DOWNEY — Two Democrats and two Republicans running for the state’s attorney general post on June 5 sparred for 90 minutes May 15 on whether to resist attacks from the federal government on the opioid epidemic, crime control, immigration, legalization of marijuana and the environment.
The forum featured Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, retired El Dorado County Judge Steven Bailey and Los Angeles business owner and attorney Eric Early against current Attorney General Xavier Becerra, appointed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown to fill the post vacated by Kamala Harris, who was elected to the U.S. Senate.
The debate produced stark differences between the contenders on how the office should be run, and if advocacy on housing should be part of its duties.
Jones, a Democrat, kicked off the debate at the Southern California Gas Energy Resource Center by saying he will continue to defend the state from the myriad of legal attacks launched by the Trump administration, but stung Becerra on his lack of action on crime.
Becerra, a Democrat who spent 24 years in Washington as a congressman before being appointed attorney general, said he “will be accountable to you all,” and that his job was also to protect “our values, our jobs and our ways of living.”
Bailey, a Republican whose judgeship was in the a county next to Sacramento, said he is tired of watching “criminals running on the streets” and pledged to crack down on all criminals if elected.
Early, the second Republican, pledged to stay away from business interference, said he is not a politician, but if he wins he will bring a new set of dynamics to Sacramento “and make California great again.”
Early said he supports most of President Trump’s policies to deport undocumented immigrants with criminal records and said he would cooperate with Homeland Security to track and deport those with felonies. He insisted that Becerra has overreached on his suits against the federal government on environmental policy and trying to defend first-generation immigrants.
“It’s not the job of Mr. Becerra to sue Trump every five minutes” or whenever he tweets, Early said, adding that he backs the idea of building a wall along the Mexico border “to stop the flow of drugs and illicit traffic of humans.”
Becerra defended his actions, saying he was sworn to protect the state’s and its residents’ values, including its self-declaration as sanctuary state.
He highlighted his office’s increase of gang injunctions since he took office in January 2017, and said at least 10 weapons have been confiscated from criminals daily since he became attorney general.
Becerra also chastised Trump on his attempts to deny military enrollment for transgender people living in California, and said he will continue legal fights that are consistent with federal laws.
“Our job is to follow the law,” Becerra told an audience of about 300 people. “If they say their priority is to break families and women’s rights, we’ll fight against that.”
Jones said as attorney general he would reach out to keep the state’s progressive values, but the top prosecutorial office should do more than litigate against Trump.
He criticized Becerra for being an attorney with zero legal practice in California in the last two decades.
On the opioid crisis, Early said he dislikes the idea of suing businesses, but would consider it against painkillers manufactures and big pharmaceutical companies that “have made billions and billions on opioid prescriptions.” Bailey admonished the society for not being “compassionate enough” to drug addicts, and pledged to reverse the deadly course in all neighborhoods.
Becerra announced his office launched several lawsuits against local clinics and pill manufacturers in the Modesto area, and said his office “won’t allow these products to be dumped into our communities.”
For his part, Jones criticized the current rehabilitation methods whereby patients feel “affected and victimized, and that is when the whole cycle starts again,” and said we should focus on empowering the sick inside out.
On immigration, Jones said it’s not California’s responsibility to fight and deport immigrants, the matter belongs to the federal government, and that this issue goes back to the times of slavery, when some factions in government fought to return black workers to plantations and coal mines.
Bailey indicated he supports the eradication of sanctuary laws, and said he supports Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants. He said sanctuary laws have protected criminals and undocumented immigrants.
On business and employment, Jones decried the federal government’s attempts to obtain employers data with the intent to purge them from workers who may not have authorization to be hired, and floated the idea of businesses requiring warrants before providing information to the government.
“Parents, families are being separated,” Jones said. “That is what’s going on. It’s bad and hurts our businesses.”
Becerra agreed, and added business owners should request warrants on inquiries pertaining to verification of employees’ Social Security numbers.
Early said businesses “should be treated with dignity and respect,” and implored that the attorney general “must get the businesses out of this line of fire.”
He praised Trump and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for withdrawing from launching raids and prosecuting small and micro businesses that operate in states whose voters have approved the use of recreational pot, such as California, and pledged to regulate driving automobiles under the effects of marijuana. Bailey said he won’t move on anything related to legalized hemp until the federal government decides to remove it from its list of banned substances.
However, Becerra promised he would support the formation of a “charter bank” for pot business, and agreed to explain to the federal government that California can make the process of manufacturing and selling it as legitimate and clear as possible.
Jones also backed the notion of creating a bank for pot businesses in California.