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LA DA George Gascón opponents say they have 717,000 signatures to recall him

In order to qualify for the ballot, the campaign needs more than 566,587 valid signatures from registered voters.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Opponents of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón submitted a petition to recall him Wednesday with what they say are roughly 717,000 signatures.

"You can’t say that the DA creates crime, but he’s supposed to have a plan to combat crime," said Eric Siddall, the vice president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County — the union that represents rank-and-file prosecutors. "And this DA doesn’t have that plan."

The signatures will now be checked and verified by the county clerk's office. To qualify for the ballot, the campaign needs at least 566,857 valid signatures from registered voters within LA County. Joshua Spivak, a senior research fellow at UC Berkeley Law School’s California Constitution Center and the author of a book about recall elections, said that in a typical recall attempt, around 20% of signatures prove invalid — either duplicates or from ineligible voters.

Should that be the case here, the Recall Gascón petition qualifies with a few thousand signatures to spare.

If the recall does qualify, Gascón's task may prove a difficult one. According to Spivak, more than three-quarters of all candidates in California who face a recall election on the ballot lose.

"If people were angry enough to get the signatures, if they were angry enough to sign and do the work, then you’re in a heap of trouble," said Spivak.

A recent notable exception was the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, who easily defeated a recall attempt last year. And during that same election, Sonoma County voters overwhelmingly rejected an attempt to recall District Attorney Jill Ravitch. On the other hand, San Francisco voters recalled their district attorney Chesa Boudin last month. Also this year, they ousted three school board members.

In a phone interview, Gascón said the campaign against him was being driven by "very right wing people with questionable ethics," who were able to gather the 717,000 signatures with money (the recall campaign says they've raised more than $8 million) and misinformation.

"I was approached in a Costco store and asked, 'Would you like to keep rapists away from your neighborhood?'" said an incredulous Gascón. He was handed a petition to sign. HIs own name was on it. The man was being paid for every signature he gathered. "This is a very different scenario than a contested election, where you have a fight [over] thoughts and ideas."

He added: "While it is true there are some victims out there and they are angry, the reality is that this is a Republican power grab and the way they’ve gotten the signatures is extremely questionable."

Tim Lineburger, spokesman for the Recall Gascón campaign, rejected that characterization.

"This is not a partisan issue," Lineburger said. "Voters from every walk of life are rejecting this version of criminal justice reform. It’s such a failed experiment."

To bolster his argument, he cites the case of Boudin.

"In San Francisco, one of the most liberal places in the country, they rejected Boudin’s version of reform outright," Lineburger said. "They want public safety just like anyone else."

Though both Gascón and Boudin are part of a generation of reformer district attorneys who campaigned on a platform of reducing sentencing, "ending mass incarceration" and holding law enforcement more accountable, their respective backgrounds couldn't be more different. Boudin's parents were members of the Weather Underground, both of whom went to prison for their role in a string of robberies which left two police officers and a security guard dead. Two other notorious Weather Underground members, Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, helped raise him. Boudin later became a public defender. When he ran for DA, he had never been a prosecutor.

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Neither had Gascón. But he had been a cop and a police chief. Born in Cuba shortly before the revolution Gascón's uncle was jailed for more than a decade for opposing the Fidel Castro regime. Gascón and his family came to the United States in 1967, when he was 13. Gascón was an LAPD officer for 28 years, eventually rising to the rank of assistant police chief. He became police chief in Mesa, Arizona, where he clashed with infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio over immigration sweeps, and later, became San Francisco Police Chief. After Kamala Harris became a senator, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom appointed Gascón to replace her as district attorney.

In 2020, Gascón unseated his embattled predecessor Jackie Lacey. He had run on the promise of criminal justice reform, had been endorsed by Black Lives Matter, but the speed with which he pushed his agenda took many by surprise. His own deputies were aghast when, on his first day in office, he issued a series of directives, barring his prosecutors from seeking the death penalty, from trying juveniles as adults, and from filing most sentencing enhancements — special circumstances which increase the amount of prison time convicted felons serve, such as using a gun or being involved in a gang while committing the crime.

Gascón's cause was further damaged by a number of high profile examples where his leniency had unforeseen consequences. For example, Hannah Tubbs, a 26-year-old transgender woman charged with sexually assaulting a child in the bathroom of a Denny's was allowed to plead guilty in a juvenile court since she was 17 at the time of the crime and then jailed for two years. Then Fox News obtained and published recordings of phone calls in which Tubbs bragged about her light sentence. Gascón later expressed regret, saying he'd made a mistake.

"I make mistakes every day," Gascón said. "When you’re pushing the envelope and trying to move away from failed policies, you sometimes have to make adjustments." He added: "That’s the journey of leadership, continuously evaluating your practices."

More recently, it was revealed that a man who shot and killed two police officers in El Monte had been convicted of a 2011 burglary and of drug and firearm possession in 2020. The man had received a lighter sentence because of a Gascón policy that barred prosecutors from filing "strike allegations" – using serious crimes committed in the past as a reason to ask for increased prison time, a policy that was later deemed illegal by a state court judge.

"Gascón is in a fairly vulnerable situation," said Professor Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State LA. "He came in with some very firm global plans for how things should be handled. Then he discovered that every case is different. His broad policy didn’t fit certain specific cases."

Although many voters in LA feel anxious about the apparent rise in crime, there is no indication of a conservative backlash. Far from it. The city's primary election last month resulted in a progressive wave, that swept one Democratic Socialist of America-backed candidate, Eunisses Hernandez, onto City Council, and two others — controller candidate Kenneth Mejia and city council candidate Hugo Soto-Martinez — far ahead of their establishment-backed opponents, and well positioned for a runoff in November. In the mayor's race, Congresswoman Karen Bass finished seven points ahead of billionaire mall developer Rick Caruso, who supports recalling Gascón.

Those are city of LA voters. The county, which votes for district attorney, has more than twice as many voters, and its population is a bit more conservative. But that appears not to have helped Sheriff Alex Villanueva, a one-time Democrat who has become a frequent guest on Fox News shows, where he can be seen railing against Gascón, whom he calls the "woke DA," as well as the Board of Supervisors and most other Democrats in the region, whom he blames for the rise in crime and homelessness.

Villanueva finished first in the primary, but only got 31% of the vote, making his runoff against Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna appear an uphill climb.

"I don’t think this is an issue you can frame as left vs. right," said Lineburger. "How voters view Gascón is distinct from how they view Newsom or Bass. Elections are all unique."

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