The editorial boards of The Sacramento Bee and Fresno Bee interviewed the four leading candidates running for California Attorney General: Current Attorney General Rob Bonta, Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, former U.S. Attorney General Nathan Hochman and attorney Eric Early. It has been edited for length and clarity.
The Fresno Bee: Californians have concerns that crime is once again on the rise and that their safety may be at risk. Is California a safe place right now? If not, what is your answer to make it safer?
Schubert: There’s no question that crime is a top issue for Californians and they don’t feel safe. As a career prosecutor for 31 years, I have watched the demise of public safety over the last several years. Many of the policies that we’re seeing championed by our legislature, our Attorney General, our prosecutors in Los Angeles and San Francisco counties are tsunamis of poor public policies that are in fact endangering. What we’re seeing, in particular, is the weakening of accountability. The fact that we don’t call gun crimes violent crime; the fact that we don’t call hate crimes or domestic violence; the early releases which are now being defended by the Attorney General’s office where we’re allowing people that are in fact dangerous to be released early from prison only to get out again and commit more crimes. So yes, we are in a very dangerous time. We have a massive number of illegal guns on the streets of California, in the hands of felons who should not have them yet we turn around and release them early from prison, even though we’ve repeatedly tried to prosecute. So what we’re seeing is prosecutors having tools taken away from them to hold people accountable. That is dangerous for California. And that’s why I’m running for California Attorney General.
Early: California is not a safe place right now. We have millions of people up and down this state afraid for themselves, afraid for their children, afraid for their parents, afraid for their families, their neighborhoods, their communities. We see what’s going on. The new shows are filled with reports about what is going on. And frankly, I call California a criminal’s paradise. And this criminal’s paradise has been largely created by the laws, rules and regulations that have come out of Sacramento for so many years now. We have to get tough again on crime. We have to change the narrative in Sacramento, in this state, such that criminal — and they may be criminals but they’re not stupid — they need to know that crime does not pay again. Some of the first things I would do, if I get this job, is I will call a meeting of all of the law enforcement leaders in this state — all the district attorneys, all the sheriffs, all the chiefs of police. And they’d sit down with me and my staff and however long it takes, we’d go through. I want to hear from the people on the streets to find out why they believe we have come to this criminal’s paradise. And then we will take whatever steps we can and I can as the Attorney General to start limiting these issues. The Attorney General has a loud voice and can use that loud voice if they want to and I absolutely will do that. Propositions 47 and 57, what I want to do is lead a referendum to get rid of those. In addition to running a nationally-recognized law firm, I was lead lawyer for the Recall Newsom movement. As attorney general, I would be running the ballot and title summary. And I would also have a loud voice, so when the millions come in from advertisers trying to keep 47 and 57 on the books, I will be out there every day explaining to the people what it takes to get rid of it. It takes somebody who is not politically correct — me. Somebody who’s tough on crime, somebody who wants to protect all of our law-abiding citizens of every race, creed and color, and that’s me.
Bonta: One point to look at is the data, of course, which shows that we are and have been in historical lows when it comes to crime in California. And the data shows that there are some rises in some crimes in some places, and those risers are unacceptable. Some are violent, some are brazen. And we must do everything in our power to keep the people of California safe. The people of California don’t think about the data, necessarily. They think about how they feel, and if they don’t feel safe that’s important. We need to make sure that they do feel safe and that they are safe. That’s why public safety has been job No. 1, 2 and 3 for me as California’s Attorney General over the last year. Here are some of the steps that we’ve taken to make sure that our neighborhoods are safe, our communities are safe, that everyone in California deserves to be and is safe: We are moving aggressively to keep illegal guns off our streets because you cannot talk about crime without talking about gun violence. In 2020, the increase in gun deaths accounted for 91% of the overall jump in homicides. Violent crime is being fueled by guns, it’s that simple. And our office is fighting back. We are using our first-in-the-nation, unique-in-the-nation APPS Program — Armed Prohibited Persons Program — to remove guns from those who should not have them because of a criminal conviction, because of a restraining order, because of a mental illness. We’re defending California’s common sense gun control laws in court. We have some of the strictest gun laws in the nation and, because of that, one of the lowest firearm mortality rates in the nation. Those things go hand-in-hand. We’re supporting Violence Intervention programs, which prevent violence from happening in the first place. We have decreased — cut by over half — homicides that happen in places like Stockton. We’re promoting red flag laws and violence restraining orders to prevent, again, violence from happening in the first place through processes and approaches that we know are working. We’re working with our partners in Congress and at the local level to tackle violent criminal street gangs. We’re suing ghost gun manufacturer. We’re working with the ATF to treat ghost guns as what they are: guns. To make sure that people are serialized and have background checks. We are taking down violent criminal organizations. We’ve done that in cities throughout the states, from Sacramento, to Fresno, to San Bernardino to Visalia. We have literally stopped homicides in progress multiple times — we have stopped two mass shootings in progress, one eerily similar to the tragic event that happened in Sacramento where one organized criminal group was going to shoot another organized criminal group at a bar literally the night before the Sacramento shooting and we stopped it. So we are active. We are busy. We’re also taking on organized retail theft.
