Analysis: Progressive Prosecutor Movement Tested by Angry Voters and Rising Crime

Progressive San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, under whose watch crime has exploded, has been recalled in an election backed by business owners and residents unhappy with his job performance.

After his 2019 election victory, Boudin declared his victory signaled voters’ desire for radical change. He promised a progressive approach, not just focusing on locking up criminals and embarking on an agenda to scrutinize police misconduct and reduce incarceration rates.

As a result, the famously liberal City by the Bay has seen a spike in murder and other crimes resulting in the removal of Boudin from his elected position. According to an April Gallup Poll, worry about crime in America has been at its highest since 2016.

In Los Angeles County, District Attorney George Gascon has also become a target for recall. Gascon previously served as D.A. of San Francisco and will face a recall election if 566,857 signatures are gathered by July 6.

Gascon has denied links between progressive policies and crime rates, saying, “Crime is going up around the country, which really speaks to the root causes of crime that have nothing to do with reform.”

Boudin has experience with the legal system beyond his employment and education. He grew up visiting his parents in prison during his childhood. David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin were members of the violent far-left group Weather Underground and were arrested when Boudin was 14 months old. They both served lengthy sentences for their roles in the robbery of a Brink’s armored vehicle and the murders of two police officers and a security guard.

Recall launched in response to increasing crime

Last year, the former chair of the San Francisco Democratic party launched a campaign for Boudin’s recall, casting him as soft on crime. The claim resonated with residents fed up with drug use, homelessness, petty theft, and other increasing crimes.

City data shows that Boudin’s office filed criminal charges at a similar rate to his predecessor’s; however, the conviction rate fell from 60% in 2019 to 39% in 2021. The DA’s office attributed the increase to the proportion of defendants diverted to rehabilitation programs and facilities. Data shows that the rates increased from 18% to 39% during the same period.

George Soros funding progressive prosecutor races

Billionaire George Soros and groups he funds spent more than $40 million in campaign contributions, according to a recent report by a nonprofit group that defends police officers who are facing criminal charges, the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund. Whitney Tymas serves as president of the Justice & Public Safety PAC, funded by Soros. She did not dispute the contribution figure.
Tymas said the recall efforts wouldn’t do anything to slow the progressive prosecutors’ movement. “Voters ultimately understand that justice and safety are not antagonistic, but that they are mutually dependent.”

However, D.A.s who are more traditional say the public is sending a different message. Moderate Oregon Democrat Kevin Barton recently successfully defended his seat in Washington County by painting the progressive prosecutor running against him as an extremist and promising voters he would keep violence from spilling into the county from nearby Portland.

“The central role and mission of any DA is public safety. And it means keeping people safe and making them feel safe. What people are realizing right now is that at the end of the day, they need D.A.s who can actually do the job,” said Barton.

However, campaign money contributed by police unions and businesses is catching up to progressive candidates. Public defender Alicia Walton ran for an open prosecutor’s seat in Arkansas and received a $321,000 contribution from Soros to a political action committee supporting her campaign.

For example, a group of businessmen, including Ron Cameron, a poultry magnate, put the same amount into political action committees supporting Walton’s opponent, career prosecutor Will Jones. Jones ended up prevailing, winning 53% of the vote to become district attorney of Perry and Pulaski counties, whose jurisdiction includes the capital city of Little Rock.