California Attorney General's Race: Where Candidates Stand on the Issues



In Summary

Here’s where Rob Bonta, Anne Marie Schubert and Nathan Hochman, applicants for attorney general, stand on the big questions about California crime, justice and law.

There has been a lot of recent turnover at the California Department of Justice. In 2016, Attorney General Kamala Harris became a U.S. senator and U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra was appointed to the job. Four years later, Becerra was promoted to a cabinet job in the Biden administration, allowing Gov. Gavin Newsom to tap then-Democratic Assemblymember Rob Bonta

Now Bonta has to persuade a majority of California voters he deserves to keep the job. As incumbent and a Democrat, he’s in a good position to do so. But the recent surge in public concern over crime — which is out of step with some of the numbers — has buoyed the prospects of two prosecutors: Nathan Hochman, a Los Angeles Republican who served the Department of Justice under then-President George W. Bush, and Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, a Republican turned independent. She’s hoping the support of some of the state’s biggest law enforcement groups will help her secure one of the top two spots in the June primary to make it to the November ballot. 

Crime

Californians are increasingly concerned about crime, though the numbers paint a more complicated picture. Republicans blame voter-approved Proposition 47, which eight years ago lowered some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. While Democrats are talking tough, they’re not proposing a return to longer prison sentences. After several high-profile cases of police killings of Black men and the George Floyd case, the California attorney general’s office now investigates all killings of unarmed civilians by law enforcement officers.

What two initiatives would you pursue first to address the growing public concern about crime?

 (N) Anne Marie Schubert: First, she said she would push to repeal Proposition 47, “so that people can be held accountable and addicts can get treatment they desperately need.” Second, she vows to “fix the failures of Proposition 57” — “to classify violent crimes appropriately, limit early releases for these inmates and will aggressively prosecute violent criminals.”

(D) Rob Bonta: “Public safety is job number one, two and three.” He emphasized programs to reduce gun violence by prosecuting street gangs, investing in violence intervention programs and enforcing the state’s strict gun laws. He also pledged to continue focusing on violent crime and putting more resources toward prosecution and victim services.

(R) Nathan Hochman: He said he would “create a spiral of lawfulness” so that “crimes actually do have measured consequences.” He also said he would make addressing fentanyl overdoses a top priority by holding regular press conferences, aggressively prosecuting dealers and launching “a very robust educational effort” aimed at kids.

Do you support making significant changes to or outright repealing Proposition 47?

 (N) Anne Marie Schubert: “Prop. 47 was the biggest con job in California history, and I would support a repeal. The correlation between Prop. 47 and the rise in crime is undeniable and as data shows, ‘non-violent’ theft and drug crimes often lead to violent crimes.”

(D) Rob Bonta: He said he is “open to any discussion on how we might be able to strengthen our state’s criminal justice system,” but stressed that current law has already allowed the state Department of Justice to break up multiple major retail theft rings.

(R) Nathan Hochman: Yes, though did not specify what specific changes he would like to see. Though he was particularly critical of the provision in the law that reclassified theft of property under $950 from a felony to a misdemeanor, he stressed that “as long as Prop 47’s on the books, I’m enforcing Prop 47.”

Do you support the new state law that requires the Attorney General to investigate when a police officer kills an unarmed civilian? Are there any changes you would seek in the law?

 (N) Anne Marie Schubert: “Yes, I supported the law when it was proposed in the Legislature.”

(D) Rob Bonta: Bonta authored the law as a legislator. “We are showing up, doing the work that needs to get done, and adding a critical layer of accountability.”

(R) Nathan Hochman: He supports the law in principle, but he would prefer that the state collaborate with local law enforcement. “To the extent that the AG’s office works with the locals, I think that is your most effective way to get out the correct answer.”

Death Penalty

California voters have repeatedly supported keeping capital punishment, but Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed a moratorium in 2019. Now, legislators and advocates are trying to pare back the death penalty with more piecemeal proposals.

Do you support the death penalty?

 (N) Anne Marie Schubert

Yes. “The death penalty is reserved for less than 2% of all murders, including serial killers, mass murderers, baby killers and those who murder police officers…The families of murder victims are entitled to justice. Instituting a moratorium on the death penalty ignores not only the will of the voters, but abandons the rights of the murder victim families.”

(D) Rob Bonta: No. “It is both irreversible and it is fallible. There is no way to undo it when mistakes are made.” While he said he supports the governor’s moratorium, he said he would enforce existing law.

(R) Nathan Hochman: “What I believe…is not important in the sense of carrying out the duties of the job of the California Attorney General’s Office…I’m signing up for a job that’s enforcing the law, not making the law.”

Guns

California has some of the country’s strictest gun laws. But Gov. Newsom and others want to pass more, namely to allow private citizens to sue gun manufacturers over illegal assault weapons and “ghost guns” — a proposal patterned after the Texas abortion law. A law already on the books — banning felons and domestic abusers from having weapons — is under scrutiny for its deadly failures.

