You might not know it yet, but one of the most important elections in U.S. history is coming up. I’m not talking about the presidential primaries — I’m talking about the race for L.A. County District Attorney.
The L.A. County D.A. office is incredibly powerful. Not only is it the largest prosecutorial office in the U.S., it also oversees around 1,000 attorneys and decides which cases to file for criminal trial in the county. A testament to the D.A.’s reach: the office dismissed 66,000 marijuana convictions just two weeks ago, as reported by The L.A. Times.
Unless they’re really involved in local politics, I doubt most LMU students from L.A. County could even name their current D.A., Jackie Lacey. She was elected as the first black and first female D.A. for L.A. County back in 2012 and ran unopposed in 2016.
Lacey now faces two progressive challengers: former San Francisco police chief then D.A. George Gascón and former public defender Rachel Rossi. Gascón has been endorsed by prominent publications and politicians, ranging from The L.A. Times’ and The L.A. Daily News’ editorial boards to U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin (both politicians represent the neighborhood where LMU is located). Meanwhile, Rossi got a left-wing boost from L.A.’s Democratic Socialists of America chapter, who called Gascón “a career police officer and prosecutor” and preferred a “non-cop” in their official endorsement from the group’s Prison Abolition committee.
As reported by LAist, both Gascón and Rossi are against pursuing the death penalty and both want to end cash bail, issues the current D.A. is more conservative on. All three are trying to position themselves as reformers in one way or another.
Given the candidates’ campaign promises, combined with the power of this coveted office, the D.A. race should be on your mind well before the presidential race. Whoever you vote for in the latter, whether it’s Donald Trump or Bill Weld or Bernie Sanders or Michael Bloomberg, will have little to no impact on criminal justice issues in L.A. County.
Trump didn’t choose whether or not to charge Harvey Weinstein, and whoever the president is for the next four years won’t be able to decide how police shootings in L.A. County should be investigated. The president simply does not have the time nor the authority to talk about meaningful reform for every county and jurisdiction in the country.
Dividing powers like this is useful for enforcing and reforming justice on an understandable level, but it only works if everyone can voice how they want that justice to be administered. Unfortunately, L.A. County voters are quiet when it comes to primaries.
Back during the last general election in 2016, the turnout of L.A. County for the primary election was just 32.7% of eligible voters and 41.3% of registered voters. That means that the majority of L.A. County voters were not heard. When Lacey was first elected in 2012 against six other candidates, those numbers were as low as 16.3% and 21.8% respectively for eligible and registered voters.
Even with the better-than-usual turnout in the 2018 midterm primaries (mirroring the higher turnout across the country that year), voter turnout still did not reach a majority. There's a very real risk that those numbers could still be below 50% or even drop from 2018.
All of this might be a lot to digest less than a week before March 3. I’m a Tennessee resident, so I am ineligible to vote in this election. However, I know there are many L.A. County residents who need to have their voices heard, regardless of where they stand politically.
When you make it to the polls next Tuesday or receive your mail-in ballot sometime soon, be sure to have done your research be sure to cast your D.A. vote. A lot of people will be counting on you.
This is the opinion of Cristobal Spielmann, a sophomore environmental science major from Brentwood, Tennessee. Tweet comments @LALoyolan or email firstname.lastname@example.org.