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June 8, 2022

San Francisco voters recall progressive prosecutor Chesa Boudin by a large margin

As polls had suggested they would, voters in a supposedly progressive city yesterday voted overwhelmingly to recall a high-profile progressive prosecutor. This local piece, headlined "Voters oust Chesa Boudin as San Francisco district attorney," provides the details and some context:

Voters recalled District Attorney Chesa Boudin on Tuesday, ending a brief and tumultuous experiment with embedding San Francisco’s staunch progressive values in The City’s top law enforcement position.  Initial results showed 60% of ballots cast in favor of recalling Boudin, with 40% opposed.

The effort to recall Boudin catalyzed voter frustration over property crime and what proponents alleged was leniency in the way serious crimes are prosecuted.  "This is not a message to the rest of the country, but to take care of our community ... it's really making sure you have balance around the idea of progressive reform and safety.  They are one in the same, and we got off track,” recall organizer Andrea Shorter said.

Boudin’s defenders framed the recall as an effort backed by Republicans that misled voters about the realities of crime rates in San Francisco. Addressing supporters on Tuesday, Boudin provided his theory for the crushing defeat at the polls. "The right wing billionaires outspent us three to one. They exploited an environment in which people are appropriately upset and they created an electoral dynamic where we were literally shadowboxing," Boudin said.  "Voters were not asked to choose between criminal justice reform and something else. They were given the opportunity to voice their frustration and their outrage and they took that opportunity.”

The recall movement rode a wave of broader discontent among city voters. Although Boudin became the face of San Franciscans' anger, public polling has shown voters disapprove of the jobs done by the Board of Supervisors, Mayor London Breed and the Police Department.  Less than four months ago, voters recalled three school board members.

It might take another election to discern whether voters rejected Boudin’s guiding principles or Boudin himself, who was elected in 2019 with less of a mandate than a modest margin in another low-turnout contest.  Boudin defeated establishment-favorite Suzy Loftus with 50.8% of the vote in the final round of ranked-choice voting. Though Tuesday’s election saw no shortage of think pieces written by out-of-town media outlets in recent days, it’s unclear what lessons to take from a low-turnout election.

Though Boudin’s approval rating proved abysmal in a recent poll commissioned by The Examiner, his broader philosophies — including sending low-level offenders to diversion programs instead of jail — still scored highly among San Franciscans....  In an effort to upend and rebuild the criminal justice system, Boudin increasingly relied on diversion programs to resolve criminal cases instead of lengthy jail sentences.  The son of left-wing radical parents who served long jail sentences for their role in a botched fatal robbery, Boudin spoke often about the negative consequences of incarceration.

With the exception of homicides, violent crime has remained near historic lows.  Property crime has been mixed under his tenure — larcenies and robberies are down since 2018 while motor vehicle thefts and burglaries are up — but Boudin has abdicated responsibility for that fact, arguing that much of what has happened in the last two years is a result not of his office’s work but of the pandemic.

Boudin’s opponents, who coalesced around his recall shortly after his election, argued his policies have made San Francisco less safe, his office is rife with turnover and that the interests of crime victims had been pushed aside in the name of his cause.  Rather than jump to cite crime data, proponents of the recall leaned heavily on individual stories. There was 6-year-old Jace Young, whose 17-year-old killer was convicted of murder in juvenile court.  Critics of Boudin, including Jace’s father, wanted the juvenile tried as an adult to secure a longer jail sentence, but Boudin refused.  There was 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapkadee, who was pushed to his death by a man Boudin later described as having a “temper tantrum,” enraging the DA’s critics.

More broadly, recall proponents tapped into frustrations felt by San Franciscans tired of smash-and-grab robberies and a sense of lawlessness in The City.  “The condition of the streets are getting intolerable. I know it’s not all his fault because of the pandemic, but it’s because he refuses prosecution that crime has been further encouraged,” Kevin Wakelin, who lives near City Hall, told The Examiner. “There are so many car break-ins, house break-ins and stolen bicycles.  No one can afford a brand new bicycle every other week but that truly happens to some of us, and it’s terrible.  He (Boudin) needs to take responsibility for that.”...

