Letters to the Editor

Public safety must be top priority for California’s next attorney general

Jordan Cunningham
Jordan Cunningham Tribune file

Violent crime rates are rising in California, despite falling unemployment. In June, the state attorney general’s office reported violent crime in California was up a staggering 10 percent — including a 9.7 percent increase in homicides and an 8 percent increase in robbery and aggravated assault in the last year.

The three year trends are equally bad. Alarmingly, “40 of the state’s 58 counties — including 13 of the 15 largest — saw increases in their violent crime rates in 2015,” according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Into this reality will step a new attorney general of California. The governor has appointed Congressman Xavier Becerra to fill the remainder of a term that ends in 2018. This week, the state Assembly will hold a confirmation hearing on the appointment, and likely will vote to confirm Mr. Becerra. I am proud to serve on the committee that will question Mr. Becerra about his goals and priorities.

In my view, the attorney general’s top priority — both by official duty and by practical necessity — must be protecting the people of California. This entails working with local law enforcement partners to combat violent crime and to protect vulnerable populations like children and seniors.

Congressman Becerra has a long record in public office. He has a compelling and inspiring biography. His career in Washington, D.C., has spanned more than two decades. I have met with the congressman and believe he is qualified to do the job.

But judging from his statements in the media, I am concerned he views the Office of the Attorney General primarily as a platform from which to challenge federal policies with which he disagrees. We need to know whether Mr. Becerra wants to be California’s top cop or top politician. In my view, using the office to fight ideological battles or wage a war of federal litigation will only serve as a distraction from the critical duties of the job.

Our next attorney general has plenty of work to do here in California. The voters recently passed a number of ballot measures that have changed the landscape of public safety, such as Proposition 47 (reducing certain felonies to misdemeanors), Proposition 57 (early parole of felons) and Propostion 64 (marijuana legalization). The attorney general must work with legislators and local law enforcement to implement these policies in an intelligent manner that keeps the public safe.

Thus, when considering the confirmation vote, my ultimate question will be this: Will Mr. Becerra make public safety his top priority as attorney general? I hope the answer is yes, and I hope to work with him to build a safer and more prosperous California.

Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham represents the 35th Assembly District and serves as a member of the Assembly Special Committee on the Office of the Attorney General. Cunningham is a former prosecutor for San Luis Obispo County.