Jun 9, 2022

California's election results.

California's election results.

Is this an ominous sign for progressives?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

We're covering California's election results and what it might mean for Democrats nationally. Plus, a question about regulating ammunition.

Chesa Boudin (right) was ousted as district attorney in San Francisco. Photo: Steve Rhodes from San Francisco, US
Chesa Boudin (right) was ousted as district attorney in San Francisco. Photo: Steve Rhodes from San Francisco, US


In tomorrow's subscribers only edition, we're doing something a little different. Tangle editor Ari Weitzman, who wrote our climate change explainer, will be responding to one of the debates that pops up in progressive circles: Given the state of climate change, is it really responsible to have kids? This is something that has been in the news this week and percolating for years, and he has an approach to the question that I thought was worth sharing with Tangle readers. So I’m giving him the floor.

Midterm results.

We have most of the results from Tuesday's primaries now. One of the things many people were watching was how successful former President Trump's endorsements would be. I thought this breakdown from Politico was insightful:

Five of the 35 House Republicans who voted to establish a Jan. 6 Commission faced primaries on Tuesday. Trump vowed to exact revenge on all of them. How’d they fare?

In Iowa, Rep. MARIANNETTE MILLER-MEEKS ran uncontested.

  • In South Dakota, Rep. DUSTY JOHNSON won with almost 59% of the vote.
  • In New Jersey, Rep. CHRIS SMITH won with 58% of the vote.
  • In Mississippi, a 50% threshold state, Rep. MICHAEL GUEST was forced into a runoff against a MAGA opponent who attacked his vote for the commission. Trump did not endorse in the race. Will he enter the fray before the June 28 runoff?
  • In California, where all candidates regardless of party run in the same primary, Rep. DAVID VALADAO, who also voted to impeach Trump, looks likely to advance to the general election, though there are still a lot of votes left to count.

Quick hits.

  1. A man carrying a Glock 17 pistol was arrested near Justice Brett Kavanaugh's home in suburban Maryland and charged with attempted murder after alerting police to his presence. The man traveled from California to Kavanaugh's home out of anger over the leaked Roe v. Wade reversal and the court's expected ruling in a gun control case. (The story)
  2. For the first time tonight, a Congressional House Committee will publicly present evidence gathered about the events of January 6. The committee's presentation will be nationally televised starting at 8 pm ET. (The hearing)
  3. The Justice Department has assembled a nine-person team to examine the local police response during the Uvalde mass shooting. (The team)
  4. The House passed a package of gun control bills on a 223-204 vote. Five Republicans voted for the package and two Democrats voted against it. The bills raise the minimum age to buy semi-automatic weapons to 21, ban high-capacity magazine sales and establish new storage regulations. The package is expected to fail in the Senate, where other gun control negotiations are taking place. (The vote)
  5. President Biden appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live last night, where he called on voters to make gun control a major issue and spoke about his executive orders as president. (The appearance)
  6. BREAKING: Ryan Kelley, a Republican candidate for governor in Michigan, was charged with a misdemeanor for his role in the Jan. 6 riot. (The charges)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.

Today's topic.

California's election results. On Tuesday, voters in California made waves by recalling a progressive prosecutor in San Francisco and sending a billionaire former Republican into a runoff in the Los Angeles mayoral race. The two elections were closely watched by liberals, conservatives and political pundits across the country as a temperature check for Democrats — and voters more broadly — heading into the 2022 midterm elections.

The New York Times, for instance, wrote that "California Sends Democrats and the Nation a Message on Crime." Journalist Shane Goldmacher reported, "The two results made vivid the depths of voter frustration over rising crime and rampant homelessness in even the most progressive corners of the country — and are the latest signs of a restless Democratic electorate that was promised a return to normalcy under President Biden and yet remains unsatisfied with the nation’s state of affairs."

Rick Caruso, a billionaire luxury mall developer, ran on a campaign of restoring order to Los Angeles, adding 1,500 police officers and promoting an endorsement from William J. Bratton, the former New York City police commissioner and former Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department famous for his tough-on-crime approach. Caruso will face Representative Karen Bass, the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, in a runoff. Caruso had 42% of the vote to Bass's 37% on Wednesday.