Hochman: I agree with the proposition that most Californians do not feel or believe that California is a safe place. I know that because traveling up and down the street, I asked one question among all voter groups that I speak with, which is, ‘Do you feel more safe and more secure today in California than you have in the past two, four, six or eight years?’ And to a person, the answer is no. What they’re afraid of has been said before: sending their children, their parents, their neighbors out into the neighborhood, because what they see is a spiral of lawlessness going on in our society, where you have both prosecutors at the district attorney level, in particularly the LA and San Francisco prosecutors, along with the attorney general, not enforcing the laws that are on the books. Whether it’s the property crimes of $950 or less that allow one person to run out or even walk out of a CVS and that leads to two people running out of a Walgreens, 80 people running out of a Nordstrom’s. Smash-and-grab robberies are going on up and down the state, they follow home robberies, even train robberies in Los Angeles. We have the overall feeling that our government is not doing its job. And what I would do is come in and actually set the tone from above and let people know that if there are district attorneys that decide that they won’t, for instance, bring a gun or a gang enhancement because they have a blanket policy against enforcing those types of enhancements — even with the murders of law enforcement officers — that the state attorney general’s office will come in and will do the job that it’s obligated to do in various counties if those prosecutors are not doing their job. I believe that the safety and security of our state is priority one, two or three, but you can’t just say that, you have to do it in the form of action. The attorney general points out his enforcement of the APPS system against armed prohibited persons. But the reality is even though they’ve seized 1,500 guns, you’ve actually had the number of people on that list grow over the last year rather than shrink, despite the state legislature devoting millions of dollars to the acquisition of these illegal guns from prohibited persons. What we would actually do in action and not just words, is promote the safety and security of the people of California.
The Sacramento Bee: There’s been a lot of attention and criticism directed at the state corrections department’s system of credits for release from prison. I’m wondering whether each of you think this is a legitimate issue, whether we can prevent the sort of crime we saw in Sacramento through changing the system and whether there’s anything you can do about it as attorney general?
Hochman: I believe there is stuff that can be done to deal with the situation. Proposition 57 basically said, ‘We’re going to give certain credits to nonviolent offenders.’ The problem is that the list of otherwise violent offenses that have not been designated as violent offenses in the law is significant. One of the examples is in the recent Sacramento shooting — you had someone who was able to, back in 2018, actually be convicted of felony assault for dragging their girlfriend by the hair, beating her with a belt in a car and be convicted of felony assault, yet it was deemed a nonviolent offense under the law because the law hasn’t changed to incorporate that at the Proposition 57 level. What ended up happening with that gentleman is he got a 10 year sentence, but in 2022 he was released because of these good time credits, in time for him to show up on the streets in April of 2022 in Sacramento and to participate at some level — at a level to be determined — in the shootings that went on at 2 a.m. I believe that the problem is that you have Proposition 57 that creates this whole nonviolent category of offenses that was not then amended to deal with the true violent offenses. As Attorney General, I would seek to actually make sure that as long as we have Proposition 57 on the books, we work very hard to label every violent offense, a violent offense that would not qualify for Proposition 57 credits.
Bonta: The people of California, by an overwhelming supermajority, voted for Prop. 57 and are interested in recidivism, reduction and rehabilitation programs. I think that we need to do more in both of those spaces when it comes to recidivism reduction. We have not done that as well as we should — the ‘R’ in CDCR has not been as robust as it must. And through real programming, we can change lives, transform lives and have individuals who made bad choices to hurt people make better decisions and be productive members of our society. But it must be done in a more robust way. We need to spend more time with that NCRPs, the community reentry programs, were individuals in the last six months to a year of their sentence when they will get out — and they’re getting out at some point — they are moved out of a locked facility into a secure community facility where they’re given drug addiction programs if needed. Anger management, mental health treatment. They’re getting job training and a job, housing and food security, a supportive community so that they can be successful. It’s not just some pocket change for gate money and a goodbye at the door and, ‘Hope that you do well.’ Recidivism is a public safety threat. It’s a public safety risk. We need to reduce it, and there are steps that we know work and that is through anti-recidivism and rehabilitation investments. I think the connection of Prop. 57 to the tragic Sacramento shooting is one that I think is premature. I think there’s still more to be learned about that tragic situation and the different components to it. Certainly, guns and our gun laws and gun safety are critical issues. There was a machine gun involved, potentially a Glock switch. There were crimes in the plea deal that were not included in the plea deal. So there’s a whole set of issues that need to be reviewed thoughtfully as we identify what improvements we need to make going forward. But we have had good time credit for decades — long before Prop. 57 And the idea of good time and rehabilitative credits are not new. No one should have believed that a 10-year sentence would lead to 10 years of time knowing how the credits work. And these are individuals who are going to get out. These are finite periods of time. These are not death sentences. When people are going to get out after time served, they need to be prepared to be successful. We need to do more when it comes down to recidivism, when it comes to rehabilitation, and that’s something that I’ve worked on as a legislator. I will continue to work on this as Attorney General — working with the governor on the NCRPs, making them more expansive with more services and more programs to really help individuals be successful members of society.
