How business might fare under the candidates for Attorney General was on display at the first debate in which all four leading candidates for the job debated in Downey yesterday. The BizFed Institute associated with the Los Angeles County Business Federation along with the Southern California News Group managed to bring together the four candidates vying for what many describe as the second most important office in state government.

Candidates clashed over the implementation of AB 450, the Immigrant Worker Protection Act that took effect in January and is enforced by the Attorney General. The measure prohibits employers to voluntarily allow immigration enforcement agents to enter a place a business or comply with a request for employee records. Under the law, immigration officers could access records or enter a place of business only with a judicial warrant. Businesses are subject to civil penalties for violating the law.

Republican Los Angeles attorney Eric Early accused Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra of threatening businesses with AB 450 civil penalties, referring to Becerra warning businesses in January that ignorance of the new law was no excuse. Early said as Attorney General he would get businesses out of the line of fire.

Becerra countered that his job was to protect employees’ privacy; that he did not issue a threat, and reiterated that if officers had a warrant they could access the business premises.

Former El Dorado County Judge Steven Bailey, a Republican, said small businesses were in a position either to be prosecuted by federal authorities if they ignored immigration officers or to be prosecuted by state authorities if they did not comply with AB 450. He said the problem came from the legislature setting up a system that prohibited ICE officers to function as they had previously by dealing with criminal illegal immigrants in the jails.

State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, a Democrat, defended the legal process under AB 450 and argued that efforts by ICE to deport workers would separate parents from children and hurt the economy.

Early countered that law enforcement was not going after the hard working undocumented workers and accused Jones of fear mongering. But Becerra responded that ICE is rounding up people with no criminal record if they had an association with the person ICE was after.

The clash was one of many that touched on the issue of immigration.

The Republican candidates Early and Bailey opposed the state’s sanctuary laws, siding with the federal lawsuit to void the laws. Early charged that Becerra was “obsessed” with President Trump filing 32 lawsuits in just over a year against the president’s policies while Bailey charged that every presidential tweet seemed to require a lawsuit from the AG. Jones said he would file the same lawsuits against Trump but argued that Becerra should be doing much more with the office, referring to Becerra often as the “appointed” attorney general.

Big business was in Jones’ sights. He admonished AG Becerra for not joining in a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil for allegedly knowing that the company’s products caused climate change. Jones also said he would go after Big Pharma for its role in the opioid crisis.

Early also said as Attorney General he would focus on Big Pharma, quack doctors and distributors who push the opioid crisis.

In response to a question about the newly created Bureau of Environmental Justice and its potential effect on manufacturing in the state, Bailey said it was an agency that oppresses business and he would shut it down.

On the contrary, Jones said he would have implemented the bureau earlier and be more aggressive with its responsibility of protecting communities against polluters.

Attorney General Becerra, who established the bureau last February, defended it as an organization to protect degraded communities that suffer from pollution and other environmental concerns.

Early was quick to claim environmental laws are used by the left as a way to punish business. He said the state must become business friendly.

When asked the top responsibilities of the attorney general, three candidates listed public safety first. However, Jones said criminal justice reform was his top priority. Jones clearly staked out the most progressive positions in the debate but argued that would not politicize the position of AG.

Both Becerra and Jones listed consumer protection as among their top priorities with Becerra adding that he would defend the California economy and its job creating capacity.