By David M. Greenwald
This week we learned that the recall bid for George Gascón fell just short of the signature requirements. The recall campaign had previously told the media that they would not try a third time—given how close they came, it is hard to know if they will stick with that.
The recall attempt in Los Angeles comes on the heels of the successful attempt in San Francisco. The mayor could have calmed things down by appointing a moderate, but instead she—whether intentionally or unintentionally—poured gas on the situation and rubbed the noses of reformers in the dirt by appointing Brooke Jenkins.
The fight is now on in San Francisco. John Hamasaki said as much when he spoke to me last week.
“I think after the recall, everybody was ready to stand down and was hoping that the mayor was going to appoint somebody who was moderate, but reasonable, sensible, ethical—and instead what we’ve got is just the opposite,” he told the Vanguard in a phone interview on Friday afternoon.
He added, “It’s been a nightmare of ethical issues, Brady issues, getting paid by Republicans and not disclosing it issues, and hiring back people with really problematic records, and people who have had the same ethical issues as Ms. Jenkins.”
I figured that the forces of the status quo would push back at some point. I figured that mostly they would do so by running opposition candidates in regularly scheduled elections.
What we have seen, not just in California but across the country, really is remarkable.
We have seen attempts by governors and state legislatures whether they be in Pennsylvania, Missouri or Florida to limit prosecutorial discretion. We have seen recall attempts not just in California but in places like Virginia. And we are seeing potential efforts to impeach Larry Krasner in Philadelphia.
At a virtual rally for Pamela Price, Krasner recently remarked on the situation.
“What is going on is that progressive candidates win,” Krasner said. “When they’re running for DA, they win and they win and they win and they win reelection. And when it’s a normal election cycle and because we are also very, very good at that, much better, frankly, than the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, because we are talking about something people actually want, because we are so good at that, the enemies of criminal justice reform, and yes, believe it or not, they’re mostly Republican, have a new strategy.”
He continued: “They always do. They’re pretty good at their strategy. And the new strategy is recalls. It is term limits. It is what they’re doing to Parisa and what they’re trying to do to me, it is things like impeachment. It is all of this undemocratic stuff you do in between elections because you cannot win elections—more specifically before George Floyd, 10% of all Americans lived in a jurisdiction that had selected a progressive prosecutor like Pamela Price. After George Floyd, 20.1% of all Americans, 75 million people had selected, elected and reelected. In many cases, a progressive prosecutor.
“They couldn’t beat us. They don’t know how to beat us. So they came up with recalls. Why? Because it’s a very, very low turnout situation. It’s a situation where a whole lot of money makes a difference. They came up with this stuff and they’re doing it to me and they’re doing it to Parisa (Dehghani-Tafti from Arlington County, Virginia).
Still, even within that context, what the Florida governor did to Andrew Warren was remarkable.
In 2020, I interviewed Warren for Everyday Injustice. He was a reformer, but he was also a former federal prosecutor.
But he ended up on the wrong side of Governor Ron DeSantis who has presidential aspirations.
As he explained in a Washington Post op-ed, “For nearly four years, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has pursued an approach to governing that has violated the freedoms of people in our state, inventing whatever enemies would help him in his ambition to be the next Donald Trump.”
Without warning, Warren became the latest casualty.
“An armed sheriff’s deputy and a governor’s aide showed up on Thursday morning at the State Attorney’s Office in Tampa, where I was serving as the elected prosecutor for Hillsborough County. They handed me an executive order signed by DeSantis that immediately suspended me from office. Before I could read it, they escorted me out,” he wrote
Think about it—this is an independently elected official. Twice elected by Tampa Bay voters.
“Without any misdoing on my part or any advance notice, I was forced out of my office, removed from my elected position, and replaced with a DeSantis ally,” he wrote.
Talk about an abuse of power.
He added, “In removing me from office, DeSantis offered no examples of specific actions taken by me or my office that broke or ignored the law. On the contrary, I have been delivering on the promises I made to voters by fighting violent crime, reducing recidivism and investing in public safety through rehabilitation and prevention. Our county’s crime rate is the lowest in the region.”
Warren explains: “The governor cites statements I signed with other prosecutors from around the country regarding gender-affirming care and restrictions on abortion rights, two of his political wedge issues. These are value statements, where I expressed my opposition to laws that I believe violate constitutional rights. Florida’s current 15-week abortion ban was found to violate the Florida Constitution by the first court to review it. And Florida has no criminal law at all regarding medical treatments of gender-affirming care. His allegations of ‘neglect of duty’ and ‘incompetence’ are based not on what I have done but on what he predicts I will do.”
That’s where we now are in this country. Some of you reading will probably side with the governor on this. But imagine if Governor Newsom had the power to go into a rural red county and remove the elected prosecutor and put one of his allies in office? I don’t think that would sit well on Fox News.
Personally I think the recall has been abused in California and that elected officials should only be removed for misconduct, but at least in a recall it’s the local voters who decide. In Florida, a duly elected official who had committed no misconduct was summarily removed for what can only be described as political reasons.
The criminal justice reform movement moves forward, but I never imagined the creativity of the forces of the status quo.