One thing for sure in the wake of the Thanksgiving week smash-and-grab flash mobs: The bandits who raided high-end stores from Walnut Creek and San Francisco to Beverly Hills and the Fairfax district of Los Angeles were not thinking about Gov. Gavin Newsom when they sledge-hammered their way to tens of thousands of dollars in plunder.
But they have presented Newsom with both opportunity and peril, as evidenced by the immediate reaction of California Republican Party operatives who blamed the whole mess on him and his fellow Democrats.
“Gavin Newsom and California Democrats have made our state a more dangerous place to live, work and raise a family,” a statement from Orange County’s Republican Party accused while the gang-burglary spree was still underway.
The GOP blamed Newsom for endorsing the 2014 Proposition 47, which lowered many felonies to the misdemeanor category, plus penalty-reducing measures like one that makes theft or burglary a felony only when more than $950 worth of material or cash is stolen.
But here’s one reality: When somewhere between 30 and 50 cars and 80-odd persons descend on a department store together, as happened in Walnut Creek, a lot more than 80 people knew about it.
Why did none of them warn the police or the store itself of the highly organized raid? Was that a failure of parental instruction in morals or a failure of public schools in educating students on personal responsibility?
We may learn more as questioning and trials proceed for the few bandits police nabbed. Or not.
We already know Newsom, also while the flurry of lawlessness continued across the state, took action by ordering heightened patrols near stores and malls by the California Highway Patrol through the holiday shopping season.
“The level of organized retail theft we are seeing is simply unacceptable,” the governor said in a prepared statement. “Businesses and customers should feel safe while doing their holiday shopping.”
But they won’t just now, no matter how many CHP officers Newsom stations in shopping mall parking lots.
If anything else was also unacceptable, it was the fact Newsom took off on a family vacation in Mexico just as his office issued his statement, rather than showing up in stores to show his support, the way every governor from Earl Warren to Ronald Reagan to Jerry Brown would have done.
So there will likely be stunted sales in stores, which might or might not be made up via online orders.
For certain, Newsom’s political opponents will use his quick exit from the state against him when he runs for reelection next year.
Republicans might even be effective if they run someone against Newsom who’s more moderate than Larry Elder, the right-wing talk show host who was their de facto recall election standard bearer last summer.
Kevin Faulconer (ex-San Diego mayor who drew barely 8% of the recall replacement vote), are you listening?
Newsom still has plenty of time to recover. In fact, if he can get his ultra-liberal appointed attorney general Rob Bonta to spearhead charging any nabbed store raiders with felonies, not mere misdemeanors, he could end up smelling fine.
But if judges appointed by Newsom and Brown insist on misdemeanor trials instead, the soft-on-crime label may stick and haunt him, especially if he ever runs for president.
Like all other events, the store break-ins did not occur in a vacuum: They are tied to Newsom and Prop. 47 just as they can legitimately be linked to the May 31, 2020, nationally televised criminal rampage through Santa Monica and the trendy Melrose Avenue area of Los Angeles, which set an example for the new invasions with very slow police responses and very few thieves caught.
For sure, Republicans will try to hang all this on Newsom next year, making crime and public safety as big an issue as they can.
Newsom has the power to defuse all this if he gets more active than merely sending out some police patrols.
But he’ll never advance his career if he heads off on more family vacations at key moments in the lives and fears of other Californians.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].