Last week, when the Californians got the news that the state was losing a Congressional seat and the recall vote to remove Governor Gavin Newsom, a fascinating and important political story qualified aside from those headlines.
Sacramento County Dist. Atty. Anne Marie Schubert, a former Republican, announced that she would run as independent attorney general against Atty in 2022. General Rob Bonta, a former MP recently appointed by Newsom. The attorney general’s office was often a stepping stone to a higher office. Witness the rise of the office’s three youngest residents – Xavier Becerra, Kamala Harris and Jerry Brown.
In a state where registered Republicans make up less than a quarter of the electorate, a mix of Conservatives funded by Republican donors and Trump supporters received enough signatures to get a recall vote on the vote. However, given recent polls, it seems unlikely to successfully oust Newsom and put a Republican in office through the recall process.
The more likely path of the fading GOP to relevance could lie in Schubert’s candidacy. Despite being a Republican who has become independent, she could be the way conservative governance returns in a one-party state.
Schubert switched her affiliation from a Republican to an unpreferable party in June 2018 after she was re-elected for a second term as District Attorney in Sacramento. But unlike many other former Republicans, Donald Trump does not name them as the reason for their move.
“I have views on both sides of the aisle,” she told me last week. “None of this has an impact on what I will do or become as a prosecutor when I become an AG.”
Unlike Bonta, Schubert supports the death penalty, a difference that is sure to be an issue in 2022. As a public prosecutor, she spoke out against a general ban on bringing young people aged 14 and over to court as adults if they commit the most serious crimes. The law was passed by the Assembly in 2018, and Bonta voted for it. Governor Brown signed it into law.
Most notably, Schubert was a major proponent of Proposition 20, an electoral initiative for 2020 that would have increased sentences for some crimes and reduced the number of people eligible for early parole – essentially reversing previous criminal justice reforms. The voters overwhelmingly rejected this.
At the same time, Schubert’s personal background could be attractive to voters who are not conservative. She is gay and a single mother of two teenage sons. However, her brother Frank Schubert led the campaign for Proposition 8, the 2008 electoral measure that banned same-sex marriage in California. She voted against the proposal, which was ultimately overturned by the courts.
As a district attorney, she has worked to expand mental health courts, and despite speaking out against the Newsom-sponsored initiative to legalize the commercial sale of marijuana in 2016, her office has dismissed old convictions for cannabis. Sacramento Democratic Mayor Darrell Steinberg advocated her re-election in 2018 – an indication that she could find bipartisan support.
No doubt it will be difficult for Schubert to campaign through the top two primary systems as an independent and runoff election campaign if a serious Republican enters the race. Primary voters tend to choose candidates from within their parties, and the political parties are almost bound to support their own.
But Schubert already has a certain amount of public recognition. As a prosecutor, she gained national notoriety for her innovative use of DNA and a genealogy website to identify and track Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., known as the Golden State Killer, who evaded arrest and prosecution for murdering 13 people and dozens of rape had been committed for decades.
In an interview, she portrayed her campaign as an attempt to “restore security to our communities” and said that Bonta voted for laws that weakened criminal penalties when he was in the congregation.
Bonta, the first Filipino American to hold a nationwide office, advocates progressive reform of the criminal justice system. He co-drafted 2020 legislation requiring the Attorney General to investigate cases where police shoot and kill unarmed civilians. At his most recent confirmation hearing, Bonta promised to set up a unit to investigate such deaths.
With regard to crime and the police, Schubert takes a tougher line. When she announced her candidacy last month, she beat Chesa Boudin, the progressive district attorney of San Francisco, for “letting out violent criminals with little mistake or consequence” – even though he is not her opponent. Boudin responded with a statement dismissing Schubert as “committed to a failed, criminal approach” in which those in power, especially the police, who commit acts of violence are never held accountable.
Police oversight will certainly be a major issue in the race. The California attorneys general, along with prosecutors, are responsible for investigating the police shooting of civilians. Schubert was criticized in 2019 for not bringing charges in his grandmother’s backyard in March 2018 against two police officers who shot Stephon Clark and mistook his cell phone for a gun.
Schubert has strong support from law enforcement organizations, who have received no less than $ 682,000 in campaign contributions since she first took office as Sacramento County’s district attorney in 2014. Expect Bonta to make that money a problem. But he too has benefited from police union funds – $ 190,000 since 2012. He has stopped accepting such funds and donated some of it to oppose a 2020 election led by the bail industry to protect cash. Deposit system was advanced.
In this blue state, Democrat Bonta will almost certainly be the front runner in 2022. For right-of-center voters, Schubert’s campaign to “speak for the victims” could keep the promise of regaining power in California.
Dan Morain, a former Times contributor, is the author of Kamala’s Way: An American Life.