Early: California has become a criminal’s paradise largely because of the very policies that Mr. Bonta is talking about and that he supports and that Gavin Newsom supports. There’s been a general watering down of these good time credits, and COVID was used as a pretext to keep doing that. We have to get rid of Proposition 57. Frankly, there’s been a systemic failure in the criminal justice system in California. I am tired of hearing people like Mr. Bonta — and who knows if anybody else on this screen talks about it — keep blaming this on guns. OK? We have Second Amendment rights. These criminals will be able to get guns — they already can get guns in one of the most highly regulated Second Amendment states in the nation. If you keep regulating further, they’ll be the ones that get the guns and the law-abiding citizens who want to defend themselves and their families in this criminal’s paradise won’t be able to get them. So let’s talk about this systemic failure which I never hear from the current administration. This maniac, frankly, who got out and is alleged to have been involved in the savagery that happened in Sacramento two or three weeks ago, he should never have been out on the street, but for the systemic failures, the good time credits, Proposition 57 and the fact, frankly, that the Sacramento DA could have tried to prosecute him for felony kidnapping when he was first pulled in, but there was a plea deal entered. If he had been in there for felony kidnapping, even with the good time credits, that fellow Smiley would still be incarcerated. Let’s talk more about this systemic failure. There was a terrible shooting again in Sacramento in that church up there. A father goes in with his three daughters and a chaperone and before all was said and done in that church, he had murdered his three daughters, the chaperone and I believe he killed himself too. In this state, but for the sanctuary state law, but for the lax bail policies, that savage, frankly, would never have been out on the street. That is part of this systemic failure. And yet all we hear about from the Bontas and the Newsoms when these terrible incidents happen is guns. Frankly, I’ve come to a point where I believe they say ‘guns’ to cover up the fact that they know about these systemic failures. You have the smash-and-grab going on, for example. Newsom comes out and says, ‘Okay, we’re going to increase funding to law enforcement for $300 million.’ Great. I’ve always said we should be increasing funding to law enforcement, even when many people were saying defund, defund, defun. While that is going on on one hand, it’s a sleight of hand. We’ve got the Newsom Crime Commission on the other hand, which I would say 95% of California doesn’t even know about where seven people are looking through the entire criminal code, penal code, to water down our statutes.
Schumer: First of all, I think it’s important that people understand what 57 did. And I have been fighting 57 since it was on the ballot. I was the main plaintiff against Gov. Brown for the ballot title summary that was written up as ‘Early release for nonviolent felons.’ And Prop. 57 did not create non-violent felons, we’ve had those laws for years, and quite frankly, as a woman and as a prosecutor, I’m ashamed that our government does not call domestic violence, human trafficking, drugging and raping a woman and felons with firearms are considered non-violent. So we’ve been raising this alarm for years — my office has been writing hundreds, if not more than a thousand letters asking our Department of Corrections to not let people out of prison early because they are handing out credits like they’re Halloween candy. We know that individuals are violent, they have violent records. When I travel California, I ask folks, ‘How many of you think felony domestic violence is a non-violent crime?’ No one ever raises their hands, everyone thinks it’s violent. So what can I do? What do I think about these credits? Well, that’s why I have led the effort of 45 district attorneys to sue the Department of Corrections over the manner in which they are trying to implement these. Our Attorney General was defending that. In fact, his Deputy Attorney General said, ‘Well, the victims don’t have enough money to sue, so we’re going to win this lawsuit.’ Which I find to be quite frankly offensive. If we wanted to really deal with the credits, the Attorney General should stand up and say, ‘You know what, I do think hate crime should be a violent crime, I do think domestic violence should be a violent crime, I do think raping and drugging women should be a violent crime.’ And if we really want to stop the rampant gun violence on the streets of Sacramento, or any other community, we ought to make felons in possession of firearms who go to prison over and over and over again — not going to prison now if corrections has their way — to not get out of prison early. As Attorney General, I’m going to step into the fight that we’ve been trying for 15 years to make those crimes violent. By the way, last week in the Public Safety Committee, they again refused to have human trafficking as a violent crime. If we really want to address these issues, if we really want to hold people accountable — and by the way, when we talk about recidivism, I think in substance I agree with the Attorney General, we do want rehabilitation, but when you turbocharge credits in prison, and you hand out credits like for candy, we’re not rehabilitating people. We need to look at what is happening. We’ve released 27,000 inmates from prison since March of 2020. We need to be mindful of what that means for recidivism and public safety in California.
