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What to look out for during California's primary

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Two California elections let big-city voters give their views on public safety. One city is Los Angeles. The other is San Francisco. That famously progressive city recalled its progressive district attorney. Chesa Boudin lost his job. He was defiant despite his defeat.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHESA BOUDIN: We have two cities. We have two systems of justice. Right? We have one for the wealthy and the well-connected and a different one for everybody else. And that's exactly what we are fighting to change.

INSKEEP: Opponents link the DA's policies to crime during the pandemic. So what is the Pacific Coast telling us? KQED political correspondent Marisa Lagos is in San Francisco and begins our coverage.

MARISA LAGOS, BYLINE: I think you have to look at who he is. He's a former public defender. His parents were actually part of the radical Weather Underground, and they spent decades in prison for their part in an armed robbery in which two police officers were killed, as well as another man. And he really always had a target on his back. Police and law enforcement did not like him. He also only won about a third of the city's vote in our ranked-choice voting system. And then he took over right as the pandemic was beginning - really ran promising reform, things like diverting more offenders away from jail and into treatment and not pursuing harsh sentencing enhancements. That wasn't that different from his predecessors, but the pandemic shook things up here as everywhere, you know? And his opponents really managed to make him the face of crime and criminal justice failings, really using a handful of cases to paint him as the problem in this city - and not all of it fair, but, you know, people kind of vote with their hearts and their feelings.

INSKEEP: Should Democrats worry if progressive law enforcement gets voted down this way in San Francisco?

LAGOS: I mean, I think they are, and I think conservatives are cheering. But I would just caution that I think Boudin is a pretty singular candidate. And this was a very well-funded recall - more than $8 million, a lot of it from Republicans and folks out of town. And they really played into a lot of fears and frustrations that bubbled up over the past few years. But clearly, questions of public safety and crime are big, as are questions around policing and police accountability. But I will say we're not seeing clear trends when we look at other races in California among prosecutors.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about another race. Wasn't public safety also an issue in yesterday's primary for mayor in Los Angeles?

LAGOS: Yeah, that and homelessness were the issues. And the candidates included Congresswoman Karen Bass, who was on the shortlist for vice president. She's in the top two now. Here's what she told her election party.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAREN BASS: We are going to build the Los Angeles of the future. We're going to fight for the soul of our city, and we are going to win the fight.

LAGOS: So, Steve, she'll be facing billionaire developer Rick Caruso, former Republican, former no-party preference. He reregistered as a Democrat and has spent about $40 million. Here he was addressing supporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICK CARUSO: We will not allow this city to decline. We will no longer accept excuses. We have the power to change direction in Los Angeles, and that's the way we're voting.

INSKEEP: OK, so they're going to vote again in Los Angeles. Are there other results that point at public safety as a big issue for Californians in yesterday's primary?

LAGOS: I think it's kind of clear it was a big night for Democratic incumbents in California. And it does seem like the frustration is being taken out more on local, not statewide officials, including in our attorney general race and Democratic governor's race. So I think there's a lot of uncertainty about whether this will be the issue in November or whether it'll be about gun control or abortion or inflation, quite frankly.

INSKEEP: At the pace history is going, it could be anything several months from now.

LAGOS: Exactly. Exactly.

INSKEEP: KQED's Marisa Lagos, thanks so much.

LAGOS: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.