Boudin’s recall leaves a vacancy that will be up to the mayor to fill. Crucial to her decision is the fate of Proposition C, which failed.  Prop. C would have, among other reforms to the recall process, prohibited a person appointed to a vacancy created by a recall from seeking election to the same post in the upcoming election. Put more clearly, Prop. C would have prevented whomever Breed appoints from seeking election to a full term in the following election.  Had Prop. C passed, it would have effectively limited the potential pool of candidates to those who have no interest in seeking the job long-term.

Supervisor Catherine Stefani, an ally of Breed’s and former deputy district attorney in Contra Costa County, has been floated as a potential candidate to replace Boudin. Brooke Jenkins, a former prosecutor who quit under Boudin’s tenure, has been a leading face of the recall movement.  She, too, could be under consideration for the post. Breed will be responsible for making the appointment after the election results are certified.

A lot can be said, and a lot surely will be written, about this outcome and what it may mean for the progressive prosecutor movement and criminal justice reform more generally.  For now, I will be content to just note that, when it comes to elected politics, perception can often matter a whole lot more than policy.  This may be a trite and obvious point, but it surely helps explain why "individual stories" may resonate with voters in San Fran and elsewhere a lot more than data runs or policy statements.

June 8, 2022 at 09:09 AM | Permalink

Comments

When a big name "progressive prosecutor" backed by Soros money goes down by a massive 3-2 in what is probably the most liberal city in the country, there will be lots of spin to paint the outcome as an "emotional" reaction to particularly gross individual stories, but (1) individual stories count just as liberals think they should, see, e.g., George Floyd, and (2) it wasn't just individual stories. Homeless squalor, smash-and-grab robberies all over the city, open air drug use, retail theft to the point that stores were closing, and a shocking increase in murder amount to a lot more than just anecdotes, and trigger justified concern, not knee-jerk fear.

Obviously the pro-crime crowd is going to try to whistle past this drubbing, but when the Left take a pasting in San Francisco, where can it feel safe?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 8, 2022 10:07:54 AM

It’s rich that the man put into office with billionaires’ money is complaining about other billionaires getting him tossed out.

An interesting fact not mentioned in the article? The precincts he won were in rich, white, woke neighborhoods. Those who suffered most from his policies, the poor and minorities, voted his ass out.

If the opposite was true, the narrative would be “systemic racism” was the cause of his loss.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jun 8, 2022 3:56:23 PM

Doug,

What do you see as the “perception” compared to the data? You imply the perception is wrong. Is the data even legitimate? Could it be that some property crimes are “down” because they are not prosecuted and counted?

The people of San Francisco did not vote him out because of high profile individual stories. They voted him out because they are stepping over homeless people, seeing needles strewn everywhere, watching drug stores being overrun with people running in and then back out with anything they want, and then the same drug stores leaving the neighborhood because they cannot absorb the losses.

“Don’t believe your lying eyes and look at the data,” is not working anymore.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jun 8, 2022 4:08:32 PM

Mr. Otis,

"...when the Left take a pasting in San Francisco, where can it feel safe?"

I got quite a chuckle out of this part of your blurb, Bill. Perhaps you have yet to realize that those who voted to oust Boudin were the VERY left-leaning liberal S.F. citizens? Who else in God's name do you think lives in S.F.? Have you ever even been to the Bay Area? Are you thinking that suddenly, in S.F., a large voting block of REPUBLICANS have emerged seeking to 'teach those damn liberals a lesson!!'?? Really, Bill, quite funny.

Posted by: SG | Jun 8, 2022 4:10:22 PM

Tarls, individual experience and high-profiles cases are part of the "perception" that I am referencing. Perceptions can often be accurate and informative, and data (and policy talk) can sometimes be distorting. I do not live in SF and have not visited there in a long time, and I am in a relatively poor position to assess from afar either perceptions and data/policy development there.