The Sacramento Bee: I want to give the attorney general time to respond to comments made about him and his office.
Bonta: The first point I want to make is one that is well-known to all but based on what I heard bears repeating, which is that one of the Attorney General’s, the Department of Justice’s duties and obligations, is to provide representation — ethical representation, zealous advocacy for the departments and agencies that we represent. We are the attorney in that role. They are the principal and we provide them outstanding legal defense. So there seems to be a blending of the roles and I just want to be clear about what the roles are. I think it is important to follow the data, the evidence when it comes to determining what crimes are considered violence. We need to be open to domestic violence being included as a violent crime — not because it’s an emotional gut reaction, but because it’s a thoughtful, data-driven approach, including seeing the fact that about two thirds of mass shooters are involved in shootings of their family members, or have a history of domestic violence. That’s an important data point. Which means that we need to be open to change if something is not working as intended. We can’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. We need to be focused on rehabilitation, on systems that work, but also fix the broken parts. When we identify with facts, data and evidence that they are broken. So this is not ideological for me. This is about public safety for every community, every neighborhood in California.
The Sacramento Bee: I couldn’t help but notice that DA Schubert was responding to the comment about domestic violence and using data over emotion. Can you, as a DA, address that?
Schubert: It’s been years that we’ve been advocating for these, and those in the legislature have continuously rejected it, including Attorney General Bonta who’s voted for bills that allow for diversion for domestic violence and hate crimes. So when we start talking about the data, we have to look at reality. We have to look at the fact that we know that there’s far more theft, far more domestic violence, far more sexual assault than is reported. It’s grossly underreported. So the fact that you want to claim that the data shows things, we know these crimes are underreported. So if we’re really going to be a champion for women’s rights and holding people accountable, we ought to call them what they are, which is violent crimes, and not dance around the issue time and time again year after year and have a zero bail policy, which has been advocated for, that allows domestic violence to get out on zero bail and have zero supervision.
The Fresno Bee: I want to follow up with Attorney General Bonta. It seems like what you’re saying is that as far as domestic violence goes, you’ve seen the data and you’re convinced it is a violent crime. Are you ready, as soon as we’re done with this interview today, to talk to a friend in the legislature and get them to carry a bill to reclassify that as a truly violent felony?
Bonta: I’m prepared to talk about the data that exists and to see what other data exists. The data that I see is compelling. The involvement in violent mass shootings, the history of domestic violence. I think that may be something that perhaps wasn’t contemplated originally, but we’ve learned it since and we need to rely on it and it needs to drive our decisions and our actions. So I am prepared to have a robust discussion with legislative colleagues about making changes that are necessary, that are data driven, supported by evidence and that are thoughtful in how we stop crime, including violent crime and how we keep communities and neighborhoods safe.
The Sacramento Bee: I want to give Mr. Hochman and Mr. Early a chance to respond as well.
Hochman: SB 1042 is my response, this is the bill that was recently brought up before Public Safety Committee that is going to make human trafficking a violent and serious felony. Full stop. That’s all it sought to do. It is based 100% on the data. In fact, the data is from Mr. Bonta’s, the California Attorney General’s, office. Human trafficking is commercial and sexual exploitation by force, fraud, fear, threats, coercion and violence. You can’t have a better definition of what’s going on, and Mr. Bonta himself has called it ‘modern day slavery.’ Yet somehow, some way even though the data is unequivocal and overwhelming, Mr. Bonta, was asked to be one of the supporters of SB 1042 and had the chance to actually turn his words into action and create a violent and serious felony in human trafficking and chose to remain deafeningly silent. If you’re looking for an attorney general that’s going to actually act on the data, as opposed to conference about it, talk about it, discuss it, it’s not Mr. Bonta. It’d be myself.