Do you support legislation that would give citizens the right to bring a private lawsuit against gun sellers or gun manufacturers who violate state gun laws?

 (N) Anne Marie Schubert: “Possibly but not without knowing if the proposed law is constitutional and the details of the proposal.” But she added that while California has the “strictest gun laws in the country,” the bigger problem in the state is not gun control, but a lack of “crime control.”

(D) Rob Bonta: Yes. He called it a “creative” way to address the scourge of gun violence. He notes that the prohibitions on “assault weapons” and “ghost guns” are permitted by the U.S. Constitution, while an effective ban on abortion is not.

(R) Nathan Hochman: Unclear. “At the end of the day, that’s for the California Legislature to decide.”

How would you improve enforcement of laws prohibiting felons and domestic abusers from having weapons?

 (N) Anne Marie Schubert: Advocate for more resources for police departments and collaborate with them to enforce these bans and “seek to amend the early release policies that allow violent felons who use guns out of prison early.”

(D) Rob Bonta: Bonta said his office has urged the Legislature to provide more funding to local police and court systems to remove weapons from prohibited persons. “You do that right, and you get guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them immediately.” He also said the Department of Justice needs more funding to reduce turnover and to modernize the state’s firearms databases.

(R) Nathan Hochman: “The budget for going after these type of guns from prohibited persons has only gone up over the years. I’d spend the money. I’d spend the money wisely.”

Internet/Social Media

The state is building a new agency to regulate Google, Facebook and other internet giants. A bill before the Legislature would hold social media companies liable for promoting apps and features that addict and damage kids’ mental health.

Should the attorney general do more to protect privacy and children on the internet and social media? If so, what?

(N) Anne Marie Schubert: She said she would push for more community outreach and would provide assistance to local law enforcement and prosecutors where necessary. She added that she would “seek to investigate the harmful impact” that social media companies may have on children. 

(D) Rob Bonta: “I’m committed to holding social media companies accountable, particularly when their actions may cause harm to California’s youngest residents.” He pointed to ongoing investigations his office launched against TikTok and Meta, the parent company of Instagram.

(R) Nathan Hochman: I would look for every opportunity to work with the tech companies to come up with a regulatory structure that works for them and — as, or more, importantly — works for the consumers of California.” He also said that he would push for more “technological tools that parents have to monitor their children’s internet usage at the highest level.”

Miscellaneous

California’s Democratic leaders are positioning the state as a sanctuary for people seeking abortions should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe vs. Wade later this year. Hate crimes against Asian Americans jumped during the pandemic, with reported incidents doubling in 2020. Several California cities are rebelling against laws meant to boost affordable housing. And Native American tribes and national betting giants are gearing up for a high-stakes ballot measure fight over online sports gambling.

Should California become a sanctuary for abortion rights?

(N) Anne Marie Schubert: “I support a woman’s right to choose…If a woman from another state wishes to come to California to exercise that right, I support that. But I don’t think California should be paying for it.”

(D) Rob Bonta: Yes. He said he supports efforts to ensure that California becomes “a safe harbor for millions of Americans seeking access to basic reproductive healthcare…I’m going to use every tool at my disposal to defend our freedom as I fight these abortion bans and stand up for reproductive freedom.”

(R) Nathan Hochman: He declined to take a position. “The California Attorney General will enforce the laws on the books that the state Legislature passes and the governor signs.”

What specific actions would you support to enforce affordable housing laws and goals, if any?

(N )Anne Marie Schubert: “I would hold cities and counties accountable that shirk their responsibility to allow the development of affordable housing.”

(D) Rob Bonta: Last November, the Department of Justice created a housing strike force to monitor compliance with state housing and zoning laws. “My message to local governments is simple: Act in good faith, follow the law, and do your part to increase the housing supply. If you don’t, my office won’t stand idly by.”

(R) Nathan Hochman: “I wouldn’t back off any particular city in this state, if in fact they’ve completely forsaken their duty to comply with the state law. But on the other hand, I will absolutely take into account whatever good faith efforts they’re going to put on the table and certainly work with them to get to a point where they’re in compliance with the law.”

Support allowing online sports betting, including by FanDuel and Draft Kings?

(N) Anne Marie Schubert: She opposes the legalization of online sports betting. “If sports betting is legalized, it should be operated by California’s tribes honoring the sovereign right granted them by the voters.”

(D) Rob Bonta: “That will likely be left up to voters this year, as a number of initiatives eligible for the 2022 ballot concern this topic.”

(R) Nathan Hochman: “I do support online sports betting…Let California be one of the leaders in this field — properly regulated, properly, licensed, properly taxed.”

Elk Grove News is a media partner of CalMatters. 



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