Can a Republican become California’s top cop? | Policy

In an attack on California Attorney General Rob Bonta, a woman named Rachel describes her deep frustration over the five-month suspended sentence for a teenage driver who hit her and her eight-month-old child in Los Angeles last year.

The disturbing incident was caught on tape and quickly went viral on social mediacited by countless critics as further evidence of an increase in brazen and violent crime across the state.

Rachel, a Democrat, says she will vote for Nathan Hochman, the GOP nominee for attorney general. Although she and Bonta share different political beliefs, she said the Democratic attorney general is not doing enough to stop the rise in violent crime across the state. She is particularly angry that Bonta refused to take over her case from Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón.

“That kid tried to kill me and my kid and the state couldn’t care less, and they did it by only giving him five months of probation,” she says. “California Attorney General Rob Bonta has the ability to step in and take over from district attorneys like George Gascón, but Bonta chose not to. It’s about electing the right candidate, and Nathan Hochman is the right candidate.”

The ad is part of a mild crime spree that Republicans are deploying across the country to smear Democrats’ public safety records. Too many Democratic officials have pushed liberal policies that have encouraged criminals, critics say. Key policy goals include cashless bail, the early release of tens of thousands of inmates, and reduced sentences for many convicted of theft and other non-violent crimes.

Over the past three months, concerns about rising crime have helped push New York Rep. Lee Zeldin into the firing line of incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul. And growing public safety concerns are among the top three to five issues in many urban areas across the country.

in California, rising violent crime was the flare-up of the year, before and after San Francisco County District Attorney Chesa Boudin was fired in early June, accused of cozying up to criminals and neglecting rampant drug use on the city’s streets. In Los Angeles, critics of Gascón, who is known as the “godfather of progressive prosecutors” and preceded Boudin as San Francisco DA, claimed to have collected 715,000 signatures to begin his impeachment. However, county officials invalidated 200,000 signatures, preventing an appeal but sparking an ongoing legal battle.

AND Harvard/Harris survey published Oct. 14 found that 68% of respondents consider crime “very important” and are more likely to vote Republican than Democrat in the upcoming midterm elections because of these concerns. Earlier this year, two-thirds of registered voters in California said crime had increased in their neighborhoods. UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies survey co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times. Just over half of voters polled say California Gov. Gavin Newsom is doing a poor job on crime and public safety, up 16 percentage points from 2020.

Hochman, a federal prosecutor with 30 years of experience, is running to replace Bonta, a former Oakland state representative who previously served as San Francisco’s deputy city attorney. Newsom appointed Bonta to replace Xavier Becerra when he stepped down to become President Biden’s Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Hochman says he’s running because Bonta has failed to crack down on districts where crime has skyrocketed, and the policies he’s pushing, including cashless bail, put the interests of criminals ahead of victims. Bonta countered that he is “strong, efficient and smart on crime” and can make the criminal justice system fairer without compromising public safety.

Over the past week, Hochman has toured the state in a bus emblazoned with his pledge to “stop the spiral of injustice.” In the process, he touted his endorsements across the political spectrum — from Death Row Records founder Michael “Harry-O” Harris and Hollywood A-lister Gwyneth Paltrow to former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva. Two dozen district attorneys from across the state and Female Business Leaders, a Democratic-leaning group in Los Angeles, also endorsed him. At the end of September, Hochman received support San Diego Union-Tribunewhich said both candidates are strong, but Hochman has “a better plan to respond to rising crime.”

In numerous interviews and a recent ad, Hochman has called Bonta “missing in action” when it comes to the state’s fentanyl crisis. Fentanyl is responsible for 5,722 deaths in California in 2021, including 224 in 15- to 19-year-olds, according to the California Department of Public Health.

In mid-October, Bonta appeared to respond, claiming the state was “all in on protecting California families from the dangers of fentanyl,” and issued Update on the work of the Ministry of Justice of the state in solving the crisis.

Both MSNBC and Fox News have called the race one of the most competitive in the country in recent days. RealClearPolitics spoke with Hochman about his chances on Election Day and the current political mood in California. Here are excerpts from that interview:

Q: District attorney recall efforts in several cities, including San Francisco, show that many California voters, including Democrats and independents, are looking for new leadership. Still, no Republican has won statewide in California since 2006. How can you overcome this great obstacle?

Hochman: I would classify myself as a moderate Republican and [someone] who has the best chance in a generation to win this office. Here’s why: The first is a change in ground conditions. 2014 was considered one of California’s safest years in 30 years. [This year] public safety made it to the top three questions on the ballot for the first time in a generation.