In San Francisco, roughly 60% of voters opted to recall Chesa Boudin, a former public defender who made national news when he won his election for district attorney in 2019. At the time, Boudin ran as a champion of the progressive left and promised an end to the days of "tough-on-crime" policing. As district attorney, he eliminated cash bail, vowed to hold police accountable, and worked to reduce the number of people sent to prison.

Reactions to these two California elections were swift and divided. Today, we're going to take a look at some writing from the left and right, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • The left criticized coverage of the elections, saying it was less about policy and more about political apathy.
  • Some argued that voters simply opted for the status quo.
  • Others said the data did not support claims San Francisco had descended into chaos.

The San Francisco Chronicle editorial board said the message was one of political apathy.

"Voter turnout was barely at 26% in San Francisco the morning after the election," the board wrote. "It was even worse across most of the state. Sure, ballots will continue trickling in for days. But the story will stay the same. Voters weren’t 'desperate for change,' as one Los Angeles Times website headline put it. They couldn’t be bothered. It’s been evident for some time that turnout would be dismal. On June 1, only 15% of registered San Francisco voters had turned in their ballots, fewer than in the February or April elections this year. By Monday, that percentage had only risen to around 20%. The trend was similar across the rest of California, where only 15% of registered voters had submitted ballots the day before the election.

"California is in crisis. So is San Francisco. Our housing costs are more than twice the national average. Thousands of unhoused people sleep outside every night. Elected officials and department heads are under investigation by the FBI. Thousands are injured and dozens die in traffic fatalities on city streets each year," the board said. "And, yes, we face significant criminal justice challenges that demand — but have yet to receive — a unified response. At the same time, nationally, we [are] facing another COVID surge, a never-ending series of mass shootings and a federal government that appears [to be] marching toward authoritarianism in 2024. Humans are not built to internalize this much trauma on a daily basis. But those crises and traumas make voting more important, not less. Yes, silence speaks volumes, too. And you will get no argument from us that Boudin is a popular figure with a broad but disengaged base in San Francisco. But it was apathy and resignation, not overt anger or a definitive vision, that ruled the day in San Francisco and across California in Tuesday’s election. And that’s simply unacceptable."

In The Appeal, Jerry Iannelli said the recall was about preserving the status quo.

"Whatever policies progressive prosecutors may implement to make the legal system less unjust, the people who are most over-criminalized and policed still suffer disproportionately from a lack of housing, health care, clean air, transportation, and good jobs," Iannelli said. "And in the end, we cannot provide these things in earnest without substantially raising taxes on the wealthy or otherwise fundamentally changing the way society works. Although decarcerating America is certainly a worthy objective, simply not arresting the largely low-income and Black and brown people who populate America’s prisons is not enough.

"But the status quo has created a pretty solid quality of life for, say, realtors who dumped money into the Boudin recall campaign. Many of the people who donated to the recall effort rely on heavy-handed cops to make their businesses work," he added. "Police are often agents of gentrification, and many of the city’s realtors seem fine with empowering law enforcement to displace and disappear homeless people if it means they can sell a few more warehouse lofts. Having to see poverty on your way to a Hawaiian barbeque beer hall kind of dampens the mood, after all. Other major funders of Boudin’s recall included big players in Silicon Valley, like David O. Sacks, the founding COO of PayPal, who also invested in Facebook, Uber, SpaceX, Airbnb, and other major tech companies. Whether they realize it or not, these donors benefit financially when the poor are warehoused in prisons and jails, stigmatized as felons, or shot dead in the street, because those options are all far cheaper for the wealthy than actually funding social services."

In Mother Jones, Samantha Michaels said blaming Boudin for crime is "empirically wrong."

"Earlier this year, the San Francisco Chronicle analyzed police incident data to compare the city’s 2022 crime rates with rates during the previous four years," Michaels wrote. "And contrary to what the viral videos might suggest, the paper found that overall violent crime in San Francisco had declined during the pandemic, hovering at its lowest point since 1985. From 2019 to 2021, according to an analysis by Mother Jones, rape, robbery, and assault in the city decreased by 45 percent (resulting in 185 fewer cases), 27 percent (846 fewer cases), and 6 percent (158 fewer cases), respectively. A far cry from Gotham. Some property crimes did get worse during the pandemic, like burglaries, which rose 52 percent in the city in 2020 and stayed elevated in 2021.

