California Crime Crackdown Inevitable in 2022

November 28, 2021 Updated: December 7, 2021

Commentary

A crime wave is stalking California. Some of the latest in a long line of incidents include:

The Seasons 52 restaurant at South Coast Plaza was held up.

Thieves attacked Louis Vuitton and Saks Fifth Avenue stores in Beverly Hills, smashing windows, but were unable to get inside.

In Walnut Creek, a flash mob of 80 thieves robbed a Nordstrom store and assaulted two employees.

Thieves hit the Louis Vuitton store in San Francisco’s Union Square, robbing and “ransacking” it, according to one account.

We’ve seen this before, during the “permissiveness” of the 1960s. The liberal Warren Court put a lot more limitations on police and prosecutors. The court was named after Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, a former California attorney general and governor.

That crime wave was part of the reason that Ronald Reagan was elected governor in 1966 to replace liberal Gov. Pat Brown. Amid violent protests on California university campuses, much like today’s Antifa riots, Reagan took action. During riots in 1969 at UC–Berkeley, he ordered in the California National Guard.

“If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with,” Reagan said of the decision. “No more appeasement.”

Voters later elected to the attorney general position such tough-on-crime candidates as Evelle Younger in 1970 and George Deukmejian in 1978, both Republicans. The latter became California’s governor in 1982, narrowly defeating Democratic Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. Deukmejian was a major proponent of the death penalty, a contrast to his anti-death-penalty predecessor, Jerry Brown.

According to columnist George Skelton, Deukmejian led “the biggest prison construction program in the nation’s history, spending $3.3 billion to build eight penitentiaries—going from 12 to 20—and making seven major additions to existing institutions.”

Pete Wilson succeeded Deukmejian by winning in 1990 on a platform heavy on anti-crime rhetoric. While in office, he worked to approve Proposition 184—better known as the Three Strikes Law—in 1994, when he was seeking reelection.

More controversially, he backed Proposition 187, which restricted state services to undocumented immigrants, but was later thrown out in court. Although Latino activists have used that against Republicans ever since, seen in perspective, it was part of the anti-crime efforts of almost 30 years ago.

Crime started dropping, largely due to more criminals being locked up, demographic changes from an aging population, an end to the crack epidemic, and, probably, a large increase in gun purchases by law-abiding citizens.

By 1998, Republican Attorney General Dan Lungren had lost a race for governor to Democrat Gray Davis. Lungren had run on a strong anti-crime platform, but by 1998, it had faded as an issue.

What to Look For

If another anti-crime wave is to start, there are a couple of things that could happen.

First, look to see if Republican candidates for attorney general gain traction starting in January. It will be difficult for a Republican candidate to beat Gov. Gavin Newsom, just off his beating the recall attempt. But voters often look at the attorney general post differently.

In 2010, Jerry Brown easily won back his old post as governor, 54 percent to 41 percent over billionaire Republican Meg Whitman. But on the same ballot, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, a Democrat, barely beat Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, the Republican, in the race for California attorney general by 46.1 percent to 45.3 percent. Harris, of course, went on to become a U.S. senator and is now vice president.

Current Attorney General Rob Bonta, a Democrat, was appointed to the post in April when incumbent Xavier Becerra was given the nod as the Biden administration’s new secretary of Health and Human Services. Bonta has declared that he will run for reelection. As an assemblyman, Bonta supported the recent changes in the law that critics say have made things too easy for criminals.

“By nominating Assemblymember Rob Bonta to be California’s next attorney general, Gov. Gavin Newsom is priming the state to take a significantly different approach to criminal justice—one that could help him shore up progressive support ahead of a likely recall election, but could also alienate moderates and law enforcement,” CalMatters reported in March.

It’s still early, but two Republicans have announced that they’re seeking to replace Bonta: Eric Early and Nathan Hochman, a former assistant U.S. attorney. Early’s campaign website lists standing with law enforcement, securing our election, and “law [and] order” as his top three priorities. Hochman’s campaign website also lists three primary positions: prevent crime, end the opioid epidemic, and tackle homelessness.

It’s pretty clear how this election will go in 2022.

Second, watch for Newsom to veto any major new soft-on-crime legislation in 2022. He’s going to get blasted for signing such bills in 2021 as SB 81, which deals with sentencing reform. But the 2022 veto ceremonies will be covered lavishly by a compliant media.

Newsom isn’t only looking to be reelected, but he may have a good shot at running for president in 2024. It seems clear to me that President Joe Biden just won’t have the capacity to run for reelection, while Harris gets less popular every day. At least for now, there’s no national Democratic figure out there who compares with Newsom.

Third, look for anti-crime initiatives to gain traction for the November 2022 ballot. Although none has been filed yet, it wouldn’t surprise me if someone advanced an initiative to repeal Proposition 47 from 2014, which made thefts of less than $950 misdemeanors.

On crime, California has always swung between the extremes, too soft or too draconian. It looks like a swing back to tough-on-crime policies is rolling down the street like Starsky & Hutch in their 1975 Ford Gran Torino.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

John Seiler
John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. He has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary for California state Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at JohnSeiler.Substack.com