In an age when mass incarceration and public safety are discussed nationwide, California’s attorney general — a position up for election on this November’s ballot — will shape the state’s approach to criminal justice.
Current Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Judge Steven Bailey are competing for the position, in which they would serve as the state’s top lawyer and law enforcement officer.
Appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017, Becerra is now running to serve a full four-year term. Becerra — the first Latinx person to hold the state office — took over for Kamala Harris in 2017, after she was elected to the U. S. Senate. Before assuming his position as attorney general, Becerra served 12 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Becerra is the son of immigrants and was the first person in his family to graduate from college.
Historically, incumbents have higher odds of winning elections, but Bailey believes his challenge can succeed through its focus on California. For the past 27 years, Bailey has worked in the California legal system, first as an attorney and then as a judge for the Superior Court of the County of El Dorado.
“(Becerra) spent a lot of time in Washington,” Bailey said. “As a judge, I was able to see a case from both sides — that is a different perspective than an average lawyer would have.”
With less than three weeks to go until the election, Bailey is facing several accusations of judicial misconduct. He has been accused of using his position as a judge to advance his bid for attorney general and sending defendants convicted of DUIs to an alcohol monitoring program where his son worked. The case, which will be heard by the Commission on Judicial Performance, will not end until after the November elections.
As in many elections, this attorney general race reflects national debates played out on a local level. As attorney general, Becerra has been an active critic of the Trump administration and has defended policies such as the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in court.
For Becerra, the fight against the Trump administration is coupled with a fight for Californians.
“(Becerra) believes everyone who works hard deserves a chance to get ahead and views our rich and diverse heritage as key to our state’s strength and prosperity,” Becerra’s website says.
One of Becerra’s biggest focuses in this campaign is health care. In addition to defending the ACA — which he helped draft while in Congress — and helped to protect health care subsidies, according to his website.
Bailey, for his part, places a primary emphasis on criminal justice. He is a strong supporter of the death penalty and the “three strikes” law — a law intended to keep repeat offenders behind bars by giving long sentences after three felony convictions — and a vocal opponent of California’s status as a sanctuary state.
“I began to see people come into court and commit the same crimes over and over again,” Bailey said. “There were some people that we couldn’t trust to be in society.”
Bailey has spoken out against criminal justice reforms that he said threaten public safety, including the early release of inmates for good behavior.
Because of this focus on public safety, Bailey’s endorsements include law enforcement organizations, the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of California.
“Judge Bailey has been a proponent of the Second Amendment for quite some time,” said Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California. “Criminal justice matters to us because it prevents criminal misuse of firearms.”
While Bailey takes a hard-line position on criminal justice reform, Becerra takes a more progressive stance. Becerra has emphasized the importance of trust between the community and law enforcement agencies, and decreasing crime while ensuring that policies are nondiscriminatory.
Becerra has the support of several labor organizations, health care providers and environmental justice organizations such as Sierra Club California. On his website, Becerra cites protecting the environment high on his list of priorities as attorney general.
“We anticipate and hope that (Becerra) will continue taking every action needed to ensure that California’s environment and public health doesn’t suffer from the actions of the federal administration,” said Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California.
Becerra and Bailey beat attorney Eric Early and insurance commissioner Dave Jones in the June 5 primary election. Now, they will go head-to-head in the Nov. 6 general election.