"But as office buildings reopen and more workers return to the city this year, burglary rates are also returning to normal," she said. "And overall, property crime in the city dropped by about 11 percent from 2019 to 2021, according to police data... Homicides are another exception to the trend of falling crime. Murders rose by an estimated 30 percent nationally during 2020—the biggest single-year increase on record. And they rose in San Francisco, too, by about 36 percent between 2019 and 2021. Most were from shootings. But again, let’s put the data in perspective. In San Francisco, the 36 percent spike in homicides equates to 15 additional homicides in 2021 compared with the year before the pandemic, when there were a total of 41 homicides. Even with that uptick, San Francisco has one of the lowest homicide rates of all major cities in the United States—roughly six killings per 100,000 people last year, compared with 10 per 100,000 in the similarly populated Washington, DC."

What the right is saying.

  • The right says it is an ominous warning for Democrats.
  • Many criticize the "anarchy" caused by Boudin's policies.
  • Some say voters can no longer ignore the issues they are facing.

In The Washington Examiner, David Drucker said it is a warning to Democrats.

"In a pair of municipal contests that coincided with California’s regularly scheduled primaries, voters in the two most consequential metropolises in the nation’s most populous state delivered what amounts to a dire warning to the Democratic Party ahead of the midterm elections in November," Drucker wrote. "Amid anxiety over public safety and pervasive homelessness, voters in San Francisco recalled Democratic District Attorney Chesa Boudin, while voters in Los Angeles made Rick Caruso, a wealthy businessman and Democratic centrist, the favorite in a fall mayoral runoff with Rep. Karen Bass (D). In other words, even in deep-blue California, the Democrats are not finding shelter from the political storm of 2022, driven by dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden, poised to dislodge them from power in Congress.

"To be sure, what happened in San Francisco and Los Angeles this week hardly means a red wave is cresting over California," Drucker said. "Gov. Gavin Newsom and most other Democrats running for statewide office who advanced to the November ballot in the state’s top-two, all-party primary will easily win this fall... if Democratic voters in ethnically diverse Democratic strongholds such as San Francisco and Los Angeles are punishing incumbent Democrats and pulling the lever for change because they feel ignored on issues they care about most, it’s not hard to imagine what awaits them elsewhere in the United States, in battleground states and swing House districts, where Republicans are competitive and the GOP brand is not toxic — to borrow a phrase from Walter: where voters are more hospitable toward the GOP and less liberal."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said if voters want safer streets, their only recourse is the ballot box.

"As California goes, so goes the progressive movement in America, and on Tuesday it suffered a major political rebuke. The recall of left-wing prosecutor Chesa Boudin in San Francisco and the rise of mayoral candidate Rick Caruso in Los Angeles are apt punishment for progressive policies that have produced rising urban anarchy," the board said. "The prosecutor had ridden into office as a champion of criminal-justice reform, which in practice turned out to be little or no prosecution for crimes that have made San Francisco streets a showcase for drug abuse, vagrancy, homeless camps, shoplifting and assault on the innocent.

"The recall is a de facto endorsement by the city’s left-of-center voters of 'broken windows policing.' That’s the insight that failing to prosecute minor crimes leads to a larger culture of disorder and lawlessness," the board wrote. "That policing strategy worked wonders in New York and other cities in the 1990s and 2000s, but progressives dismissed it as crime rates fell and voters became complacent. Mr. Boudin blamed 'right-wing billionaires' for his defeat, which is amusing since he and other left-wing prosecutors in New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere were elected with the help of billionaire George Soros. Voters are merely catching up with the harsh reality of what progressive policies have wrought. This is what always happens when the left dominates the Democratic Party and takes power, but voters have had to re-learn that lesson the hard way."

In City Journal, Joel Kotkin said the results were an encouraging development against the Democrats’ monopoly on power in California.

"Democrats control every statewide office and seem assured of a veto-proof majority in both houses. They dominate local media. They are, in effect, the only party with power and reach statewide, and, notes analyst Dan Walters, they now operate in increasingly stealthy fashion, with few worries about Republican or media scrutiny," he wrote. "And yet, at least modest signs of recovering sobriety emerged last night from two cities, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, that have been the linchpins of the progressive takeover in the state. It could simply be the case that some things become impossible not to see. In San Francisco, homelessness, petty crime, and a general deterioration of what was once America’s most gorgeous city has spurred a grassroots rebellion, backed by business, to get rid of Boudin, the far-left prosecutor who was loath to prosecute.

