What Progressive DA's Recall Means for Democrats

Chesa Boudin's loss seen by some as a 'wake-up call' about policies on crime
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 8, 2022 12:33 PM CDT
What Progressive DA's Recall Means for Democrats
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin and his wife, Valerie Block, leave an election night gathering Tuesday, in San Francisco.   (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Though the San Francisco district attorney recalled by voters on Tuesday admitted past mistakes, without identifying what they were, he mainly pointed the finger elsewhere. "The right-wing billionaires outspent us three to one, they exploited an environment in which people are appropriately upset, and they created an electoral dynamic where we were literally shadowboxing," Chesa Boudin told supporters, per the San Francisco Chronicle. Voters "were given an opportunity to voice their frustrations and their outrage and they took that opportunity." There's something to that. Below, we unpack what happened:

  • Declining arrest rates: As the Chronicle reports, the liberal reformer was a "scapegoat for frustrations over crime." He argued his office could only bring charges "when police make arrests." And the San Francisco Police Department's arrest rates have been on the decline for some time. The department "solves fewer crimes despite larger staffing per city resident and costs per area patrolled" compared with other state jurisdictions, according to a report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

  • Public perceptions: A report by Mission Local found Boudin charged people at a higher rate than his predecessors, but sent more people to diversion programs, as explored in an upcoming documentary. (The film also will address Boudin's famous mother.) Overall crime hasn't increased over the last two years, though the homeless crisis, anti-Asian attacks, and smash-and-grab robberies may have "worsened people's perceptions of the crime rate," per Vox.
  • The drug problem: Critics drew particular attention to drugs. Boudin's office didn't secure a single conviction for dealing fentanyl—a drug "inextricably linked to other crimes," last year, despite a slew of overdose deaths, while focusing "more on treatment than imprisonment," writes James Hohmann at the Washington Post. He argues the recall is "the latest wake-up call for Democrats, who have lost the public's trust on criminal justice."
  • Voters draw a line: But "many high-profile recall proponents went out of their way to say they support criminal justice reform, but oppose Boudin's methods," per the Chronicle. Per the San Jose Mercury News, the recall doesn't mean California voters are turning more conservative. Rather, it signals voters "will support gun safety laws and police reforms, but if they perceive a breakdown in order and a risk to their own safety, they will draw a line."

  • Potential replacements: All three candidates Mayor London Breed is considering to replace Boudin—District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani and former prosecutors Nancy Tung and Brooke Jenkins—"present themselves as more tough on crime than Boudin," per the Chronicle. That seems to mesh with Breed's plan to increase the police budget—a turnabout from 2020 when, in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder, she proposed taking money from police to fund social programs.
  • Not necessarily a fix: This represents a broader trend among Democratic politicians nationwide, experts tell the Chronicle. "But California jurisdictions with tough-on-crime prosecutors have some of the highest crime rates in the state, so a move toward incarcerating more individuals is not likely to be a cure-all for problems voters are most concerned about."

  • A bad sign for Democrats: Whatever the outcome, the recall indicates "storm clouds are on the horizon" for Democrats, per the Mercury News. Only one in four registered voters is thought to have voted Tuesday. And "when turnout is low, older, whiter, more conservative voters make up a larger percentage of the electorate than younger, more diverse voters who tend to vote more Democratic."
(Read more San Francisco stories.)

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