By Ryan Erlich
On Sunday morning, the Los Angeles Times endorsed George Gascón in the District Attorney’s race.
Their justification? Voters should “reject the nonsense and keep Gascón on the job and criminal justice reform in place.” The editorial board returned to that theme in their closing sentences. “Voters were right to pick him in 2020,” they wrote. “They ought to keep him in place for another term.”
Notice that language: “Keep him in place.”
Their editorial was not what one would call a “positive” or evidence-based endorsement. They didn’t argue that Gascón has “earned” a second four-year term. They didn’t point to any new proposals. They didn’t lean into statistics. There was no tally of exonerations. No list of successful prosecutions. No citation to a declining crime rate. No mention of cases filed against law enforcement officers. They didn’t even discuss his second-term agenda; in fact, it’s not clear that one exists.
Instead, they clung to a false premise: that failing to keep George Gascón in office will mean the end of criminal justice reform in Los Angeles.
They’re wrong. But they’re not alone.
Like their counterparts at the Times, some prospective voters also believe that Gascón’s highest political worth is that he simply occupies the office. If he’s in charge, the argument goes, L.A. can’t turn back the clock to the tough-on-crime policies of the past.
But what they don’t realize is that keeping Gascón “in place” means that we can’t move forward either, as an office or as a county.
And if you are truly committed to improving public safety in a just, compassionate, and sustainable way, herein lies the problem.
Gascón’s presence “in place” may prevent backsliding, but stasis for stasis’ sake is not progress. And electing Gascón to a second term as District Attorney won’t accelerate criminal justice reform; if anything, it may delay and inhibit it.
Why? Because George Gascón is a public pariah, as stale as the status quo. He has lost significant electoral support. He has alienated core county leaders, making “buy-in” from key stakeholders almost impossible. The business community dislikes him. So do those for whom violent crime is a destructive reality of life, not just an inconvenient statistic. He has become a counterproductive agent for change, just like he was in his final term in San Francisco.
Voters are looking for real solutions. They don’t like what’s going on and they don’t feel safe. Substantially more of them disapprove of Gascón’s job performance than approve of it. But they don’t want to “go back” to the way things were before. They support reform and they want to move forward, beyond Gascón, in a different direction.
And, frankly, so do many of my colleagues in the District Attorney’s Office.
We are sick of the old debates, and we’re tired of the wide, reactionary pendulum swings in state and local criminal justice policy.
We want something different: progress.
This campaign is not a binary choice between keeping Gascón “in place” or going back to the policies of the past, no matter how much the Los Angeles Times wants it to be. It’s actually a much more important choice between keeping Gascón “in place” or moving past him and pushing reform forward in a more constructive and effective way.
Those running for District Attorney, and their supporters, should keep this in mind.
Here’s a message for those candidates: you don’t need to convince voters to fire Gascón. They are ready to do it. But you must convince them that your version of tomorrow will be better than his. Be more than just your Day One plans to “repeal” his special directives. Stop telling us what policies you’d “bring back.” Start explaining what you’d do differently. Be specific. Be modern. Be bold. Be forward-looking. Be progressive.
Los Angeles is a big county and serving as its elected District Attorney is a big job. We’re facing generational problems that need and demand transformative solutions: on homelessness, mental health, addiction, economic insecurity, environmental injustice, intolerance, and political incivility. Our office can, and should, lead on those issues.
We can’t afford to think small, to go backward, or, as the Times suggests, “keep in place.” It’s time to go beyond who and what we have. It’s time to move past George Gascón. It’s time to move ahead.
Ryan Erlich is Vice President of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA), the collective bargaining agent representing over 800 Deputy District Attorneys working for the County of Los Angeles.