My comment was an attempt to amplify this point in the article: "Though Boudin’s approval rating proved abysmal in a recent poll commissioned by The Examiner, his broader philosophies — including sending low-level offenders to diversion programs instead of jail — still scored highly among San Franciscans." That statement leads me to think his policies may still have the support of the people, even though his ongoing work plainly does not as evidenced by this vote.

Notably, I would also say perceptions about mass shootings and gun rights also often matter a whole lot more than policy. Data and policy talk is rarely that salient.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jun 8, 2022 5:01:00 PM

SG --

Some people need to check their privilege. You need to check your stupidity.

It is PRECISELY BECAUSE your pal Boudin got voted out by an extremely liberal electorate that the result is so important and so ominous for the "criminal justice reform" crowd.

That you don't get this is startling, even by your low standards.

"Have you ever even been to the Bay Area?"

For three years while I was at Stanford Law School. And where did you go to law school, hotshot? For that matter, what's your name? Not gonna give it? Now why would that be?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 8, 2022 5:15:52 PM

TarlsQtr --

Gads do I wish I had written your two posts. But you younger guys beat me to it, again.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 8, 2022 5:18:13 PM

Bill,

Moses is younger than you. ;-)

Doug,

It is my belief that people like the idea of diversion programs. Hell, I do in a perfect world where they work and the criminals come out on the other side better for it, but the world isn’t like the worst song ever made, “Imagine.”

What they don’t like is the result of it. The pollsters are getting crap answers because they are asking crap questions. It’s fine by me, though. If liberal politicians want to continue digging their own graves while justifying it with obviously crappy polling, I’m happy to let them. They will reap the consequences.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jun 8, 2022 6:06:41 PM

I agree, Tarls, that effective CJ policy is much harder than nice-sounding ideas/slogan and also that lots of polling is crappy. That said, what do we make of the fact that data show that crime is up, and especially that homicides are WAY up, in Sacramento over last 7 years and yet nobody is complaining about the policies of its DA or seeking a recall? I conclude that it means perception can often matter a whole lot more than policy or data.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jun 8, 2022 9:41:52 PM

Doug --

There is a reason the results of actual balloting (progressive prosecution policies and their champion rejected by a landslide) count more than the results of newspaper polling (progressive prosecution policies warmly embraced).

The reason is not that the electorate is juvenile and merely reacting to awful anecdotes rather than (ever the academics' refuge) "data and science." It's also not that the electorate is "frustrated" or angry or scared, rather than (also the academics' refuge) mature and nuanced.

The reason is that, at the ballot box, people have the chance to register their judgment about how goals that sound just fine in the abstract (lower bail, more accountable police, less incarceration) WORK WHEN THEY ARE PUT INTO PRACTICE in the real world. In that real world, these lofty goals produce consequences the pollsters never mention -- more violent crime, smash-and-grab robberies, sidewalks being turned into Third World encampments, open air drug use galore.

At the ballot box, voters have had the chance to see what these policies, the ones that sound so fine when presented in the abstract, really produce. They don't like what they see. And that's the real reason -- not thoughtless emotion -- that Mr. Boudin is now out of a job.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 9, 2022 9:13:21 AM

In the "real world," Bill, the data show that crime is mostly down in San Francisco and mostly up in Sacramento over the last 7 years. Maybe you think this data in hinky, but that is the only data we seem to have, and it strongly suggests certain policies have been working to make people safer in SF and less safe in Sacramento. And yet only the DA in SF was subject to recall, which is why I comment that perception can often matter more than what actually works in practice.

Notably, in two recent substack posts responding to calls for gun control, you seem to be saying that support for gun control is sometimes based on a failure to look at the data and what you consider to be sound policy. I think a fair reading of those posts is that, in another context, you are eager to note that, in my words, "perception can often matter a whole lot more than policy."