"The Boudin defeat parallels a similar reversal of far-left politics earlier this year, with the city’s recall of three school board members," Kotkin added. "A new centrist coalition could be in the offing, combining the remaining middle class with Asian residents and business interests. Naturally, progressives see Boudin as a victim of incipient Trumpism. In Los Angeles, too, signs of progressive failure are hard to miss. Just drive around, or visit a park, where homelessness is ubiquitous. Small businesses are fed up with petty crime and people sleeping in their doorways. And the economy, here as well as in San Francisco, has been slow to recover. Los Angeles and San Francisco rank near the bottom of all U.S. metros in terms of job recovery... The key issue for Los Angeles, and for California, lies in jettisoning one-party rule, particularly as that one party shifts ever further leftward."

My take.

I'll be honest: I'm a little disappointed in the Boudin recall.

As I've written here several times before, my most radical and “left” political views are probably my deep dissatisfaction with our criminal justice system. I think it is a stain on our history that we still keep millions of people in cages across our country — the highest incarceration rates in the world. It is clear to me that this policy of incarceration is not working to reduce crime or improve our country's safety. Even worse is that we murder some of these people in the name of "justice." Boudin came in with a radical posture, demanding change in one of our country's most populous cities, and I wanted to see how his policies would pan out. It was an opportunity to put many of my worldviews about criminal justice to the test.

Instead, the plug got pulled before he even really started. I know from being dialed into the news that San Francisco may look like a war zone of post-apocalyptic crime and debauchery. Fox News has, incredibly, mentioned Chesa Boudin 1,400 times in the last year. I've seen the videos of people stuffing trash bags full of products in pharmacies and of elderly Asian people being beaten in the street.

I also know, from living in New York City, that these kinds of news stories can mislead viewers into believing everyone is simply living amid this constant state of lawlessness and accepting it. I once had a reader explain to me that New York City, where I live, had turned into a crime-ridden cesspool that was uninhabitable. When I explained to her, patiently, that in my eight years here — four in Harlem and four in Bushwick — I had never witnessed a shooting, robbery or violent assault, and that actually the city could be quite nice and my neighborhood was very safe, she didn't believe me. She lived in Pennsylvania and hadn’t been to New York in 20 years.

The truth is San Francisco, like New York and other major cities, faces deep problems. That's what happens when you stuff millions of people into a few square miles. The most critical issue in San Francisco is competition for housing, which sends prices skyrocketing and exacerbates homelessness. Some 74% of land is zoned for no more than three-unit homes, and most of the city has a maximum 40-foot height limit for all new development. Until San Francisco addresses its housing crisis, it won’t really matter who is leading the city — many of its issues will persist.

Population density, especially with such limited housing, often leads to conflict, which increases violent crime. Cities are often hubs of drug trafficking, which increases addiction, overdoses and mental health issues. It is not easy to make a city function well.

And yet... the image of a city on fire doesn't match the reality, either. Many journalists and academics have made the point better than I can, but the truth is the data tell a different story. Chase Boudin took office in January of 2020. If you compare crime rates from January to June of 2021 and 2022 to the same range in 2019 and 2018, this is what you get: Rape, robbery and assault are all down. Burglary is up. Motor vehicle theft is up. Larceny theft, the most commonly reported crime, is down significantly.

By any objective measure, it’s a pretty mixed bag. Some crime has increased in San Francisco; some crime has lessened; much of it can be tied to the beginning of the pandemic; and none of it is that far outside what is happening nationally, on average. What is frustrating about Boudin's ouster is that I don't feel we actually got a chance to see his policies at work. San Francisco's problems long predate him. The difference is that he actually had a set of fresh proposals on how to address them, rather than reverting to the same failed tactics of the last few decades.

Was it a rebuke of progressives or voter apathy? A message on crime? A reaction to the national climate? Some have even pointed to a list of violent criminals who were released and rearrested on Boudin's watch as the reason for his ouster.

How about "all of the above"?

I thought Amy Walter from the Cook Political Report put it best: "Politics isn’t that complicated," she said. "If you are the party/candidate in charge and things aren’t going well, voters will punish you. In SF/LA, homelessness & reports on crime have made voters feel less safe. It doesn’t mean these voters are pro-GOP or less liberal."