Early: Everything that Mr. Bonta frankly troubles me greatly. We’re looking at the Attorney General of the state of California, who could not come out unequivocally and say that these crimes that we’re talking about should not be reclassified as violent felonies. You want to know why we have a criminal’s paradise in this state? This should not be wishy washy. Mr. Bonta says that this is not ideological for him — every decision he makes is ideological. Mr. Bonta is an ideological triplet of both Gascón down there and Boudin up there. If I get this job and those two are not recalled by then, I’ll do everything I can. I will charge great lawyers and the DOJ to look at the cases we’re going to take away from both Gascón (and) Boudin. We’re going to protect the citizens again. We need more beds in the state, prison beds. One of the pretexts that’s used for emptying the prisons these days is not enough beds because of the law that would prevent overcrowding. Nobody’s looking — or very few people are looking — at the fact that current administration is closing prisons. Nobody’s looking at the fact, frankly, at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that came down about six or seven months ago, give or take, that said it was perfectly fine for private companies to build prisons, which then Mr. Newsom and Mr. Bonta immediately appealed, presumably among other things to maintain the pretext that there’s not enough beds. We need to send a message loud and clear again in this state that if anybody is going to protect the citizen it’s the chief law enforcement officer and legal officer in the state. And that’s the position I’m running for and that’s one of the main reasons I’m running is to protect all of our law-abiding citizens of every race, creed, color and sexual orientation.
The Sacramento Bee: One of the things we end up talking about is the problems in California and not so much the policies and solutions. When we have laws in place that can effectively address a lot of the things happening right now, a lot of this comes down to the issue of enforcement and how this is being carried out at the local level. Given this discussion around gun violence and enforcement of gun laws and those not being implemented effectively and leading to preventable deaths we’ve seen, like in Sacramento, I want to get a sense of how each of you would use your authority as attorney general to make sure that these breakdowns aren’t happening at the local level so that we can reduce this scourge of preventable gun violence and domestic abuse.
Schubert: I think there’s a number of things we need to do. First of all, we need to fund law enforcement. And this movement across the country to defund law enforcement has done everything the opposite, which is to create this state of chaos. Mr. Bonta’s legal advisor is someone who advocates for the defunding of law enforcement. What we need to do for enforcement, to take guns off the streets, to address violent crime, we need to fund law enforcement to do their jobs — to go out into the community and to go after the people who are the drivers of violent crime. We know who they are. Felons in possession of firearms are perhaps the most dangerous criminals. We need to fund law enforcement, we need to have an AG who’s willing to work with law enforcement across the state. I’m incredibly proud to have the support of district attorneys and frontline police officers across the state because they understand I have the capability to do that. We need to run operations, to fund those operations, we need to take the guns out of the hands of those individuals, to stop the violence and when we prosecute them we need to have the tools. And those tools have been consistently eroded by our legislature, by our policies, by rogue prosecutors like Gascón and Chesa Boudin. When we actually convict them, we need to not let those individuals who are the drivers of violent crime out of prison at perhaps now a third of their sentence without any adequate rehab. As we turbocharge the credits and gut our sentencing laws, we are eliminating our ability to rehabilitate people and that’s dangerous for that person, for the community, it’s not meaningful public safety or accountability. As your next attorney general, I have every bit of confidence that I will work to fund law enforcement, work with law enforcement, hold those people accountable, and I will be at the legislature to fight these bad policies that continue to erode that accountability and to give us back the tools we need to deal with the drivers of violent crime and make people feel safe again.
The Sacramento Bee: One of the issues is that there aren’t funds being moved from police departments. In fact, they’re only growing around the state. This slogan of ‘defund the police’ is not becoming a policy or a practice within California. We have laws on the books, we have red flag laws, policies that should be getting weapons out of the hands of violent offenders. Yet the enforcement of those laws is not happening in local communities. I’m trying to pose a question that gets at how you would use your authority to improve that enforcement.
Schubert: When you say, ‘We have the laws,’ I’m curious what you mean by that. Because for years those laws have been taken away from us. Let’s, for instance, talk about this crisis of drug addiction, mental health and homelessness. Prop. 47 had a direct effect on that — we’ve seen rampant theft and this epidemic of fentanyl, drug addiction and people dying in the streets of our communities. If we’re going to continue to take away those tools, we’re not going to get people into drug treatment and mental health treatment like we need. We used to have drug courts that were very successful. When we talk about holding gang members or people that run around with guns accountable, when our legislature continues to erode that accountability, when we have repeat violent offenders that we’re now just saying, ‘Let’s just let them out of prison early, let’s take away enhancements, let’s have blanket policies so we no longer have the ability to rehabilitate them.’ I get what you’re saying, but the laws have changed — and that impacts not only enforcement but accountability and making sure those people are going to be removed from society and rehabilitated so we are safer. While we may say that public safety is still funded, we clearly need more funding to be able to get the guns out of the hands of people that should not have them. We are probably at the most dangerous time — at least in my 31 years of experience. Maybe it’s because we’ve flooded the streets with EDD money and we have $30 million to people that shouldn’t have it. We have a major gun violence problem. And it’s not a gun violence issue, it’s a crime control issue. We can have all the laws in the world on gun control, but if we’re not willing to go out there and fund law enforcement and go after those drivers of violent crime and actually hold them accountable and let them out early, then that’s not good for public safety.