Posted by: Doug B. | Jun 9, 2022 10:37:19 PM

Again, Doug, is the data you refer to suggesting crime is down in SF an apples to apples comparison? If you stop arresting people for certain crimes, the data will indicate a decrease in that crime.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jun 10, 2022 10:12:30 AM

Doug --

I will leave the assessment of whether crime is up in San Francisco to -- ready now? -- the people who live there. But even if the "data" rather than the people should govern, the "data" show that two of the most feared crimes -- murder and burglaries -- are up.

The reason I use data so much in my Substack posts is to show the Left that, even playing the way they want with the tools they want, they lose at their own game. But I'm very glad you're a reader.

The truth is that Boudin got routed because the SF electorate saw that he took the side of criminals rather than crime victims, and did so to a frenetic degree that was indigestible to even the most liberal of electorates. Your effort through "data" to turn Boudin's loss into a win is about as convincing as Trump's effort to turn his loss into a win.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 10, 2022 11:01:00 AM

Doug --

I should add that, although my Substack posts plainly show, using copious data and studies based on data, that gun control laws do NOT affect the number of murders, the Left continues frantically to push for more gun control laws. Why? Religious-like faith? Where is all the vaunted devotion to following the data?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 10, 2022 12:05:58 PM

When objectively considering crime data from other countries that have either outlawed firearms, or have far stricter gun laws than here in the U.S., one must conclude that such laws have contributed to their very low crime rates.

As with all data, we must keep in mind that correlation does not equal causation. I am not ruling out that our country has a higher number of mentally unstable citizens, or we as a people are more apt to engage in violent acts.

Mr. Otis is correct, however, that American gun laws (in their present iteration) have little impact on our crime rates. Why? I would point to the fact that there is easy access to firearms for a very wide range of Americans of all ages. AND there are an estimated 400 million +/- registered firearms in the U.S. (not counting military, law enforcement). And there is no way of knowing how many unregistered/ghost guns are out on the streets, or in the (hopefully locked) desk drawer of your next door neighbor.

So what do we do?

The majority of all Americans, including a majority of gun owners, believe that the outlawing of semi-automatic rifles, high-capacity magazines and the passing of strong red flag laws WILL help to reduce the frequency of nightmarish mass killings such as those in Uvalde, Buffalo, El Paso, Pittsburgh and on and on. I have confidence/faith that this is true. We know that those on the Right will continue to manufacture reasons why we should not pass such laws (e.g., "we need AR-15s to kill varmints" or "feral pigs"). But these folks have little credibility, and Right Wing politicians paid to carry the NRA's water...well.. hopefully their days in Congress are numbered.

Posted by: SG | Jun 10, 2022 4:18:59 PM

Bill: you are making my point when you say the voters' perception of crime matters more to voters than the data. I am not trying to turn Boudin's loss into a win in any way. But given the crime data, it seems he lost so badly because voters' perception of crime matter more to recall efforts than crime data (given that violent crime is up much more and is generally higher in Sacramento than in SF).

when it comes to elected politics, perception can often matter a whole lot more than policy. This may be a trite and obvious point, but it surely helps explain why "individual stories" may resonate with voters in San Fran and elsewhere a lot more than data runs or policy statements.when it comes to elected politics, perception can often matter a whole lot more than policy. This may be a trite and obvious point, but it surely helps explain why "individual stories" may resonate with voters in San Fran and elsewhere a lot more than data runs or policy statements.

Likewise, many people's perception of gun crimes changed in the wake of two salient mass shootings last month, even though national data suggest gun homicides are starting to tick down. This is not a left/right issue --- rather, it is precisely the point I made in this post: "when it comes to elected politics, perception can often matter a whole lot more than policy [which] helps explain why 'individual stories' may resonate with voters in San Fran and elsewhere a lot more than data runs or policy statements."

