By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
Politics season has begun. And while most seats won’t be decided on until November, two county races will be decided by voters on June 5 — San Diego County District Attorney (DA) and County Sheriff.
On April 29, district attorney candidates Genevieve Jones-Wright and incumbent Summer Stephan and candidate for sheriff Dave Myers made their cases to voters at Temple Emanu-El’s “Law & Order Candidate Forum,” moderated by Voice of San Diego’s Scott Lewis. Incumbent Sheriff Bill Gore declined an invitation to attend.
Stephan and Jones-Wright were quick to express how they differed on the issues, experience and vision for the district attorney’s office.
“The mission of the DA’s office is public safety. It is to protect victims, to prevent crime and to prosecute perpetrators,” Stephan said.
Jones-Wright disagreed, saying that the district attorney’s role is “not just about prosecuting,” and should look beyond “the prosecutor’s lens of conviction rates” in how it deals with certain cases.
Stephans countered that Jones-Wright was running as “the anti-DA candidate” and called her an “extreme radical” for taking a position against recent legislation that outlawed websites used by sex workers, such as Craigslist personals and Backpage.
Jones-Wright defended her position, citing human rights organizations who were also opposed to the legislation because these websites allow for sex workers to vet clients and keep them from having to work on the streets.
Partisan politics entered the debate after Jones-Wright said she was running as “a proud Democrat that values inclusion, equity and diversity.” Stephan said the office is nonpartisan and that a Democrat district attorney “doesn’t exist, there’s a district attorney for all.”
When asked if the district attorney should be an elected position, Stephan said she didn’t “because it’s not political, it’s about actually knowing victims’ rights, understanding the job, prosecuting cases — my opponent has never even prosecuted a misdemeanor, never mind a rape or murder.”
Jones-Wright defended her qualifications and pointed to former district attorney Bonnie Dumanis who never ran a major office before being elected to the job. Jones-Wright also slammed Stephan for statements she made insinuating that if Jones-Wright were to win, it would be because of the “Kardashian effect.”
“That is completely demeaning and utterly appalling that another professional woman, who professes to stand with women, would compare another professional woman to person who leaked a sex tape,” Jones-Wright said.
Jones-Wright accused Stephan of pandering after agreeing to bail reform during a recent debate in Barrio Logan.
“[Bail reform] is in the purview of her power as the DA, to give a policy that would affect poor people who are sitting in jail only because they can’t pay bail. She can do that right now,” Jones-Wright said. She also questioned Stephans’ leadership on dealing with the backlog rape kits that need testing.
“I don’t see leadership as when you tweet, or you say you are going to do something,” Stephans countered, and pointed to funding she helped get to deal with the backlog and meetings with police and labs to determine the causes of the backlog. “I see leadership as what you have done over the years, what is your track record.”
Even in a closing question asked by Lewis about what each candidate admired about each other, jabs came out.
“I believe that Miss Jones Wright really cares about the criminal defendants that she represents … I believe that she does that job well, I believe it is her passion and I wish her to continue in her passion,” Stephans said, adding that she would not serve in a Jones-Wright administration.
“I believe Miss Stephens has an uncanny knack of knowing a good message that will resonate and I believe that she absolutely knows what to say as a politician in order to remain in the job that she would like to keep,” Jones-Wright replied.
With only a cardboard cutout of Sheriff Bill Gore behind him, Dave Meyers did not have his opponent there to challenge him — but it also meant that an overwhelming portion of the forum was focused on the district attorney race. However, Meyers was able to lay out much of what he believes makes him a better candidate for sheriff.
Meyers attacked Gore over a lack of transparency in the sheriff’s department, specifically citing recent reporting by San Diego CityBeat that exposed the county’s high rate of inmate deaths, to which Gore responded by suing the publication to try and obtain its sources.
“We’re seeing a double digit increase in elder abuse, in domestic violence, in hate crimes across the county of San Diego,” Meyers said. “And instead, the current sheriff, the chief law enforcement officer, is too worried about exposure in the media.”
On gun control, Meyers said he would enforce current laws and take guns from people who have mental illness or commit crimes like domestic violence. Meyers said he would make getting concealed carry weapon (CCW) permits easier than current policy, and accused Gore of cronyism when it comes to issuing them.
“The current sheriff has been using, essentially, the issuance of CCWs as a carrot and stick, only rewarding his buddies,” Meyers said, citing complaints that CCWs are mostly issued in Rancho San Diego and La Jolla.
To deal with gaining public trust over officer involved shootings, Meyers said he supports body worn cameras for all officers and expanding the County Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB), which he says is purposefully underfunded by Gore.
“When you have a law enforcement leader who doesn’t support the underlying principles of independent review, then we get what we get,” he said.
Meyers blamed the backlog on testing rape kits in the county on Gore’s budget priorities and vowed to test all kits.
“The sheriff’s budget is a billion dollars; what it takes is leadership,” he said.
Meyers said he is not for enforcing immigration laws because of his experience with a program he developed that laid out how local, state and federal authorities should work together along the border.
“The anchor of the program is that we do not and will not enforce immigration laws because that just creates fear within communities. I’ve seen it,” he said, adding that he supports California’s sanctuary state law.
“There is nothing about SB54 that would prevent me as sheriff, now and in the future, from working with federal authorities to keep our communities safe,” he continued. “Absolutely nothing.”
— Reach Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.