Oh, So ‘Crime Backlash Crushes Dems’ Turns Out To Be A Canard? The Duck You Say!

As you may have seen, the Pundit Class had a fine time pontificating over the June 8 elections in California. San Franciscans voted overwhelmingly to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin, and the early returns in the Los Angeles mayoral primary had billionaire developer (real estate, not apps) Rick Caruso leading Rep. Karen Bass, herself a Known Progressive and advocate for reforming America’s criminal justice system. The day after the election, Caruso, who pushed a Get Tough on Crime and Homelessness agenda, led the race, with 42 percent of the vote, to Bass’s not-quite 37 percent.

That was all it took for the New York Times to run a very thoughtful bit of tut-tutting about how Even Progressive California was yearning for more Law-n-Order, with the headline “Progressive Backlash in California Fuels Democratic Debate Over Crime.” So much for your crazy talk of undoing the carceral state, progressives! Even you want the cops to arrest all the bad guys, you see? The protestations of the literal leader of the recall campaign, who said San Franciscans still support reform, tended to get lost in all the pontificating by thoughtful analysts. No, little lady, you want Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia, is what you want, and don’t say otherwise.

But as David Dayen points out at The American Prospect, that narrative was half-baked, because the votes were only half-counted (look, I’m not going to check the actual percentages and ruin my lovely lazy metaphor). Things looked very different once all the votes were actually in.


East Coast media once again neglected an enduring fact about California elections: Votes are counted slowly and deliberately. All state voters receive ballots via mail, and mail ballots can come into registrar offices up to a week later and still be counted, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day. Hundreds of thousands of votes have been and will be counted after the Times and others wrote their trend pieces.

Hey-presto-reverso! As of June 14, those first-day tallies had pretty much reversed, and Bass is in first, with 41.05 percent of the vote, and Caruso behind by not quite three points at 38.29 percent, with 10 other candidates splitting the rest of the primary vote. Bass and Caruso will go on to November’s general election, and the best Caruso might be able to claim is that he rode his Git Tuff platform — and $40 million in campaign funds, 12 times as much as Bass spent — to a second-place finish against the popular progressive.

Some widespread rethinking of reform, huh?

As Dayen points out, spending all that money and not breaking 40 percent of the vote in a 12-candidate field not only isn’t a win, it suggests a broad rejection of Caruso’s fearmongering about crime and homelessness.

In fact, most of the tough-on-crime narratives told on election night are faltering as votes come in. Authoritarian L.A. sheriff Alex Villanueva is down to 31.86 percent in the first round, a shockingly bad result against no-name challengers. The city attorney race is trending away from the law-and-order candidates in the field, with one reformer likely in the runoff and a second close to it. Progressives are now winning key city council races. Nothing in the actual election results suggests that Angelenos have driven a backlash on criminal justice reform.

Even that supposedly crushing defeat of Boudin has become less absolute, although his recall is certain. At the time the race was called, the margin was 60-40 in favor of recall, but as of the 16th, the “yes” vote on recall has evened out a bit, at 55 percent compared to 45 percent of voters who wanted to keep Boudin. Still a definite loss, but not quite a whomping. And as we noted, it’s not for nothing that Boudin’s perceived insensitivity to crimes against Asian Americans led to a lot of AAPI folks joining the recall campaign.

As for the notion that progressives long to bring back thumbscrews and tough sentencing, the evidence simply isn’t there:

In larger counties like Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, progressive district attorneys and sheriff candidates were victorious. The tough-on-crime prosecutor in Sacramento who ran for state attorney general is deep in fourth place with only 7.5 percent of the vote. I won’t make the same mistake as these reporters and say there will be no backlash amid an uptick in violent crime; it’s just that it’s not really to be found in California’s election results.

Gosh. Next we’ll find out that Democrats aren’t really in all that much disarray.

[American Prospect / Photo: Norbert Nagel, Creative Commons License 3.0]

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