The 2022 Referendum on Crime

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks at the National Action Network’s National Convention April 7 in New York.



Jose Alba made national headlines when Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg outrageously indicted the 61-year-old bodega worker who stabbed a career criminal in self-defense with murder. Progressive prosecutors everywhere should be concerned.

While most of the press is focused on the mid-term referendum on Joe Biden, this election season across the country is also shaping up as a scrutiny of the “reform” prosecutors responsible for rising crime. Voters will participate in more than 2,000 prosecutor and sheriff elections, and the campaign is proving to be unusually hot.

They also appear to be a bust for a progressive prosecutor’s office hoping to use this year to anchor itself in jurisdictions across the country. Decarzeration candidates have swamped primary elections, many backed by far-left groups calling for an end to law enforcement. They don’t find much success as Democratic and Republican voters alike are fed up with rising crime. San Francisco’s impeachment of District Attorney Chesa Boudin last month may be the norm rather than the exception.

Take North Carolina, whose liberal cities witnessed mass protests in 2020 following the killing of George Floyd. The state held Democratic primary in May. In Mecklenburg County (including Charlotte), District Attorney Spencer Merriweather defeated an activist challenger who vowed to stop the incumbent’s “mass incarceration policies” by 70% of the vote. In Buncombe County, Asheville, incumbent Todd Williams hit back at a Liberal public defender who opposed cash bail. Targeted by a number of civil rights groups, Wake County (Raleigh) District Attorney Lorrin Freeman prevailed against a defense attorney who pledged never to prosecute abortion, even when the state restricts it. Ms. Freeman now faces a general election against Republican Jeff Dobson.

In May, Washington County, Oregon, District Attorney Kevin Barton beat public defender Brian Decker, who opposed “mass incarceration and assembly-line prosecution.” The race was among the most expensive district attorney races in Oregon history at $1 million. Mr Barton partially prevailed by pointing voters to nearby lawless Portland as a reminder of what happens when prosecutors don’t do their jobs. Marion County, Oregon, also saw its first competitive district attorney race in 38 years, in which a progressive challenger to incumbent Paige Clarkson vowed to end the “hard crime” policy. Ms Clarkson explained her office takes lower-level crimes such as criminal damage and burglary seriously as “little things make big things”. She won.

Clark County (Las Vegas) District Attorney Steve Wolfson, with support from Nevada’s largest police unions, defeated defense attorney Ozzie Fumo, who campaigned against the “inequities” of the legal system. In the Provo, Utah area, a GOP primary showcased its own version of this divide. Utah Republican District Attorney David Leavitt stated his own commitment to criminal justice “reform,” restricting prosecutions and announcing that he would no longer prosecute death penalty cases. He was struck down by attorney Jeff Gray in June, despite Mr. Leavitt’s massive fundraising benefit.

The 2020 riots and protests fueled the Defund the Police movement, even as the ensuing public disorder alarmed voters. These voters made a verdict in last year’s election, rejecting the anti-police left. Progressive mayoral candidates lost in cities from Seattle to New York, while voters in Minneapolis rejected a ballot initiative to abolish the police department.

But the public was slower to understand the role left-wing prosecutors play in the collapse of public order. The horrific attack on the Waukesha, Wisconsin Christmas parade last year — perpetrated by a repeat offender on bail — was a wake-up call. So has the recent travails of New York City Mayor Eric Adams, whose attempts to get the city’s crime under control are being thwarted by prosecutors like Mr. Bragg. What’s the use of a proactive police force when prosecutors just wave criminals back on the street—or press charges against law-abiding citizens who fight back? Voters are trying to remove some of the worst offenders from office, whether it was Mr Boudin’s removal from office last month or efforts to get rid of Los Angeles’ George Gascón.

They are also wary of voting for more equals, as the primaries show. Another big test will take place in Boston this September. Mr Biden last year installed Rachael Rollins, the leftist Suffolk County district attorney, as federal prosecutor, and Governor Charlie Baker installed Kevin Hayden, a prosecutor with 25 years of experience. Mr. Hayden is being challenged from the left by Ricardo Arroyo, who has endorsements from Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley. But Mr Hayden is holding his ground, enlisting the support of notable players including an influential building union and MP Stephen Lynch.

Public revolt also plays a role in sheriff’s contests and judicial elections, and November could see some seismic shifts. The message so far is that voters have seen what progressive prosecutors have to offer – and agree.

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Wonderland: Voters in the city want out of the suicide pact, the doctrinaire progressivism. Images: AP/AFP/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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Appeared in the print edition on July 15, 2022. The 2022 Referendum on Crime

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