By David M. Greenwald
Justice reform groups came together on Thursday in six targeted DA races in three different categories—Contra Costa County where progressive DA Diana Becton is running for reelection; in Santa Clara and Riverside where progressive candidates are challenging incumbents; Sacramento where there is an open seat; and then Los Angeles and San Francisco which are seeing recalls.
The webinar was hosted by the California Donor Table, which invests in communities of color to help elect people who represent their values and needs, and they have identified six district attorney races with the greatest potential to reduce mass incarceration and advance criminal justice reform policies.
James Herard, Executive Director of Lift Up Contra Costa said, “We believe (this) will help tilt the balance of powers back to the communities of whom these candidates hope to serve.”
They are focusing on Diana Becton, who “has said during her tenure that she has set an agenda that prioritize its transparency, accountability among law enforcement officers throughout the county.”
He noted, “We were instrumental in getting Diana Becton nominated and appointed in 2017, and then elected in 2018 to this office. We had to respond to coordinated attacks on her by her former staff members and BOS.”
He added, “Seeing these coordinated efforts are still happening till this day in the Contra Costa County, we are seeing coordinated efforts in terms of messaging, talking points and funding to hopefully stop this progressive move to dismantle the criminal justice systems here in Contra Costa County.”
Ericka Persson, from Working Families Party discussed Santa Clara.
“The California Working Families Party has endorsed Sajid Khan against incumbent Jeff Rosen who’s enjoyed unchallenged power for over a decade.”
She noted that with three people in the race, it could go to a November runoff.
“Despite the fact that Rosen ran as a reformer during his tenure, he’s demonstrated a tough on crime mantra, showcasing that it’s his priority to throw the book at individuals for violent crimes, rather than investing in investigative rehabilitative approaches in order to change behavior,” Persson said.
She added, “What we stand to gain for participating in these races, especially in progressive havens like California, where we can really push the Overton window toward explicitly saying abolition, it sets us up to be as successful as possible in creating the criminal legal system reforms that our communities demand and it elects powerful lobbyists. The DA is the most powerful local elected official, when we elect power, when we elect a DA, we elect a powerful lobbyist systemic change.”
Vonya Quarles is a steering committee member of Inland Empire United who discussed the Riverside race.
“(Michael) Hestrin is the sitting District Attorney and he is harmful to our communities, in many many ways,” she explained. “6 percent of the charges filed between 2017 and 2020 in Riverside county were, were filed for what’s called non-serious or non-violent felonies.
“Hestrin leads the country in terms of how much funding he gets from the police officer’s association. He gets more than any other DA in the entire country. And he is unapologetic about that as demonstrated by his track record,” she explained.
Moreover, she said, “Riverside charges more black people under this district attorney than any other group, with black folks as 7.3% of the population. But we, we make up almost 14% of the adults charged by Riverside DAs between 2017 and 2020.”
Further, even though California has a moratorium on the Death Penalty, “our sitting DA has made it his business to try to overthrow that moratorium calling it unconstitutional, challenging it to the Supreme court and continuing to sentence people to, to death penalty sentences.
“The district attorney continues to vote against the will of the people in our county,” Quarles explained, noting that DA Hestrin has made it “his priority to undo the benefits that we in our community see from Prop 47 – even though the people of revised voted to support Prop 47 every election year.”
Running against Hestrin are Bruke Strunsky and Lara Gressley. The group IE United has backed Strunsky.
Pablo Rodriguez from Communities for New California Action fund discussed the Open Seat of Sacramento.
Two candidates are running for Anne Marie Schubert’s seat as she takes on Rob Bonta for Attorney General. Thien Ho and Alana Mathews. CNC Action has endorsed Alana Mathews.
“She is a self-described reformer in this open seat,” he said. The challenge, he said, is that there is a total population of 1.5 million people in Sacramento County, just under 900,000 of them are registered to vote, but only about 34 percent are expected to vote in June which means under 300,000 will actually vote.
“If this seat was treated with the respect and importance it really deserves, this election would actually go off the June primary, but go onto the November General Election when more people participate. That’s just the way this system is.”
He said, “The June primary has a history of electing people that are backwards looking. And the way that our outgoing DA is Uber conservative, that does not reflect the overall of the county of Sacramento.”
Legislation by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, who represents portions of Sacramento, would move all DA and sheriff races to the November ballot of Presidential Election years to address this sort of concern.
Emily Lee from San Francisco Rising Action addresses probably the hottest race right now—the recall of Chesa Boudin. The group is supporting Boudin and opposing the recall.
Boudin, she explained, “ran on a platform that was important to our communities, including police accountability, ending mass incarceration and addressing root causes of crime.”
She said, “When he was elected by San Franciscans, we wanted a district attorney who would work to reimagine our warped criminal legal system and all the harm it does to low income communities and communities of color.”
She noted “the DA has delivered on his promises by limiting the use of three strikes by focusing on rehabilitation instead of incarceration and ending cash bail. And he has prioritized public safety for all people.”
She argued that the recall is “not a reaction to his policies, it was started immediately the day after he was elected by the same forces who never wanted to see him in office, similar to what we have seen across the country.”
Lee explained that the recall has been pushed by “opponents of reform like the San Francisco Republican Party and the Police Officers Association, who want to keep us stuck in the status quo of harsh punishment, racist policing, and mass incarceration.”
She added that “this recall is funded by venture capitalists, real estate lobbyists, and billionaire conservatives. They do not come from represent or protect our communities in San Francisco.”
Their group wants to fix the broken criminal system.
“The reality however is that no government entity can do this alone, we actually need the DA to be able to work hand in hand with other city agencies,” she said. “Instead we have the police department telling victims of crime not to report because the DA’s not going to charge them. We see this as really playing politics with our community safety and throwing our most vulnerable victims under the bus.”
She said, “While people are saying this recall is about safety, we know it’s really about getting rid of someone who’s finally holding police accountable for misconduct.”
Reverend Zach Hoover from LA Voice discussed Los Angeles.
He noted that the first recall effort in Los Angeles sputtered out after 250,000 signatures—they need to get up to 578,000 valid signatures, which probably means they need to get around 700,000.
The Newsom recall collected around 328,000 signatures in LA County.
“They might be a little more organized this time—it’s hard to tell,” Rev. Hoover said. “I feel confident that the voters have not changed as much as some would like us to think that they have.”
He said that the biggest challenger to the collective effort and George Gascón is Sheriff Villanueva and “his literal gang” as well as Trump donors and Trump operatives.
For example, he noted, “The Comms person from Georgia for Trump for the last Presidential is leading the communications efforts.”
He said the bottom line is that “directly impacted people, people of color, built power, got a bunch of us white people who agree with them to work with them, to overturn a bunch of laws that we all know are ridiculously racist and harmful. We’re electing new people who carry this agenda that folks most directly impacted have created and, surprise, people who benefit from things as they are… (are supporting the recall).”