Bonta: It’s critical to be working in collaboration with our local law enforcement to enforce the laws that we have, laws that we know work. And, again, not being ideological and looking at the data and the evidence on what we know works. Gun Violence Restraining Orders work, red flag laws work. They’ve worked well in San Diego with an incredible attorney and police chief that have prevented crime and harm to individuals. I visited with them and then used the bully pulpit and the Attorney General’s Office to push out GVROs as a tool to more cities and more jurisdictions to encourage it and provide training. I have an individual who will go work with any city that wants to have more Gun Violence Restraining Orders in their city attorney’s office or their DA’s office to use them or because we know they work and they save lives. Violence intervention programs work and they should be in more places, saving more lives, not just Stockton and Oakland. They need to be used in more places to reduce those homicides by over half. Our Armed Prohibited Persons System works, we have worked in doing sweeps with local law enforcement in the Bay Area, in LA. We’ve pushed grant dollars to local jurisdictions, too, to push our APPS system so they can be force multipliers. That works. We also need to create improvements so we can have a relinquishment in court or at the time a restraining order is served. That would be a better approach and a safe approach as well. We have worked to enforce existing laws with our law enforcement partners in our state to keep people safe, to literally prevent murders and mass shootings. We did that recently in Fresno, we did that in Sacramento, in Visalia — that is enforcement of existing laws. Working hand-in-hand in collaboration doing good police work, investigation and surveillance to keep people from getting hurt and to enforce existing laws. It’s also important that we protect and defend the laws we know have kept people safe in the state of California — a 30-year-old assault weapons ban. When a district court judge said that an assault weapon is akin to a Swiss army knife, we took issue with that. We moved to secure a stay, so that the assault weapons ban continued and we are now defending it in front of the Ninth Circuit. When the large capacity magazine ban that the people of California voted for was challenged in court, we’re defending that. Those tools need to remain because they keep people safe. And we have funded law enforcement in our office — I got our special agents a 12% increase because of the incredible work that they do keeping people safe. We need to fund the outcomes we desire. We will fund the police in ways that are necessary to keep us safe. I’m championing funding to address homelessness and mental illness and drug addiction. That’s absolutely critical. I’ve supported funding for body cameras for those who can’t afford them in our local jurisdictions. We are about action. We’ve expanded our sexual predator apprehension and trafficking laws on the books.
Hochman: You’re focusing on the 58 district attorneys, is my understanding. And I believe that many of those district attorneys — and I would include Ms. Schubert in that — are doing a good job, a solid job enforcing the laws in their county. But let’s focus on the ones that aren’t. And I’ll focus specifically on the two largest jurisdictions in the state: Los Angeles and San Francisco. The problem is literally the district attorney and not the deputy district attorneys underneath them. One of the interesting statistics that have come out recently is that of the 800 deputy district attorneys in Los Angeles who took a vote, 97.8% of them voted to support the recall against their boss, George Gascón. What happens is that when a district attorney comes in and enacts blanket policies that say, ‘We’re not going to follow the law,’ whether it’s the three-strikes law, whether it’s enhancements, special circumstances, treating all juveniles who commit crimes as juveniles and not as adults, instituting no bail policies for an entire jurisdiction no matter the crime or the person committing the crime, what you’ve done is you’ve set out certain leaders throughout the state sending an unmistakable message to criminals in their counties. And these are counties that represent 15 to 20 million people in the state of California. That certain crimes have no or little consequences. What can the California Attorney General do with those counties? Come in and basically send a different message. Empower the over 800 different district attorneys in Los Angeles to actually do their job and say to these folks, ‘Look, if the district attorney decides to abdicate his job, the California Attorney General will come in and empower you, the deputy district attorneys who want to do their jobs, and bring in California Attorney General lawyers if necessary to actually prosecute the crimes that are on the books. Certainly part of it is money, and we can deal with money issues. A certain part of it is dealing with the laws — and the laws in certain cases need to be changed. Your question was, ‘What can the attorney general do for prosecutors who are not enforcing the law?’ And I would send that unmistakable message. Hopefully, by the way, you wouldn’t have to do it that often. Like deterrence and anything else, you wouldn’t have to do it that often. They would know there are certain lines that can’t be crossed. And, more importantly, the public would know that there’s someone new at the state level who’s going to get the job done and focus on their safety and security rather than just the interests of the defendants.
