Commentary: Sac DA Decides to Run for AG; Potential Battle Between Reformer and Law and Order Could Ensue

Rob Bonta speaking at San Quentin last summer

By David M. Greenwald

Sacramento, CA – No sooner had Rob Bonta been sworn in as AG than he has been challenged for his first election in 2022.  Sacramento DA Ann Marie Schubert has served two terms and has switched her registration from Republican to Decline to State—but make no mistake, she will run hard to the right on a traditional law and order platform.

That sets up an interesting contrast between Bonta—who has cut his legislative teeth on issues like bail reform and who figures to work hard on issues like police oversight and accountability—and Schubert, who has opposed most of the major criminal justice reform efforts and whose claim to fame is the prosecution of the Golden State Killer.

Can she win?  That’s an interesting question.  The pundits have pointed out that the last Republican to win statewide in California was in 2006, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was in most ways a moderate and who cashed in on his considerable name recognition as an actor.

In fact, in evaluating the recall of Gray Davis one of the points that has been raised is that California has actually gotten bluer since 2003 when Schwarzenegger first won.  In 2003 it was Democrats +9, now it’s Democrats +23.  And while Schubert is in the growing decline-to-state category, for all intents and purposes she is running hard right.

Still, during a time when Republicans do not run strong statewide candidates and in a top two primary, she has a chance to make it to a November General Election.

But can a traditional law and order candidate win?  Californians have not been consistent on such issues.  They have passed measures like Three Strikes Reform, Prop. 47, Prop. 57, and legalized medical marijuana.  But, then again, in 2008 they passed Prop. 8, they twice voted down a repeal of the death penalty, and last election they defeated bail reform and affirmative action reinstatement.

On the other hand, they overwhelmingly expanded the rights of former felons to vote, while heavily voting down a repeal of Prop. 47—a measure backed by Schubert.

The picture it paints is a mixed picture, but largely one rejecting the policies of Schubert.

On Monday, Schubert went after Bonta hard.

“The newly appointed attorney general has voted for and supported policies and laws that are not only destroying the rights of crime victims, but are destroying public safety in this state,” Schubert said.

She continued: “Here is the truth: California’s criminal justice system is in chaos.”

The Bee interviewed Rob Stutzman, a GOP political consultant, who said “if there’s any statewide office where an independent may have a chance, it’s attorney general.

“I think people are going to vote for AG based on if there’s a contrast between the candidates on criminal justice matters,” Stutzman said. “And a real prosecutor versus someone who is a politician.”

But is that a fair assessment of Bonta?  Bonta started his career in the City Attorney’s office in San Francisco.  And, while he has been in the legislatures since 2012, his career is more oriented toward social justice reform and activism than pursuit of political office.

And, for the most part, he has been on the right side of political justice reform issues, whereas more often than not Schubert hasn’t.

She has drawn criticism for failure to prosecute police shootings like Stephon Clark or even lesser police brutality cases.

On Monday she defended her decision not to prosecute in the Clark case, arguing that, while tragic, she “followed the facts.

“We always want to improve the outcomes, but my job as the DA and as the attorney general is to follow the facts of the law,” she said.

But in the wake of the Derek Chauvin case, does that put her out of step with most California voters?

The Bee notes that she “argues that citizens are fed up with the lack of safety they see in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco even after they’ve passed statewide ballot initiatives to lighten criminal sentences and make it easier for prison inmates to be released on parole.”

“Each and every Californian is being impacted. In the words of Nelson Mandela, ‘safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of a collective consensus and a public investment.’ We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear,” she said.

But is that actually true?  November was just a few months ago and the voters overwhelmingly rejected Prop. 20, that would have repealed Prop. 47.

Chrinstine DeBerry, the Executive Director of the Prosecutors Alliance, in a statement tweeted on Monday said, “Schubert attempted to take us backwards with Proposition 20 last year and California voters shot her down.”

She continued, “This is a prosecutor that rejects the science that shows her approach exacerbates rates of reoffense and creates more victims of crime.

“Schubert’s policies have led to the overcrowded prisons and the racial disparities that have come to define our system of justice.

“She’s also taken substantial resources from police unions and looked the other way when police kill unarmed men of color,” Deberry continued.  “But it’s her role as secretary-treasurer of the California District Attorneys Association that’s bound to raise some eyebrows.

“She had oversight responsibility over the admitted misappropriation of millions of dollars set aside for environmental crimes and asset forfeiture which has prompted a DOJ investigation,” Deberry added. “If elected she’d have oversight over the potential investigation into her own wrongdoing.”

As much as we are watching San Francisco and Los Angeles to see what happens in various recalls, the future of criminal justice reform could hang in the balance in the 2022 AG’s race.  Schubert threw down the gauntlet on Monday before Bonta’s seat was even warm.

—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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