Commentary: Takeaways from the DA Debate

Jeff Reisig at the LWV in Woodland; Photo by David M. Greenwald

by Robert J. Hansen

I’ve spent the last two months covering the race for Yolo County District Attorney and, to my knowledge, I am the only reporter doing so for any news outlet.

Here is my take on Wednesday’s debate hosted by the League of Women Voters and how the race has been going with about five weeks left until the June 7 primary.

One thing that stood out to me was that DA Jeff Reisig admitted that his current plan for his drug diversion program, Hope California or AB 1928, is a form of coerced treatment.

“The other issue is the treatment, well guess what Governor Newsom’s plan includes coerced treatment, I support him,” Reisig said. The law that I worked on with Assemblymember McCarty had coerced treatment and every Democrat and Republican in Sacramento supported us.”

At the April 12, Yolo Board of Supervisors meeting Reisig and Chief Deputy DA Jonathan Raven both asserted that AB 1928 is not coerced treatment.

“What AB 1928 proposes to do is create a new path for these people that is all about treatment,” Reisig said. “Instead of being warehoused in prison, they are being offered an option to choose treatment in a secure facility.”

This is something that his challenger, Cynthia Rodriguez, didn’t point out during the debate.

Reisig seemed to have the same answers as he did in the first debate while Rodriguez was able to provide more details about how differently the DA’s office would be run if she is elected.

I thought Rodriguez sounded slightly nervous while Reisig came off, a little irritated he had to be there in the first place.

This was noticeable when Reisig said, “This is what I have been doing as district attorney. Our programs have helped thousands of people. The data tells the truth.”

He also seemed irritated the many times he falsely claimed Rodriguez has no experience as a prosecutor.

Reisig and Rodriguez both seemed prepared, having plenty of notes with stats and Reisig even had quotes from news articles written about him.

Rodriguez had several different statistics regarding recidivism rates in Yolo County citing a report saying “about 30 percent recidivism after year one and about 56 percent after that. Mostly what we need to know is that 50 percent of those getting out of custody return in one to six years.” 

She also made the point of mentioning that the Commons data portal provides data up to September 2021 and criticized it and Reisig for the lack of analysis (what the data means) it provides.

Reisig read an email from one of the first people to complete Yolo County’s mental health program and quotes from a Sacramento Bee article suggesting he is a progressive prosecutor and lauding his race-blind charging algorithm.

Each candidate certainly had specific talking points that they made sure to fit in where they could.

Reisig several times criticized San Francisco (for some reason) and also brought up the Commons data portal, the race-blind charging algorithm, and the mental health and diversion programs each a couple of times. 

The DA repeatedly asserted that his challenger has never prosecuted a case before, which isn’t true.

He also said, “You simply cannot be a competent, elected district attorney without the experience that I have.” 

It sounds like he thinks to be a DA you had to already have been a DA, a logical paradox. Obviously, that’s not the case.

Rodriguez was quick to point out that if crime is rising in Yolo County that it is happening under Reisig’s watch as he has been the DA for the last 16 years, by saying, “I’m glad my opponent is willing to admit that crime has gotten worse under his leadership and has not addressed the problems of our county.”

I would have liked to hear Rodriguez mention all the campaign donations Reisig has received from outside of Yolo County and the large amounts he receives from law enforcement agencies as well as police officers themselves when police accountability was brought up.

Reisig of course claimed he has held police officers accountable for use of force, but never has in his 16 years as DA. A former West Sacramento police officer was sentenced to 205 years for kidnapping and sexual assault in 2014 but that’s not the same as a use of force incident. 

Both campaigns seem to have a lot of support. 

Rodriguez may not have as much campaign money but has contributions from more people in small amounts. 

Reisig even has a supporter willing to tear down campaign signs that support Rodriguez.

Reisig has had lots of his employees or people in law enforcement submitting letters of support to the Davis Enterprise which it seems all too happy to publish.

To be fair to the Enterprise, letters supporting Rodriguez have also been published, just not from current employees because, well, she’s not been the District Attorney for 16 years.

And to that, any criticism that Reisig receives is because he has 16 years in office to criticize while Rodriguez only has her proposal and platform to criticize. 

This is perhaps why Reisig has taken to using other news outlets to bolster a false sense of outrage over campaign donations Rodriguez has received.

A recent Fox 40 segment spoke with the founder of Crime Victims United, a longtime Reisig supporter, to make it seem like Rodriguez did something wrong by someone donating to her campaign, as if she controls what people do with their money. 

Let alone the fact that Harriet Salarno, founder of Crime Victims United, never acknowledged that the donations were given to Empower Yolo, a nonprofit organization providing services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse.

Overall I think this is going to be another close race like 2018 when Reisig defeated Dean Johansson by 2023 votes out of a total of 42,743 votes. 

That’s a margin of victory of 2.4 percent. 

Given the impact that mail-in ballots have had in increasing voter turnout, experienced in both 2018 and the 2020 elections, voter turnout should remain high—which means this is still anybody’s race.

About The Author

Robert J Hansen is an investigative journalist and economist. Robert is covering the Yolo County DA's race for the Vanguard.

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  1. David Greenwald

    It was nice of Reisig to acknowledge what some others argued against, his proposal is for coerced treatment.

    “The second issue that she brings up is the treatment issue. Well, guess what? Governor Newsom’s plan includes coerced treatment. I support him. The law worked on with Assembly member McCarty had coerced treatment, and guess what every Democrat and every Republican in Sacramento supported us.”

  2. PhillipColeman

    “He also seemed irritated the many times he falsely claimed Rodriguez has no experience as a prosecutor.”

    Was this really a false claim? If it is not, maybe that’s why Reisig seemed to be so irritated with a continued falsehood portrayal.

    Fact: Candidate Rodriguez has repeatedly cited her past history as an investigator and portrayed herself as a “prosecutor” in conjunction with complaints involving state correctional officers. Fact: She did have the highest level of administrative authority to investigate, determine guilt or innocence, and punish offenders with a variety of options including termination. But did Rodriguez ever have the legal authority to porsecute in any court of law.

    The simple answer is no. Reisig has that authority, it was given to him by virtue of being elected by the voters of this county. Rodriguez has never filed a criminal or civil prosecution in a court of law because she never has had the ability to do so. If Rodrigues wanted to prosecute a correctional officer in Yolo County she would have to ask Reisig to do it on her behalf.

    Could Rodriquez perform the function of a prosecutor if she was elected? Quite probably, yes.

    A newly minted District Attorney Rodriquez could, and no doubt would call on retired state and county prosecutors for counsel. In addition, she would e briefed on past history and policy by career subordinate district attorneys who now report to her.

    Had Rodriquez taken this position in the above paragraph in response to the question of prosecution experience, it would have been accepted by the voting public far better than the disingenuous portrayal we hear on a repeated basis.

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