Given your two comments here, Bill, I am inclined to claim victory: it seems you fully agree with me in these two settings that voter perceptions are largely driving political behavior, not data and policy studies. That is the point I made, nothing more.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jun 10, 2022 4:25:56 PM

Doug --

"Given your two comments here, Bill, I am inclined to claim victory..."

I like to be a reasonable man, so feel free to claim your victory, and I will feel free to claim mine, to wit, the landslide ousting, by very liberal voters, of progressive prosecutor icon Chesa Boudin.

I'll be happy to trade more such victories when George Gascon comes up next.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 10, 2022 6:16:45 PM

SG --

"But these folks have little credibility, and Right Wing politicians paid to carry the NRA's water...well.. hopefully their days in Congress are numbered."

Ya know, my life is tough in the Joe Biden stock market -- down another 3% today -- so I need to pick up some cash on the side. So let's do a little bet here. With $100 as the stakes, I'll bet that in the election we have coming up in about five months, more NRA-backed candidates win their races than lose. Are we on?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 10, 2022 6:23:20 PM

Gosh Mr. Otis, your life is tough?? I'm shocked. One would think that one who adheres to conservative economic principles would be financially secure in their golden years,
perhaps sailing the Mediterranean on their superyacht? No? The market goes up and down, my friend. Hang in there. Things will turn around for you.

And I find it interesting that you have, so far, chosen not to address the points that I raise in my last post, other than my somewhat offhand political comment about recalcitrant NRA-bought Republican politicians. So should I assume that you agree with all that I penned, other than that last sentence?

As to the $100 wager on the 2022 elections, sure, we're on...provided that the GOP once again fails to pass any meaningful new gun legislation between now and election day 2022. They may get some of the stench off of themselves if they finally cave to demands from the majority and pass something new. Should they pass anything, even something as relatively minor as more thorough background checks, they will then claim that they are 'reasonable people', working hard to protect the American people, having reached across the aisle in the spirit of all that is sacred, or some other pretentious, hollow b.s. Doing so may then help to get a handful of your courtesans elected, or re-elected. It may be just enough to prove you right. (However I think it's more likely than not that they will not pass anything that runs counter to NRA orthodoxy). So with this proviso, yes, we're on. Good luck.

Posted by: SG | Jun 10, 2022 9:09:23 PM

SG --

"And I find it interesting that you have, so far, chosen not to address the points that I raise in my last post, other than my somewhat offhand political comment about recalcitrant NRA-bought Republican politicians. So should I assume that you agree with all that I penned, other than that last sentence?"

You may assume anything you like. Last time I saw you assuming, you were assuming I thought the (negligible) Republican vote in SF is what brought down Boudin, when the entire (and obvious) point of my post was that is was the liberal vote that brought him down, thus providing a great deal for the "progressive" forces to fret about. That you missed this obvious point provides the grist for me to make various assumptions about your grasp of things, shall we say.

"It may be just enough to prove you right. (However I think it's more likely than not that they will not pass anything that runs counter to NRA orthodoxy). So with this proviso, yes, we're on."

No provisos. I'm not going to create an out for you to argue about what constitutes "meaningful" gun legislation. I renew my proposed wager as stated. If you don't want to take it, I understand why.

You have my name and educational background. What's yours?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 10, 2022 10:36:32 PM

SG,

No, one must not conclude that gun laws have contributed to lower crime rates in other nations. We are a huge and complex country, a mixture of many different cultures. Europe, Australia, etc., have but a fraction of our diversity. Western countries that have initiated gun control measures already had low crime rates.

Semi-automatic rifles? Really? Rifles of ANY kind are used in about 350 homicides a year. That’s from grandpa’s .22 to high caliber rifles (which does not include an AR-15) and everything in between. 2% of US counties are responsible for 51% of murders. Most US counties have zero murders. Our problem is in those 2% of the counties.

I guess you missed the memo on the NRA. It’s never been weaker. Your local teachers union probably spent more money in the last election cycle than the entire NRA nationwide. That’s only slightly tongue in cheek.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jun 11, 2022 8:40:51 PM

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