A tale of two California cities

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Primary election season is underway in many parts of the country. As Democrats and Republicans vie for their party’s endorsement for the general election, the primary results give observers and the parties insight into what voters think about the performance of their elected officials up to now, and what they want from them going forward.

We can learn a lot from California. In that state’s primary election on June 7, voters sent a clear message to their elected officials — a message that the Democratic Party should take to heart if they want their candidates to compete effectively in November’s midterms.


The most publicized race was in San Francisco, where residents voted on whether to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin. Boudin was elected in November 2019 on a forceful, progressive criminal justice agenda. But with violent crimes and car theft soaring in San Francisco, the voters in this most liberal city chose to fire their progressive prosecutor. Sixty percent of voters in San Francisco voted to recall Boudin.

During his time in office, Boudin enacted a number of criminal justice reforms, including the elimination of cash bail, a reduction of the number of San Franciscans, especially minors, in state prisons, and charged a police officer with committing manslaughter while on duty. On paper, many of Boudin’s reforms made sense, and are part of a movement across the country that has been pursued by a number of progressive district attorneys. But at least based upon the recall vote, it appears that voters are rejecting those progressive programs in favor of a more traditional approach to law enforcement.


And then there was the Los Angeles nonpartisan primary for mayor. In that race, Rick Caruso, a billionaire real estate developer and former Republican who only recently registered as a Democrat, faced off against Democratic Rep. Karen Bass, a progressive, who wants to be Los Angeles’ first Black woman mayor. The race was close. Caruso won 40.5% of the vote and Bass won 38.8%. The two will head to a runoff election in November.

For many cities in America, such a tight race between a former Republican and a progressive might not be a big deal. But for Los Angeles, it is a major red flag, as Democratic voters reflect their frustration with progressive policy platforms and enactments — especially when they involve leniency toward rising crime and tolerance for an increase in homelessness. Both San Francisco and Los Angeles face a homelessness crisis with rampant drug use and mental health emergencies overwhelming city streets.

The San Francisco and Los Angeles votes highlight the challenge of the increasing influence of progressive politics on the Democratic Party. While there are many elements of the progressive agenda that are appealing and worthwhile, many of their idealistic agenda items fail in the real world and are being rejected by voters. If the Democratic Party wants to remain competitive in November, it needs to get its arms around the progressive agenda and make appropriate course adjustments.

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