Early: One of the things said in the question is that we haven’t seen defunding. Well, in LA County, Eric Garcetti and our city council defunded our LAPD $150 million. We’re still trying to figure out where that $150 million went. The sheriff down here, Villanueva, is right now facing defunding from the LA County Board of Supervisors. He may be losing 4,000 people — a huge number of those are sworn officers. So unfortunately, there has been defunding. But thankfully — thank God — the narrative on defunding has changed to support what I was saying since day one of the defund movement. On enforcing the laws, the Attorney General has to enforce — and in particular what I call the rogue district attorneys — our law. George Gascón is not enforcing our laws — gang enhancements, gun enhancements, three strikes, he is not not enforcing the laws. And I absolutely agree with what one of my other opponents said. There’s a huge number of deputy DAs down here in LA County. They are totally against what’s going on with the Gascón. We will take cases away from Gascón where he is not properly enforcing a law. And we will let his deputies handle those matters, and instead of reporting up to Gascón, they’re going to report up to me and we will make sure that the laws are followed. As far as juveniles, Gascón recently claimed he had a change of heart — he would not he would not prosecute juveniles for anything other than juvenile sentences. He seems to forget to understand that we have juveniles and then we juveniles. There are lots of juveniles we should absolutely be focused on rehabilitating — some of the young kids. They get in trouble. They’re not highly violent crimes. We have to rehabilitate them. We have to get them on with their life, hopefully rehabilitate them in a way that they can live a good, decent, productive life in society. But then there are juveniles — some of the most violent criminals we have ever seen in this country. And you know them when you see them, and you know when they’re rehabilitative or not and you know when you should be prosecuting them not based on the juvenile sentencing laws. So we have the laws on the books. We have to get more. Of course, attorney generals are not legislators. I would like to have a group of people that work for me that interface with the legislature to try and get some of our recommendations through and considered by the legislature, but it all starts with a change of culture in Sacramento. A change of culture that says, ‘We are going to support our law-abiding citizens again and put our citizens first again.’
The Fresno Bee: Mr. Hochman, I was interested in your reply a minute ago. In particular, your description of how you would — if I understood you correctly — go to Los Angeles County and basically overrule the DA there to follow the laws the DA is not following. The question is that the district attorney was elected by the people of that county to be their district attorney. Theoretically, they are good with what he’s doing. How would you explain to them why you — not as the DA but as the state attorney general — are bigfooting on them?
Hochman: Three different ways. First, as a constitutional officer, if I’m elected as attorney general, I actually have an obligation — not just a choice, but an obligation — that where the law is not being carried out by district attorneys throughout the state, to come in and actually take over those prosecutions. That’s number one. Number two, I’m very familiar, living in Los Angeles, with the platform that George Gascón promoted on reform that was very short on specifics. And when, for instance, one of his special directives, when he came in on Dec. 2, 2020, was to eliminate all three-strikes charging, I and my law firm actually brought a lawsuit against him on behalf of those 800 deputy district attorneys and one preliminary injunction against that policy. To the extent that the voters, I would argue, were given a reform bill without specifics, and those specifics then constituted violations of George Gascón’s duty to enforce the law, coupled with the fact that I have a constitutional duty to enforce the law in any of the districts in which it’s not being enforced, and would have the vote in the state of California to do it, I believe that combination of factors would be persuasive to the voters of Los Angeles County as to why the law and safety and security are now being enforced to promote it.
Schubert: I agree with Mr. Hochman that the attorney general has the constitutional authority right now. Mr. Bonta can go into LA if he wants to — he could have been the one to sue and tell him to do his job on three strikes, which the lawyers had to do. And I also would acknowledge that within a year of Mr. Gascón, being sworn into office after he dropped the bomb of blanket policies on Dec. 7, 2020, I led the effort of district attorneys across California, sending him a letter refusing to ever give him jurisdiction on any case that had any impact or any cross-designation or cross-jurisdiction with Sacramento County. And that’s because I agree with Mr. Hochman. The voters were duped in terms of what these policies would be. That’s the reason why the lawyers had to sue. There’s a reason why those lawyers support me for attorney general because they know I’m the one that’s capable of stepping into that position, and doing what needs to be done.
Bonta: I want to make a couple of quick points. One is that there is already an Office of Legislative Affairs in our office, where we work with my former colleagues in the legislature, and the California Department of Justice has existed for some time. As California Attorney General, I work with all 58 county DAs. I certainly honor prosecutorial discretion and the will of the voters — that’s very important. We’ll enforce the law and exercise any necessary oversight as appropriate. What we are focused on is the data, including the data increases in violent crimes — homicides, aggravated assaults, the highest or among the highest in the state are in Sacramento. That’s why we have worked to take down the Oak Park Bloods in a gang takedown. That’s why we have our APPS enforcement focused in Sacramento, in part. I also want to say that we’ve been talking about a very critical issue of public safety for about 52 minutes so far, and it continues to be job number one, two and three for me. The California Department of Justice is also one of the last legal lines of defense for protecting constitutional and civil rights generally. We are defending Roe vs. Wade in the US Supreme Court — no less a court than that. We are leading state DOJs in federal court to fight against state laws that target LGBTQ+ kids. We proposed changes to laws both at the state and federal level to strengthen gun safety laws, to fight illegal guns on our streets and we have taken on the homelessness and housing crisis that we have in California with our housing strikeforce, holding cities accountable to build consistent with state law. Making sure tenants are not evicted into homelessness. Those are important areas for the people of California — areas that I’m focused on, that I’ve worked on, where we have been a leader of action. And I have not heard anything from my colleagues about what they will do, if anything, to protect the constitutional right to an abortion, to protect LGBTQ+ kids, to fight for more gun safety and to address housing with real action that can be meaningful. So I wanted to make sure that it is clear that in addition to the critical issues regarding public safety that are job number one, two and three for me, we are doing all of the above. Any fight that is a Californian’s fight is my fight, and we will make sure to stand by them and be their champion.
