Though registered Republicans are disappearing in the capital region as they are across California, Sacramento County voters still lean right on one key issue: law and order.
The resounding victory of Anne Marie Schubert in the race to pick a new district attorney was just the latest example of a Sacramento taking a stand in favor of law enforcement.
“Sacramento would seem to be more conservative than the state as a whole on big-ticket crime and safety issues,” said Robb Korinke, who runs GrassrootsLab, a California-based political research and data firm with business partner, Mike Madrid.
Two years ago, Sacramento County rejected a repeal of the death penalty by 53.7 percent to 46.3 percent, which was higher than the statewide average and very similar to numbers in the more traditionally conservative San Diego County.
Schubert was the co-chair of the campaign to beat back the death penalty repeal and she clearly paid no political price for it. The latest ballot count shows Schubert getting almost 60 percent of Tuesday’s vote, which also proves she wasn’t hurt for her ties to Jan Scully, the outgoing Sacramento DA who is stepping down after 20 years.
Schubert, a Republican and an 18-year prosecutor in Sacramento, faced state prosecutor Maggy Krell – the choice of Gov. Jerry Brown and state Attorney General Kamala Harris. Krell also got the strong backing of state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who penned a rebuttal to the column I wrote last week that was critical of Krell.
The three most powerful Democrats in a decidedly blue state were powerless to prevent Krell from being hammered at the polls. Another candidate, Todd Leras, ran a distant third.
“The voters of Sacramento County weren’t going to let anyone come into their backyard and rule,” a very happy Scully said Friday. “We’re more real to them.”
Scully was referring to the general support that local law enforcement leaders enjoy.
In the last four elections since winning her seat in 1994, Scully ran unopposed, a testament to her enduring popularity. Scott Jones ran unopposed Tuesday to be re-elected county sheriff.
Even in the very liberal city of Sacramento, voters overwhelmingly approved a sales tax hike in 2012 to bolster public safety programs and hire more cops.
This is not a new trend.
Korinke looked at data going back to elections in 2000 that showed Sacramento County consistently voting to the right of the state average on reforming California’s “three-strikes” law, on victim’s rights and the death penalty.
In about the same time frame, the proportion of Republican voters in Sacramento County fell from 36 percent in 2004 to 31 percent in 2014.
Meanwhile, registered Democrats remained roughly at 43.5 percent.
It’s true that law and order should be a nonpartisan issue, but the Democrats tried to politicize the DA’s race.
Schubert – and Scully by extension – was hit for pay hikes in the DA’s Office, though the raises were established by labor contracts negotiated by the county.
They were accused of maintaining a jail-them-first attitude that needlessly filled jails with “low-level offenders.”
Krell was an enthusiastic supporter of Brown’s massive prison realignment plan that shifts some prisoners from the state to the counties.
Her talking points were straight from under the Capitol dome, but fell flat outside the manicured grounds where Brown, Harris and Steinberg rule the roost.
Much of it has to do with Sacramento’s generally strong relationship with law enforcement and its particular penchant for electing local leaders.
“This is a town that likes to elect people from here,” said Rob Stutzman, a GOP political operative who worked for former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Krell was largely recruited by the party leadership.”
Like Scully, Schubert grew up in the Sacramento area and was molded at Sacramento Catholic schools. She worked her way up through the local DA’s Office as Scully did.
Sheriffs tend to promote locals or from within, as do Sacramento cops.
The exception was when Arturo Venegas was plucked from Fresno to run the Sacramento Police Department in 1993.
A very successful leader in many respects, Venegas nonetheless fought some in his ranks throughout his tumultuous tenure.
The succeeding three police chiefs have all been career, local cops.
It’s that familiarity and a relative lack of scandal within law enforcement that has seen voters support cops and courts in Sacramento
“The voters are saying we’re doing a good job. We’re not perfect, but they are happy with the job we are doing,” Scully said. “There was a lot of money thrown at a Democratic candidate in a nonpartisan election, but politics did not hijack experience – the voters didn’t allow it.”
Schubert comes from a big family clan with lots of friends, supporters and connections.
When some Democrats knocked her because her brother Frank ran Proposition 8, the 2008 campaign that temporarily banned same-sex marriage in California, the attacks went over like a lead balloon.
Schubert calmly countered by saying she loved her brother but disagreed with him. It made the politically active gay groups attacking her seem small.
Lots of families struggle as they work through the same-sex marriage issue, and none of the attacks against Schubert, who is openly gay, took into account how she must have been hurt by the experience, too.
Schubert never took the bait. She kept the focus on her experience, her roots and her advocacy for public safety.
At last count, her margin a victory was more than 30,000 votes – a strong, undeniable message about her and the county she will serve as DA.