AMAC Exclusive – By Claire Brighn
For years now, California politics has been synonymous with left-wing progressivism, and the state has become notorious for producing such radical figures as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Maxine Waters, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and of course Vice President Kamala Harris. But this year, with so many Democrat-induced crises at top of mind in the Golden State – crime and public safety chief among them – there are some signs in public polling that voters may have finally had enough.
According to a recent Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, California voters cite crime and public safety among their top three concerns – behind only “homelessness” and “housing affordability.” Pair this with the fact that 51% of California voters say Governor Newsom is doing poorly on the issue of crime – up 16 points from 2020 – and it appears support for progressive Democrat leadership is souring.
This shift in public opinion follows a worsening trend in crime nationwide. In 2020, there was a 30% surge in the homicide rate. But in 2021, when the effects of the “Defund the Police” movement started to take their toll, many California cities saw the problem grow far worse: in Oakland, there were 134 killings; in Los Angeles, 397 – the highest in 15 years for both cities. Already, killings in LA are on pace to surpass last year’s totals. In pockets throughout the state, last year’s extraordinary spike in retail theft, smash and grab robberies, and property crimes continues unabated.
By now it’s obvious that progressive district attorneys have played an outsized role in fanning the flames of lawlessness. LA District Attorney George Gascón is a prime example of this. Elected in 2020, his “new approach” to criminal justice included no juveniles tried as adults, no cash bail except violent felonies, and no death sentences. Moreover, he did away with sentencing enhancements.
Combined with a $150 million cut to the LAPD budget last year, and the result has been a complete breakdown in law and order in the city. Last year, for example, leaked audio showed an inmate planning to attack a police officer in LA County during a prison transfer so that he could be resentenced under Gascon’s more lenient directives.
The effort to recall Gascón (led by Desiree Andrade, the mother of a young man brutally murdered whose killers received lenient sentences under his policies) is on the cusp of having enough votes to put it on the ballot before the July deadline. Conversely, Los Angeles Sherriff Alex Villenueva – a tough-on-crime Democrat who once called out Gascón for living in a “woke palace” and has pushed for clearing out homeless encampments – appears on track to win re-election, with BPS polling showing that 55% of Latino voters in Los Angeles have a favorable opinion of him compared to only 24% who have an unfavorable opinion.
San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin is already on the ballot for recall on June 7, and the outlook for him is grim indeed. One poll found that 68% percent of likely San Francisco voters say they will vote to recall him – including 64% of Democrats. As DA, Boudin has refused to prosecute many crimes, ended cash bail, and expressed open hostility toward law enforcement.
Digging into the data behind these recalls and other ideological trends among California voters shows an alarming trend for progressives, who are losing support with the very groups they proclaim their policies will help the most. According to a recent April 2022 California Community Poll, for example, 63% of Latinos and 58% of African Americans are dissatisfied with crime and public safety in their area – more than any other demographic –an 18 point and 15 point jump from February 2020, respectively. This shift alone clashes with the notion of “systemic racism” that radical progressives cite as reason for their soft on crime policies.
Given that California has had a Democrat supermajority since 2011, a quick, full-fledged red flip seems unlikely. But history suggests a turnaround is not impossible. In his book “San Fransicko,” Michael Shellenberger (once a Democrat who is now running as an Independent against Governor Gavin Newsom) writes: “the chaos, political radicalism, and rising crime in the late 1960s provoked a desire among all races and both political parties for greater law and order.” In 1976, beginning with the Uniform Determinate Sentencing Act, then throughout 1980s and 90s, “voters, policy makers, judges, and prosecutors pursued steeper charges and longer sentences.”
The first part of that equation is undoubtedly already in place in California now. And seeing as today’s Democratic Party is dominated by uncompromising radicals completely devoted to rigid partisan ideology, the prospect for reform seems remote. Given those two conditions, the opportunity may be ripe for more moderate Democrats and Republican challengers to channel voter frustrations into some real and much-needed changes in the cradle of American progressivism.
Claire Brighn is the pen name of a conservative researcher and writer with previous domestic and foreign policy experience in the Executive Branch.
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