A natural politician, a skilled lawyer, or at the very least, one of the above would provide the likely background for a candidate applying for the position of the state of California’s top law enforcement officer.
The successful applicant will be expected to represent the state in court and to provide legal advice to the Legislature and the state’s executive agencies. Other job duties include overseeing the state’s sheriffs and district attorneys, writing titles and summaries for submitted ballot measures, and administering the Department of Justice’s various criminal and civil programs.
Final deliverables expected:
- The impartial and faithful execution of state law
The provision of investigative assistance, forensic services, and IT support for local law enforcement
Maybe a few more lawsuits against the Trump administration (for Democratic applicants only)
Ambition for higher office not required, though entirely expected.
Gov. Jerry Brown tipped the scales in this race when he appointed Xavier Becerra attorney general at the end of 2016, after Kamala Harris left the post because she won a U.S. Senate seat. Since then, Becerra has gained prominence in California’s confrontations with the Trump administration. He’s led the state in suing the federal government more than 30 times—over environmental regulations, health care and more—and is mounting California’s defense against the Trump administration’s challenge of three state laws to protect undocumented immigrants.
But the job of attorney general involves more than just legal jousting with the feds—a point Becerra’s opponents make as they challenge him in his first election for the job to which he was appointed. From the left, Democratic state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones says Becerra has failed to prosecute oil companies for their role in causing climate change and has not done enough to push for an end to California’s cash bail system. From the right, two Republican candidates—lawyer Eric Early and retired judge Steven Bailey—say Becerra’s soft on crime and too adversarial against the Trump administration. And Democrats and Republicans alike have criticized Becerra for not doing enough to seize guns from Californians prohibited from owning them because of criminal convictions or mental illness—a power he has as attorney general.
In addition to being the state’s top lawyer, the attorney general is also its top cop, with duties to support and oversee law enforcement agencies up and down the state. Becerra agreed in March to investigate the Sacramento Police shooting of unarmed Stephon Clark, after African American leaders had criticized both Becerra and Jones for not paying enough attention to police shootings.
Becerra is the front-runner for the job, enjoying the power of incumbency and a substantial lead in fundraising. Under California’s open-primary system—in which the two candidates with the most votes, regardless of party, advance to the general election—the finalists could emerge from opposite parties or both be Democrats.
Meet the Applicants
Becerra was appointed attorney general in 2016 after 12 terms representing a Los Angeles district in Congress. He previously served one term in the state Assembly and worked for three years as a deputy attorney general. The son of Mexican immigrants, he grew up in Sacramento and graduated from Stanford Law School.
Recommended by: Gov. Jerry Brown, California State Law Enforcement Association
Jones has been Insurance Commissioner for the last eight years, putting him in charge of regulating the insurance market in California. Previously he was an assemblyman for three terms and served on the Sacramento City Council. For the attorney general post, Jones is positioning himself as the more liberal of the two Democrats and has said he will not accept political donations from oil companies. Early in his career, he worked as a legal aid attorney, providing free representation to the needy. He graduated from Harvard Law School.
Recommended by: LA Democratic Rep Karen Bass and California Democratic Party Environmental Caucus chair RL Miller
Steven C Bailey
Bailey retired last year after spending eight years as a judge on the El Dorado County Superior Court, where he presided over criminal, civil, probate and juvenile cases. Previously, he was a criminal defense attorney and worked on legislation at the state Department of Social Services. He’s a conservative and supportive of the death penalty and a “three strikes” policy to crack down on multiple offenders. Earlier this year, the state judicial disciplinary agency accused Bailey of several acts of misconduct—including accepting improper gifts, steering court business to his son and using his judicial title to promote his candidacy, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. His campaign called the accusations unfounded and said the commission was “dominated by liberal appointees.” Bailey is a graduate of Lincoln Law School.
Recommended by: Gun Owners of California and Elk Grove GOP Rep. Tom McClintock
Early is a partner in a Los Angeles law firm where he specializes in real estate and entertainment cases. He has described himself as a moderate Republican, supportive of abortion rights and same-sex marriage but conservative on fiscal issues. He opposes California’s “sanctuary state” law that limits when local law enforcement can coordinate with immigration authorities. Early grew up in New York and graduated from Southwestern Law School.
Recommended by: Vista GOP Rep. Darrell Issa and George Shultz, secretary of state under President Reagan
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