Gavin Newsom, the perceived front-runner, has a strong track record of supporting criminal justice reform measures. He was the lone statewide politician to endorse Proposition 47 in 2014, which made nonviolent offenses like drug and property crimes misdemeanors instead of felonies. He also positioned himself as the face of the Prop 64 effort to legalize recreational marijuana for adults. Additionally he is opposed to the death penalty. This all sounds very appealing on a surface level, but the problem is that Newsom isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. He’s the perfect American politician – tall, white, righteous, and handsome. However, nothing suggests he has transcended the superficial tides of understanding that beseech common understandings of mass incarceration. For example, in a 2016 interview he chimed in that, “The war on Drugs is a political war, not a scientific war. If it was a scientific war, it would have collapsed under its own weight years ago.” First of all, ‘if it was a scientific war’ demonstrates a poor command of the English language (if it were a scientific war), see: Newsom, not the sharpest tool in the shed. Secondly, it’s time to move beyond maximizing the role of the War on Drugs as the main engine of prison growth in CA. Yes, Mr. Newsom the War on Drugs was a failed political war. Next will you inform voters that water is still wet? We desperately await your cutting edge analyses. Newsom is likely to win in 2018, but here’s to hoping he surrounds himself with people who understand the majority of CA inmates aren’t incarcerated for smoking pot.
Antonio Villaraigosa, former CA assembly member and mayor of LA, is the other big-name candidate in the 2018 race. As the mayor of LA he pursued an agenda of making LA the safest big city in the country. To accomplish this Villaraigosa expanded LAPD to its largest force in city history by adding over 1,000 officers. Depending on one’s experiences in life, more cops than ever is either really good or really bad policy. This blogger leans towards the really bad side of the continuum. What if Villaraigosa had sought to understand the social conditions that facilitate crime by adding 1,000 teachers and making LA the most advanced K-12 system in the country? Adding more cops deals with the back end of the problem instead of tackling the features that lead to crime in the first place. This is a common political move; mobilize voters by preying on their fear of crime instead of digging deep and having tough conversations that could reduce the need for the largest police force in city history. In a recent interview, Villaraigosa touted his progressive resume on criminal justice issues. “I was taking on prison building in 1994, when my voice was one of the few challenging the fact that we were putting more people in prison than any place in the world. And I think it’s time for us to invest in people.” Villaraigosa did, however, vote in favor of building a maximum-security prison north of Bakersfield when he was state Assembly speaker in 1999. Truth is fickle, Mr. Villaraigosa even in the current post-fact era. This blogger hopes Mr. Villaraigosa doesn’t intend to build the largest state-wide police force in CA history to show his commitment to ‘investing’ in people.
John Chiang, former State controller and current Treasurer, is the dark horse in the race. It’s difficult to find much about his criminal justice positions. His life however has been deeply affected by crime. Chiang’s late sister, Joyce, was 28 when she went missing and was found murdered. Chiang understands the ability to meet demands for smart on crime initiatives often ties back to finances and making sure there’s enough money in the state budget. “If you don’t understand the state’s finances you can’t support the programs that we so direly and deeply need in CA.” Amen to that, Mr. Chiang. It should also be noted that Chiang is the only major democratic candidate who doesn’t have an adulterous past. Respecting women and half of the electorate should probably be a pre-requisite to run for public office, but the events of November ’16 brutally rejected this notion.
As readers may observe this blogger omitted any Republican candidates for the race because, well, this is CA. It would be hard for Republicans to have any less of a voice than they currently do. Too bad for them.