San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin serves as evidence that it’s possible to be too liberal, even in the famously left-wing city.
Polling shows that the former public defender is on the verge of being recalled in an election Tuesday after less than three years in office. Critics say his policies have fueled a culture of lawlessness marked by smash-and-grab robberies, auto break-ins and assaults.
If the recall succeeds, Mr. Boudin will be the first political casualty of a national backlash. Liberal prosecutors are accused of doing more to keep criminals out of jail and on the streets than to protect public safety.
“The dismal poll numbers we’re seeing now for Chesa Boudin are absolutely a sign of what’s to come for the rogue district attorneys movement as a whole,” said Parker Thayer, an investigative researcher at the conservative Capital Research Center.
In Los Angeles, an effort to recall District Attorney George Gascon has collected more than 500,000 signatures, well within striking distance of the 566,857 valid signatures needed by the July 6 deadline to force a vote.
Efforts are also underway in Northern Virginia to recall liberal district attorneys in Fairfax, Arlington and Loudoun counties. All three received campaign support from groups funded by Democratic megadonor George Soros.
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In Pennsylvania, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has been viewed as the inspiration for Republican bills to allow the recall and limit district attorneys to two-year terms. Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman has called for impeaching Mr. Krasner.
“The national experiment with ‘woke’ prosecutors that complemented the ‘defund the police’ movement has failed, and people are tired of their cities and neighborhoods being used for the social experiments of billionaires like Soros,” said Mr. Thayer, who tracks the “Soros district attorneys.”
Mr. Boudin was not backed by a Soros-funded political action committee when he won election in 2019, but his agenda aligns with the left-wing push to replace “mass incarceration” with alternatives such as diversionary programs aimed at rehabilitation. He also ended the city’s policy of requiring cash bail.
Critics argue that the policies are failing. Crime has risen overall by 9.8% so far this year over 2021 levels, spurred by increasing reports of larceny and assault, according to the San Francisco Police Department dashboard.
Recall opponents point out that the increase isn’t across the board. They note that homicide, human trafficking and burglary rates are down.
They also argue that post-pandemic crime has surged in places such as Sacramento, California, with “tough on crime” prosecutors, and they depict the recall as a political “power grab” by Republicans, police unions and billionaires.
“I think it’s always important to remember that often anti-crime rhetoric stands in for racism,” Angela Davis, University of California Santa Cruz professor and left-wing activist, says in an anti-recall ad. “If cash bail is returned, then vast numbers of people will be incarcerated simply because they have no funds to pay for bail.”
Ads in favor of the recall measure, Proposition H, dispute the racism charge by featuring Black, Hispanic and Asian supporters of the effort.
Other ads show former assistant prosecutors who have quit his office and crime victims led by Jason Young, whose 6-year-old son, Jace, was fatally shot at a fireworks show on July 4, 2020.
“Everything about the way the DA’s office functions at this point is solely what is best for the person charged with the crime, or the person who has been arrested, and we cannot function that way,” Brooke Jenkins, a former assistant district attorney, said at a debate last month hosted by the Commonwealth Club. “What’s being lost is the voice of reason and justice for our victims.”
The message is resonating. A Public Policy Polling survey commissioned last month by the anti-recall campaign found that 48% supported the recall and 38% opposed it, according to SFGate. A previous poll by EMC Research for recall organizers showed the measure ahead by 68% to 32%.
Mr. Boudin has characterized the recall as part of a broader attempt to oust liberal prosecutors.
“It’s a really standard playbook. They attack us. They make sure everybody knows our name and associates us with crime in a way that never happens in more traditional, ‘tough-on-crime’ jurisdictions,” Mr. Boudin told the San Francisco Chronicle. “And then they try to strip us of our jurisdiction over certain categories of cases. They try to beat us at the polls. And when that doesn’t work, they try to recall us.”
He said that “the interesting thing about it is it’s not working.”
Indeed, the leading woke prosecutors have managed to keep their posts. Mr. Krasner overcame multiple primary challengers last year to win reelection.
Cook County prosecutor Kim Foxx was reelected in 2020 despite widespread criticism over her decision to drop the charges in the Jussie Smollett hate crime hoax. A special prosecutor won a conviction last year, and Ms. Foxx now faces potential disciplinary action over her handling of the case.
Another Soros-backed prosecutor, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, won reelection in 2020 while under investigation for her handling of the 2018 criminal case against former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens. She faces a reprimand after admitting in April to misconduct.
San Francisco voters have recently shown that they are willing to oust elected officials who move too far to the left. In February, three school board members were recalled over criticism that they spent more time working on renaming schools than reopening them after the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Those fighting the latest recall argue that the battle is bigger than Mr. Boudin. They say a defeat would set back the movement toward liberal criminal justice reform.
“This movement is about more than just him. It’s about pushing forward an agenda that’s going to be fairer for everyone,” Lara Bazelon, University of San Francisco School of Law professor, said at the debate.
In Mr. Boudin’s corner is the Democratic establishment, including the San Francisco Democratic Party, the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and labor unions.
“The campaign to recall Chesa Boudin is a cynical attempt to slam the door on progress,” said Yoel Haile, director of the ACLU of Northern California criminal justice program. “San Franciscans support police accountability and alternatives to mass incarceration. As a candidate, Chesa Boudin promised to enact criminal justice reforms. As district attorney, he has followed through on that promise.”