hit piece David. Interestingly, since you want to talk about criminal justice, why don’t you be fair and talk about Deos’ record working as a negotiator for the prison guard union, CCPOA.

    Or better yet why not talk about what these people have done in their service for this community:

    Provenza has a long history of service to this community. Off the top of my head I can recall Provenza as a supervisor recently helped hire an immigration attorney for the public defenders office, saved the emergency child crisis nursery, got the KDVS radio tower built at the dump instead of near residential areas, has worked to preserve open space and been a tireless advocate for those least able among us, particularly seniors and children. As a school board member he was there when David Murphy retired and hired James Hammond who is considered one of the best Superintendents in the entire State of California. He also got a desperately needed new junior high school built.

    Deos has served on some commissions and spoke in favor of parking meters at the city council.

    In fairness, I don’t know much about her. Maybe she has some other accomplishments for the people of Yolo County that I am unaware of. Maybe some of her supporters will enumerate those for us.

      1. Eric Gelber

        “… a long history of self service.” Right. Because when lawyers want to get rich, they work for Legal Aid or take state or local government positions.

  2. Don Shor

    My guess is that this issue/endorsement might matter deeply to a small number of people who were likely to vote for Linda Deos anyway.

    Her decision to challenge Jim is a quixotic endeavor that is baffling to most observers, as far as I can tell. My prediction is Provenza will win by a comfortable margin, as he reflects the political positions of his district well and has a long record of effective service and a very broad base of support. Then perhaps Linda Deos can set her sights on one of the new council districts in the next election cycle.

    1. Craig Ross

      I’m sure you thought Reisig was safe too and probably figured he would win by a comfortable margin.  The rules have changed post Trump, now it’s about grassroots organizing.

      1. Don Shor

        I’m sure you thought Reisig was safe too

        He was.

        and probably figured he would win by a comfortable margin.

        I didn’t hazard a guess. There’s a world of difference, politically speaking, between Jeff Reisig and Jim Provenza. The challenger had a lot of plausible issues going up against Reisig. With Provenza, it seems the only reason for this race is identity politics.

        1. David Greenwald

          Don:

          I’m simply analyzing the race based on small information.

          First, of all, Reisig wasn’t safe. That ended up going from a safe Reisig to a toss up or at most a lean Reisig

          Second, I don’t know what impact this will have, but I have heard from five people this morning with basically this response: “until the whole very publicly embracing support from Reisig thing, I was on the fence about the supers race” and sometimes even stronger. You may be right that this won’t matter, but this changed things for a number of people and could have an impact on the race.

  3. Eric Gelber

    I’m not following the logic here. Jim Provenza has a well-established record as an effective, progressive supervisor and, as you note, there’s not much room for Deos to distinguish herself on the issues. You assume that Provenza comes in with a huge, perhaps 70-30, advantage despite having endorsed Reisig in the last DA race. Given that, it’s not clear how merely accepting Reisig’s endorsement will have much of an impact on the outcome.

  4. Sharla Cheney

    I would wait to see the long list of endorsers before dismissing Jim over the endorsement of one.  You are having to dig pretty deep to find mud to sling.  I’m sure that the opposing campaign will grasp on to this and blow it out of proportion (as we see in the comments above).  Jim has worked tirelessly in service to the community and for the benefit of the community. He acts independently and follows his own lead.

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