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A Prosecutor Ditched The GOP. Now She’s Forging Her Own Path In California.


On paper, Anne Marie Schubert might be a Democrat. An openly gay mother of two from a famously left-of-center state, Schubert describes herself as socially liberal on abortion and ladies’s rights.

But because the tough-on-crime district attorney of Sacramento County, Schubert is also a Republican — and he or she was, until 2018.

As a substitute of hindering her, Schubert’s rejection of party labels, she hopes, will help her in Tuesday’s primary for California attorney general, probably the most contested race in an otherwise sleepy election where Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is anticipated to sail to a simple victory.

Schubert, known for prosecuting the “Golden State Killer,” is charting an unconventional path for attorney general. She’s an independent, appearing on the ballot as “NPP,” no party preference. Schubert is running against incumbent Rob Bonta — a Newsom-appointed Democrat who championed criminal justice reforms within the state Assembly — and two Republicans. After outraising Bonta’s other challengers, and running with an array of law-enforcement backers, Schubert is widely considered the favourite for second place. In California’s primary, the highest two finishers, no matter their partisan affiliations, advance to the final election.

“Sooner or later, California goes to elect an independent, and I feel just like the time is now,” Schubert, 58, told HuffPost in an interview last week.

The four-way race for attorney general comes amid heightened anxiety about crime and homelessness, and raging debate over criminal justice reforms.

This climate is seen pretty much as good a gap as any for a non-Democrat to win statewide. That hasn’t happened since 2006, when Californians reelected movie star and GOP moderate Arnold Schwarzenegger. California Republicans have been in a slump ever since. Last 12 months, conservatives angered by COVID-19 protocols triggered a recall of Newsom, which voters overwhelmingly rejected.

“The stage is ready for it to be Republican 12 months,” said Thad Kousser, a political science professor on the University of California, San Diego. “And crime is one in every of those issues that folks in California are likely to focus their dissatisfaction on.”

The idea that California could also be on the brink of reject progressives is playing out further down-ballot. Within the race to switch termed-out Controller Betty Yee, Republican Lanhee Chen is running hard to change into the state’s next chief fiscal officer, channeling concerns about rising inflation and deflating retirement accounts. The recall election of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin — and one other DA recall brewing in Los Angeles — are seen as referendums on progressive prosecutors and spiking violent crime in those cities. Schubert, who has endorsed each recalls, is the embodiment of those frustrations highest up on the ticket.

“The stage is ready for it to be Republican 12 months. And crime is one in every of those issues that folks in California are likely to focus their dissatisfaction on.”

– political science professor Thad Kousser

“This does prevent an interesting test case for whether people will vote for someone who is really focused more on the policy,” said Mike Madrid, a veteran GOP strategist in California and co-founder of the anti-Donald Trump Lincoln Project, talking about Schubert. “Our political structure is overwhelmingly white, progressive and coastal counties. There’s a reason why Gavin Newsom, Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi come from the identical county. That’s literally the electoral base of the state though it’s the least reflective of California.”

The progressive argument against tough-on-crime prosecutors like Schubert is that they approach criminal justice in a way that’s outdated and ineffective, increases prison populations and disproportionately harms communities of color. And Bonta’s campaign points out that rising violent crime is still a concerning trend in Sacramento. “This campaign has been a disaster for Schubert. She is circling the drain,” Bonta campaign strategist Nathan Click told HuffPost.

Schubert is battling two Republicans for the tough-on-crime mantle: former Assistant U.S. Attorney General Nathan Hochman, the GOP-backed candidate, and Los Angeles attorney Eric Early, whom some consider the race’s “MAGA” option. (Bonta’s allies, in a weird but not unusual tactic for hand-picking a general election opponent, have paid for ads to extend Early’s name recognition.)

Schubert has the backing of dozens of law enforcement groups, giving her an edge against the Republicans. As Sacramento DA, she developed a national popularity for using DNA evidence to pursue cold cases, leading to the 2019 conviction of the “Golden State Killer” many years after his crimes.

Bonta, who was known within the state Assembly for sponsoring laws to finish money bail, was plucked from that position in 2021 to switch Xavier Becerra, who joined President Joe Biden’s Cabinet as health and human services secretary. The job of attorney general in California has traditionally been a launch pad for governor or other higher office. Becerra was elected after then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris moved over to the U.S. Senate.

Talking to reporters, Schubert describes herself as a “fixer” to emphasise her apolitical approach.

“That sounds form of silly, but I’m a fixer by nature,” the profession prosecutor told HuffPost over Zoom, sitting in front of a brightly coloured painting. Schubert has icy short blonde hair and pulls no punches. “I enjoy not only the importance of the work, however the mental challenges of attempting to fix an issue. Does that make sense?”

While her detractors slam her leaving the GOP as a hole move designed to make her more palatable to a left-of-center electorate, Schubert said she genuinely believes that “public safety” roles akin to attorney general — a position that’s given wide latitude to prosecute civil and criminal offenses — needs to be divorced from politics.

“One-hundred percent,” she said. “It’s a nonpartisan job.”

As Schubert tells it, she was a Republican for many of her life before dropping her GOP affiliation 4 years ago following a “very politicized” reelection campaign in Sacramento.

“I made a decision after 2018, I’m like, ‘That is bullshit’ — excuse my language. Public safety isn’t red team versus blue team. That is just public safety,” said Schubert, who launched her campaign for attorney general on a deadly serious note, surrounded by the families of murder victims and missing children.

“Public safety isn’t red team versus blue team. That is just public safety.”

– Anne Marie Schubert, independent candidate for California attorney general

When Schubert, who’s gay, talks about coming from a conservative family, she’s not underselling it: Her brother Frank Schubert was the GOP strategist and mastermind behind Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that sought to outlaw same-sex marriage.

Schubert, for obvious reasons, didn’t support Prop 8. She also opposed Props 47 and 57, the criminal justice reform measures that reduced the penalties for certain nonviolent crimes and granted early release to eligible incarcerated people to scale back prison overcrowding. The 2 measures are at the center of debates over whether or not they’re responsible for highly visible instances of crime plaguing cities. Asked about repealing Prop 47, the measure that reduced thefts of under $950 to a misdemeanor, Bonta told CalMatters that current law already allows the Department of Justice to go after major theft rings.

“We’re in a moment that we probably haven’t seen in about 30 years, where California is basically on this law-and-order type election,” said Rob Stutzman, Schubert’s top political adviser. “It provides some balance toward the middle or right-of-center away from Democratic dominance.”

Bonta continues to be the heavy favorite in the final election. “He’s going to have a bunch of institutional strengths and levers that he can pull by virtue of the Democratic Party being healthy,” said Michael Trujillo, a Democratic strategist in Los Angeles. At the identical time, “there’s not enough data to see how a no-party-preference candidate would do against the Democrat in a more high-profile race like attorney general.”

It’s unlikely that an independent or Republican will find a way to repeat the magic of “The Governator” while the parties are so polarized, said Wesley Hussey, a political science professor at California State University, Sacramento.

“Schwarzenegger was such an unusual situation,” he said. “That was also 20 years ago when the state had more Republicans. He was in a position to transcend party because he was, well, Schwarzenegger.”

His advice for Republicans in California is straightforward.

“One of the best likelihood for a Republican to win is to run in a special state.”

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