State attorney general candidates teed off on rival Xavier Becerra during a debate Tuesday night, accusing the current officeholder of focusing on legal fights with the Trump administration to the detriment of other duties.
Fellow Democrat Dave Jones, California’s insurance commissioner, said Becerra has been slow to seize guns from about 10,000 residents barred from possessing firearms because of felony convictions or mental illness. He also criticized state Department of Justice delays in launching a statewide database to track opioid prescriptions.
“As a progressive Democrat I’ll resist President Trump,” Jones told an audience gathered at the UC Riverside School of Public Policy. “But there’s more to the office of attorney general than just suing President Trump.”
Becerra’s office has filed 32 legal actions against the federal government—including one Tuesday challenging proposed funding cuts to Planned Parenthood—since Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him attorney general last year.
Becerra cited his office’s 17 legal victories are “the proof … in the pudding.” He pointed to injunctions his attorneys obtained blocking a ban on transgender citizens serving in the military and shielding enrollees in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
“The best test on any lawsuit is whether you’re still in court,” Becerra said. “You didn’t hear them say which [lawsuits] they would get rid of. Everyone of those 32 is to protect your interests.”
Tuesday’s debate with all four candidates is the last one scheduled before the June 5 open primary. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, will advance to the November runoff. A Republican has not held the office since 1999.
“Everything that happens in Washington doesn’t require a lawsuit by the state of California,” Republican candidate Steven Bailey, a former El Dorado County trial court judge, said during Tuesday’s debate. Bailey called some of the complaints frivolous and promised to dismiss “a goodly number of them” if elected.
No large-scale polling in the race has been released publicly, although Becerra and Jones are front-runners in terms of fundraising and, as current statewide officeholders, name recognition. The Jones campaign issued a press release May 1 highlighting the state disciplinary investigation into Bailey’s tenure as judge, suggesting Jones may be concerned about the Republican slipping into that second runoff spot. A Bailey campaign spokesperson in February called the ethics investigation “simply an attempt to disparage a respected former judge.”
Bailey secured the state Republican Party endorsement over Eric Early, a name partner in Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae. Neither Becerra nor Jones won enough votes at the Democratic convention in February to claim their backing, although Jones did outpoll Becerra among the activists who voted.
Although Jones insisted Tuesday that the differences between him and Becerra are “quite profound,” the two candidates agree on numerous policy issues.
They both oppose the death penalty but say they will continue to enforce California’s capital punishment laws. They both support state immigration laws, recently challenged in federal court by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, limiting law enforcement agencies’ cooperation with federal officials. And they both endorse efforts to reduce the state prison population.
Bailey and Early, too, are united—in their criticisms of Becerra and the state’s leniency toward undocumented immigrants. Both called on the attorney general’s office to return to a greater focus on criminal prosecution reminiscent of past Republican officeholders.
“Mr. Becerra wants to be attorney general of the resistance movement? God bless you,” Early said Tuesday. “But he’s currently attorney general of the state of California and there are many people in California that do not agree with what is going on.”