When people are afraid to send themselves, their children, their parents out into their neighborhoods at night… when you have what I’ve described as a “spiral of injustice” that starts with one or two people walking into a small business and stealing less than $950 and not being prosecuted because it’s now a misdemeanor and prosecutors aren’t doing their job… and that turns into three people running from Walgreens and people running from Nordstroms in robberies, home robberies, train robberies and double digit increases number of murders… This is a wake-up call not only for Republicans, but also for Democrats and independents.

Can a Republican become California's top cop?

I believe the voters of California will be looking at the one statewide position that is synonymous with safety and security, and that is the position of Attorney General. The kind of conditions on earth are ripe for change – people are crying out for change.

Boudin’s recall and the issues that arose there show that a Republican can win. Chesa Boudin was recalled 55% to 45%. Republicans make up only 8% of the vote in the city of San Francisco, and about three-quarters of the votes to recall Boudin came from Democrats and independents.

Second, in the last 20 years you’ve had Jerry Brown, Kamala Harris, and Javier Becerra as Attorney General. These are pretty unbeatable candidates with a lot of national name recognition and some level of law enforcement. They also presided over a time when security was much more under control.

Rob Bonta was appointed by Governor Newsom and shockingly, he had no law enforcement experience prior to taking office. Gavin Newsom named an Oakland assemblyman — essentially a politician — as your chief law enforcement officer, someone who has never argued a criminal case or conducted a criminal investigation, dealt with victims or [handled] by criminal judgment and dealt with by the judge. He is completely inexperienced and unqualified to hold this position. Along with that he also brought a criminal justice agenda that I think is too left wing. I believe it is very pro-criminal.

Q: But isn’t the problem the laws that California voters passed a few years ago, and it would be your job to enforce them? Voters approved Proposition 47. It reclassified the crime of drug crime and theft to misdemeanors and increased the amount for which theft can be prosecuted as a felony from $400 to $950. Two years later, voters approved another proposal that allowed prisoners to be released earlier.

Hochman: They are calling [the attorney general] the top cop in the state for good reason because under the California Constitution the Chief Constable has the authority to go into any of the 58 counties and take over any case if you believe it is not being properly prosecuted.

It’s a huge power that’s somewhat unique in California, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use it.

[Bonta’s] opened the middle way. This is where I exist.

Unlike his zero years of criminal justice experience, I was a court clerk. Then I was an assistant US attorney, a federal prosecutor for seven years in Los Angeles, going after narcotics traffickers, gang members, international money laundering, tax evaders, public corruption cases, dirty sheriffs. I headed the Environmental Crimes Unit. Then [I served as] an assistant attorney general who directs the tax division of the US Department of Justice. We had 350 lawyers and a $100 million budget for tax fraud around the country. I was also an advocate.

Thirty years of experience gives me the perspective to identify the real public safety threats to our society – who should and should not be in prison. It requires an individualized analysis of three things: the level of the crime committed, the defendant’s criminal history, which is often overlooked, and also the impact on the victim.

Q: What specifically can prosecutors do to stop fentanyl overdoses? Fentanyl is coming across the border, and most Republicans say it’s a border security issue that the Biden administration must address.

Hochman: The fact that Rob Bonta hasn’t been the central figure, front and center since taking office, leading the task force to go after all the fentanyl dealers who are bringing in millions of counterfeit pills, distributing marijuana, cocaine and other fentanyl drugs is a dereliction of duty . We’re talking about people annoying Californians. It would be like a sniper killing 17 people a day in San Francisco or Los Angeles with a high-powered rifle, and that’s not front-page news in California.

As Attorney General, you have the power to educate. You can hold press conferences, you can go to high school communities… you can do your own PR campaign in conjunction with all the other state and federal government agencies. By leading advocacy and education efforts, you can really make a difference. You can save lives tomorrow.

Q: After the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade earlier this summer, Newsom pledged to make California an abortion sanctuary state and signed several new laws strengthening access to abortion. What is your stance on abortion and how would you implement these new laws?

Hochman: I am pro-choice and will fully enforce all laws on the books to protect women’s reproductive rights. Dot.

Q: What do you think of Brooke Jenkins, the interim district attorney appointed after Chesa Boudin’s impeachment — her efforts so far to overturn Boudin’s record? She decided to try some juveniles who have committed heinous crimes as adults and overturned some of Boudin’s plea deals.

Hochman: Anyone from any part of the political spectrum who has safety and security as one of their main goals and actually approves policy for that — I think that’s great. Security and justice should not be political issues. If Jenkins is overturning the policy and doing what she can to bring safety and security back to San Francisco, I applaud her.


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