Summer Stephan is a law-and-order, tough-on-crime prosecutor who is running for re-election as District Attorney of San Diego County. A self-described “national leader” in sex-crimes prosecutions, and a Republican who enjoys the backing of a small army of law-enforcement associations, she would likely have coasted her way back into office in years past.
This year, however, Stephan faces an unlikely challenge: Geneviéve Jones-Wright, a public defender who embraces a slate of progressive criminal justice reforms, is running as a Democrat to replace Stephan. Backed by Our Revolution, the Working Families Party (WFP), and other grassroots groups, Jones-Wright makes for an unusual candidate for a position that has historically focused more on locking people up than pursuing broad notions of justice. Yet, as Californians head to the polls today, what marks the San Diego DAs race as particularly unusual is that it isn’t the only one of its kind.
Across California, district attorney elections have heated up thanks to a wave of viable reform candidates, a large number of people who want reform, and the money to run campaigns. Much like Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s recently elected and extremely progressive District Attorney, these candidates are running on platforms promising to reduce the use of cash bail, promote racial equality, and vigorously prosecute police shootings. The candidates include Jones-Wright in San Diego, civil rights attorney Pamela Price in Alameda County (the seat of Oakland), and Noah Phillips in Sacramento, among others, while their opponents are high-profile Republican stalwarts like Sacramento DA Anne Marie Schubert, Alameda County DA Nancy O’Malley, as well as incumbents in Yolo County, Riverside and elsewhere.
At first blush, it shouldn’t seem surprising to find these sorts of candidates seeking office in California. The epicenter of the anti-Trump resistance, the state has also become a leader in criminal justice reform, reversing course on decades of mass incarceration. Indeed, many of the reforms that prosecutors like Krasner have promised elsewhere are already law or proposed laws in California: not prosecuting marijuana cases (California already legalized marijuana), lowering the jail time for certain non-violent crimes and giving those convicted of prostitution the chance to clear their records.