Early: Mr. Bonta is the last person that should be talking to me about protecting people’s constitutional rights, real property laws, etc. As I said, I run a nationally recognized law firm. We handle constitutional issues all the time. Real property laws. I’ve been named by US News as one of the best lawyers in the nation on that — four years running. I believe, frankly, SB 9 and SB 10 need to be looked at for whether or not they are constitutional. I do want to touch base on something else. Mr. Bonta keeps talking about data, data, data, data, and like anything else, there’s data and there’s data. OK? He looks at his data. I know there’s other data out there that completely contradicts most of the data that he looks at. And frankly, I’m tired of him relying on the word ‘data’ just like Gascón does down here to cover up for their criminal loving policies that have left us in this criminal’s paradise.
The Sacramento Bee: I’m glad the attorney general brought up housing because I did want to ask you all about that. He has indeed taken a much more assertive position in office on housing and enforcing the recent pro-density laws, which a lot of people are probably glad about given the housing crisis we’re facing. Tell us whether we could expect more of that from you if elected.
Schubert: We are in a housing crisis. We are grossly under-building because of the high regulatory costs, the high fines, the litigation to CEQA lawsuits, all of those things are going along with it. My intention as attorney general is that I’m going to enforce the law. I get that we have many of these types of housing laws. Enforcement can come in multiple steps — it can be compliant, so you don’t have to be out there throwing out lawsuits the first minute you see an issue. These are laws. We have to be willing to enforce those laws, whether they’re density laws. But we’ve also seen that CEQA is being used to stop progress. We need an attorney general that’s going to allow housing to be continued to be built in an expedited fashion because we are at a crisis now. So as your next attorney general, I have every expectation that I will follow those laws. I will work with those local city municipalities to make sure that we have compliance and we meet the needs of the housing requirements and the needs that we have right now.
Hochman: I agree with what Ms. Schubert says in respect to the need for housing. But what’s interesting about SB 9 and SB 10 is that it’s not dedicated to creating affordable housing, or at least housing for low-income citizens across California. It is as much dedicated to allowing developers to build multi-million dollar units in high, expensive communities as it is to actually deal with the absolute need we have to build a huge amount of housing in the next five-10 years. I would follow the laws on the books — that’s the job of the attorney general. But to the extent that Mr. Bonta is saying that this is his effort to deal with homelessness in the state of California, quite candidly, that’s a joke. Because you cannot build enough units to deal with the problems of homelessness, 70% of which are created by the fact that people are dealing with serious mental illness and substance abuse or both. If you don’t, for instance, deal with those problems, the fact that you might build more housing will not solve homelessness in our state, it won’t even solve the homeless issues that we have in our state. So we have laws on the books right now that don’t deal with affordable housing. Mr. Bonta is not focused on the homelessness issues. They’re dealing with the fact that we have a quarter of the nation’s homeless in the state of California, and I would do my best to tackle both — either support laws that would deal with affordable housing and support the laws in particular, for instance, like the CARE Courts, that would give the courts the ability to mandatorily order treatment for mentally ill homeless people and bring back AB 1542 which was set to do the same thing for people with substance abuse disorders.
Early: SB 9 and SB 10, as you may have known and, you know, there’s some municipalities already in the state of California looking at whether to attack SB 10 — I believe it is on constitutional grounds. I do want to charge some of these brilliant lawyers in the DOJ to see whether some of these laws that have come out are in fact constitutional. We have an absolute duty to follow the Constitution, we do not have a duty to uphold unconstitutional laws. Mental illness, frankly, I think is one of the most important problems we face in the state and this nation. And there’s almost no talk about it. Read the book American Psychosis, when the entire system was taken apart starting in the 1960s and never properly rebuilt, the mental health care system. And as far as data, I want to be clear: I support the use of data, too. But there are different forms of data, not just the one data. We’ve got to look at all the data. And finally homelessness — (a) huge problem in the state. You could give all the free housing you wanted to these homeless, but I would say 70% of them are so severely mentally ill there’s nothing they could do to care for themselves in these homes. I have a whole plan for homelessness, I don’t have time to talk about it now, but nobody’s ever talked about the plan that I have.