After a summer of protests aimed at police and justice reform, the voters will finally get a chance to register their feelings on those issues in the high-profile Los Angeles District Attorney race. Squaring off in a debate this weekend the two candidates carrying the banners for more liberal reforms versus traditional reforms prominently dueled over the backers of their campaigns, which in itself clarified where they stand.    

The race with national implications pits incumbent Jackie Lacey, seeking her third term in office, against George Gascón, former San Francisco DA and a former LAPD officer. Gascón’s move from SF to LA was promoted by those who adhere to a more progressive criminal justice reform agenda to replace incumbent DAs with a new breed. 

The differences in the two candidates’ approaches was encapsulated in the back and forth between the rivals over who was funding their campaigns. While both candidates said they were backed by small time donations, the focus in the debate was on the big dollars that came from PACs and Independent Expenditures. 

Lacey pointed out that big contributions for the Gascón campaign came largely from rich San Francisco Bay Area tycoons. She could have added that the largest donation of $1.5 million was supplied by New York billionaire George Soros who has funded numerous efforts around the country to support district attorney candidates who promote policies of fewer prisoners, end to the death penalty and a harder line on police misconduct. 

Lacey questioned why Bay Area residents were concerned with a Los Angeles candidate race, but she knew the answer. She was the target of liberal reformers and their hope to promote a new agenda on criminal justice. 

For his part, Gascón repeated a number of times that Lacey’s major donors were police unions and law enforcement organizations saying that they supported her because she was softer on prosecuting cops that step over the line. 

Lacey responded that she has filed 200 cases against law enforcement misconduct but  that she doesn’t “prosecute them for political reasons.”

Lacey missed an opportunity to argue that the police very well could have a major reason for endorsing her over Gascón, when the former SF DA opened the door proudly noting he was an author of Proposition 47, which changed many felonies to misdemeanors and allowed more suspects arrested for crimes to be quickly freed. 

Law enforcement around California has campaigned against the consequences brought on by Proposition 47 arguing it led to higher crime rates throughout the state. Police support for Lacey is based on a mutual vision of how criminal justice in the state should be enforced, an answer to Gascon’s charge that police organizations want Lacey in office simply because she doesn’t have a quick trigger on police prosecutions. 

In LA, voters can make their feelings known on the kind of justice system they want with their votes in the district attorney race. Statewide, all voters will have a say on the changes wrought by Proposition 47, when they cast a vote on Proposition 20 which is intended to pull back some of the Prop 47 changes in the law. 

Voters may be sympathetic to positive reforms in both policing and criminal justice policy, but they also are concerned with public safety.  That is a core issue in the LA DA race. Or as Lacey put it during the debate, are the voters willing to back Gascón’s “experimenting” with public’s safety?