Across the country, just about everything seems broken. Gas prices are skyrocketing, the pandemic refuses to end, inflation is high, horrific stories of mass shootings still permeate the news, and things are no calmer when you look abroad. And if Walter's theory is right, which I think it is, then the stories out of California are indeed an ominous sign for Democrats in November, many of whom are running as incumbents. Even voters who say the economy (and the country more broadly) are just fine for them, believe things are bad for everyone else. As Derek Thompson has written, many Americans are in a “everything is terrible, but I’m fine” mindset.

What does it mean for progressive policies on crime? That story, I think, is a lot harder to suss out. Progressive district attorneys like Boudin have gained power all across the country, and some of the results have actually been quite encouraging. Not all politics is national, and not every city may react the way San Francisco and Los Angeles just did. Still, though, if you are wanting for a fresh approach on crime and incarceration, you'd have to be delusional to see this development as anything but a setback.

Have thoughts about "my take?" You can reply to this email and write in or leave a comment if you're a subscriber.

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Your questions, answered.

Q: I am wondering why there is no discussion of control of ammunition in the gun control debate. I think this could dovetail nicely with your idea of licensing gun ownership. One would need that license to buy ammo. And even if we didn't have gun licenses (which I think is a splendid idea) we could control the amount of ammunition bought much as we control the sales of cold medications today.

— Cynthia, Beavercreek, Oregon

Tangle: I've actually seen a lot of people discussing this. And a few Tangle readers have written in asking why I don't talk about ammunition regulations in the gun control debate.

Generally, I do think there is an interesting case to be made here. In simple terms, it wouldn’t matter how many guns were out there if there were no bullets to load them, or if it were simply hard to buy the bullets. ABC News recently ran a whole story on the "feckless" ammunition laws that allowed the Uvalde shooter to carry 1,657 rounds of very deadly ammunition. "Current regulations often allow for the purchase of massive amounts of ammunition and high-capacity magazines without a background check or even a face-to-face interaction," the report read.

That being said, ammunition laws right now are pretty similar to gun laws. You cannot purchase or possess ammunition if you have a felony conviction or a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction. Nor can you if you have been committed to a mental institution. Age limits are 18 for rifles and shotguns and 21 for other guns. What ammunition doesn't have is background checks similar to those for guns, which would definitely be a sensible thing to add if you ask me. Federal law also does not address high capacity magazines, since the assault rifle ban lapsed in 2004.

One study published in 2019 suggests changes could help: There was a 62% higher death rate in mass shootings with high-capacity magazines, the researchers found.

In short: Yes, I'm open to more regulations of ammunition. And I think there is reason to believe they could help, even if just on the margins.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

A story that matters.

More than two-thirds of the 1,000 most popular iPhone apps for kids are collecting and sending their personal information to the advertisment industry, according to a new study by Pixalate. On Android, the number is 79%. From Angry Birds 2 to Candy Crush Saga, the apps pick up children's general location and other identifying information, then pass it along to companies that track their interests and attempt to predict what they may want to buy online. Sometimes, those apps sell their data to others. "Children’s privacy deserves special attention because kids’ data can be misused in some uniquely harmful ways," The Washington Post reports. "Research suggests many children can’t distinguish ads from content, and tracking tech lets marketers micro-target young minds." You can read the story here.


  • 13,424. The number of reported larceny thefts in San Francisco from January 1, 2022, to June 5, 2022.
  • 11,151. The number of reported larceny thefts in San Francisco from January 1, 2021, to June 5, 2021.
  • 15,844. The number of reported larceny thefts in San Francisco from January 1, 2019, to June 5, 2019.
  • 2,464.  The number of reported burglaries in San Francisco from January 1, 2022, to June 5, 2022.
  • 3,343. The number of reported burglaries in San Francisco from January 1, 2021, to June 5, 2021.
  • 2,140. The number of reported burglaries in San Francisco from January 1, 2019, to June 5, 2019.

Have a nice day.

A farmer in New South Wales has seen his property come back to life after planting 15,000 trees. Will Johnson said his farm was a "dust bowl" after the previous owner stripped the property of trees. So he decided to try and bring the farm back to life by planting trees in shelterbelts, which are collections of shrubs and trees that protect small fields from the elements. In the past, many farmers have cleared trees in order to get the most out of every inch of land. Now, though, researchers are suggesting that the trees play a vital role not just in the health of their crops, but the animals living on the properties. ABC Australia has the story.

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