It is all too frequent for those who lose an election to urge the upending of our democratic processes to get their chosen candidates into office. Southern states do this with voter I.D. laws. Professor Carroll R. McKibbin’s June 6, 2014, Viewpoint seeks complete voter suppression by urging that the district attorney and sheriff be “selected” by the Board of Supervisors.
It is surprising that a political science professor would push to disenfranchise 150,000-plus county voters. Voters are more than competent to judge experience, knowledge and whether a candidate conducts his or her campaign with integrity or mudslinging. Voters use these as a guide to how a candidate will conduct himself or herself in office.
No matter which candidate they backed in the June 3 election, voters should respond with a resounding “no” to Dr. McKibbin’s suggestion. In setting up counties, the California Constitution mandated that “the Legislature shall provide for county powers, an elected sheriff, an elected district attorney, an elected assessor . (See Article 11, § 1(b)).
Californians understood the importance of checks and balances achieved by separating legislative and executive powers; indeed, it was the most important discovery in the science of politics for preserving county democracy. In adopting that Constitution, voters wisely saw that decisions of a county’s top prosecutor, top law enforcement officer and top tax assessment officer had to be uniquely insulated from being pressured by a Board of Supervisors.
Instead of being subject to the whims of a Board of Supervisors, the check and balance of a top county prosecutor serving independently at the pleasure of the voters prevents a county from devolving into a corrupt oligarchy. As former Auditor-Controller Fred Cusick (a proud and active Democrat) once observed, the primary job of county executive officers (the D.A., auditor or sheriff) was to say “no” to the Board of Supervisors any time that a temporary majority risked breaking the law or risked entering into corrupt practices.
Without the public’s ability to independently elect officers like the district attorney, our citizens would quickly see New Jersey style pay-to-play decisionmaking pervade every aspect of our local government. The very existence of an autonomous prosecutor, who can investigate free from political pressure, protects us all from such corrupt practices.
We must guard our ability as voters to elect a district attorney who is beholden to no other political office holder.
Stew Jenkins is a graduate of the Cal Poly Political Science Department, a lawyer who has practiced in San Luis Obispo since 1978 and the 2004 Democratic nominee for State Assembly.