When former Oath Keeper Chad Bianco and combined death penalty enthusiast and low-level prosecutor Mike Hestrin rolled to easy victories in the June primary election it was a clarion call for change.
And that change has come, at least for some counties in California including Riverside, thanks to the signing of AB 759 by Governor Newsom on September 29. The bill now requires elections for county sheriffs and district attorneys to be held during the presidential primary. As a result, the bill further notes that DAs and sheriffs elected in 2022 will serve six-year terms.
It is a well known secret that key elections for key positions like these are scheduled and held in off year election cycles because incumbents in these highly influential positions are almost guaranteed to maintain the status quo due to low voter turnout.
For their part Bianco and Hestrin, besides sharing a county and a political party as these two Riverside criminal justice leaders do, for many of us their use of power as as leaders is considered mediocre at best when it comes to doing the right thing for the community but when it comes to leveraging their power in support of Maga political leanings to further the objectives of their political party and/or to boost their own electoral sustainability–they are unmatched.
Some, including the Riverside Sheriff’s Department see this as a victory for the county. They may try to spin it as such but in the long term it will level the playing field for all county voters by moving elections for these positions to align with presidential elections thus helping to ensure higher voter turnout and in the process giving voters a greater opportunity to truly have their say.
Just consider the facts. In the June 2022 primary the turnout in Riverside County was only 33%. Although both Bianco and Hestrin avoided a runoff in November by accruing more than 50% of the vote, that equated to less than 20% of the registered voters in the county–hardly a ringing endorsement. By comparison primary turnout during the 2020 presidential election was 47%, nearly half of the county’s registered voters weighed in.
Sheriff Chad Bianco and District Attorney Mike Hestrin will now get an extended term–two more years–to continue the same cynical and racist policies that do little to heal a community still struggling with the disparate arrests and convictions of people of color, the same questionable use of excess force, the same disregard for the safety of those incarcerated in local jails, the same attempts to further Maga ideology until they are once again called before the voters in 2028.
In my May 16 Keeping it Real I encouraged readers not to sit the June 7, 2022 primary election out. I should have screamed louder.
There are more than 19,000 cities, towns, villages and counties in the nation with a variety of government structures. Riverside for example, is a general law county.
The California Constitution recognizes two types of counties, general law and charter counties. General law counties like Riverside must adhere to state law as to the number and duties of county elected officials and elections. Charter counties like San Bernardino on the other hand, have a limited degree of “home rule” authority as it relates to elections. As a result, the mandates of AB759 does not apply to San Bernardino County.
Now, consider San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus. Like his two immediate predecessors, Dicus was appointed to his position and also like them, he sailed to victory during an off year election with low voter turn out.
Dicus was hand selected by his predecessor former Sheriff John McMahon, anointed by the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and took office in July 2021. Less than a year later he sailed to victory with more than 50% of the vote during the June 2022 Primary–the turn out was worse than it was in Riverside County, a mere 22.63%. In other words Dicus successfully sailed to victory with the support of a little more than 10% of eligible voters in the county.
As noted above, as a charter county San Bernardino County appears exempt from the new law because its charter has elections for sheriff and district attorney (in addition to the County Assessor) set for non presidential election years when turnout as noted, is certain to be low.
The good news in this is that Dicus does not get the two year bonus that comes with compliance to AB 759, however this process of effectively cutting voters out of a fair chance to select the county’s sheriff is destined to continue…unless however… voters demand change.
San Bernardino County residents can advocate to change the Charter by electing Board Supervisors who support citizens having a strong voice in electing the county sheriff, district attorney and assessor and who are willing to revise the San Bernardino County Charter to make this possible by scheduling these elections during presidential election years. It would also be more cost effective for taxpayers.
Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.