It’s taken years to happen. But polls, tea leaf readings, constituent complaints and recall petitions at long last have this state’s dominant liberal Democrats realizing they must listen to the voters rather than trying to impose their will exclusively.
This comes after repeated resistance. Only when voters by large margins in the last two years canceled laws passed in Sacramento to institute statewide rent control and eliminate cash bail did signs appear that elected Democrats were beginning to realize the mass of California voters is not quite as “progressive” as they once thought.
It’s true, the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom went nowhere, in large part because of the hopeless list of candidates who sought to replace him.
But even the ousted District Attorney Chesa Boudin of San Francisco, long an advocate of soft-on-crime tactics like attempts at rehabilitation over punishment for major crimes and a presumption that no one is truly evil, changed his tune a little before the June 7 vote that threw him out of office.
Staring at that recall in the wake of last fall’s spate of “smash-and-grab” flash mob burglaries and robberies, Boudin declared that, “We want everyone to feel safe,” and announced plans to charge the perpetrators with felonies, not misdemeanors.
That was a huge change from his stances during and after his 2019 election. Boudin began running very scared after his city’s voters recalled three ultra-liberal, “woke” school board members who wanted to remove the names of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Dianne Feinstein from local schools.
Things are looking the same in Los Angeles, where Boudin predecessor George Gascon is now district attorney and watching the count of signatures in an effort to recall him.
One of Gascon’s first acts after moving south from San Francisco and getting elected D.A. in 2020 was to forbid his almost 1,000 deputies ever to try juveniles as adults, no matter how serious their crimes.
But now Gascon says prosecutors can apply to him or his top assistant to do just that. The new policy applies to current juvenile suspects and also to adults who allegedly committed significant crimes while under 18.
This followed outrage when a transgender woman, formerly a male, received a mere two-year sentence for child molesting and then was taped gloating about it to her father.
Gascon said he was revolted by the tape, but line prosecutors said the recording was widely known in his office for a month before he altered his policy.
So they wonder if his switch came after polls revealed crime and homelessness as the new top issues for California voters even as Gascon recall signatures piled up.
Meanwhile, appointed state Attorney General Rob Bonta, long a supporter of the 2014 Proposition 47 (which turned many former felonies into mere misdemeanors and has seen thousands of perpetrators freed soon after their arrests) and of ending cash bail, has traveled the state talking tough on crime ever since the actually tough-on-crime Sacramento D.A. Anne Marie Schubert ran an independent campaign to unseat him.
Schubert failed, but plainly had an impact on Bonta.
Then there’s Newsom. Although his reelection could not be much safer after he decisively beat back last September’s recall, the governor reads the polls, too, including private surveys taken for his campaign.
He has made the fight against homelessness a staple for the last six months, traveling to most parts of the state and handing out billions of dollars to build shelters and other new housing for the homeless, plus buying up hotels and motels and converting them to permanent housing for people living in parks and on sidewalks.
Public reaction to the homeless scene and the criminal element among this population caused Newsom’s job approval rating to fall below 50% last winter in one major poll for the first time since his 2018 election.
That seemed to spur him to new tough-on-crime rhetoric.
These changed approaches by Democrats show a willingness to adjust when political survival is at stake.
Perhaps this state’s impotent Republican Party, which never seems to adjust to political reality, could learn something from that.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].