The Democratic field for attorney general of California is crowded but mixed, divided among several capable candidates and several who do not have the background or vision worthy of the office. Those who merit serious consideration by voters are San Francisco Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris, former Facebook executive Chris Kelly and Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance). The Times sees strengths in all three, but endorses Harris.
To dispense with the bottom of the field first: Rocky Delgadillo was a deep disappointment as Los Angeles city attorney and has done nothing since to suggest that he would do better in a higher office. Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara) has a legislative record to be proud of but offers no compelling vision for the office he's seeking. Assemblyman Alberto Torrico (D-Newark) is focused almost exclusively on his campaign to pass an oil extraction fee in order to fund education, a perfectly defensible notion but one that has little to do with being attorney general. Attorney Mike Schmier has neither ideas nor experience worth noting.
Among the leading candidates, Lieu is a thoughtful legislator with a solid record in Sacramento. He proposes innovative ideas for building on the current duties of the attorney general's office while recognizing its essential functions — defending the state, enforcing its laws and protecting its residents. He also has waged an uncommonly civilized campaign, evidence of his character and decency.
Kelly's background makes him a unique candidate in this field, though one familiar in this election cycle: the public-spirited business leader. He views the office as a platform for protecting consumers, among other things, and would bring fresh ideas for improving the state's technological capacity. He hews to most Democratic Party tenets — support for same-sex marriage, environmental protection and the death penalty — while suggesting that he would not be captive to the party's leading constituencies, such as labor, because he comes from outside the political establishment.
We give our endorsement to Harris because she shares much of what Lieu and Kelly bring to the race yet also offers the most germane and impressive experience. A former prosecutor, Harris has served as San Francisco district attorney since 2004; in that role, she has supervised one of the state's largest public law agencies and navigated the turbulent politics of that city. Moreover, she has demonstrated creativity, tenacity and toughness, aggressively prosecuting violent criminals while searching for ways to reduce recidivism and take pressure off the state's overburdened prison system. Harris has alienated some critics with her refusal to bring capital cases, but this is hardly a demerit given the profound moral, constitutional and practical questions raised by capital punishment. If elected, Harris promises to uphold the law and defend death sentences imposed by the state.
In addition to electing California's next attorney general, this race presents voters with the opportunity to consider what they want the office to be. Harris sees it as a convening agent, as a collector and distributor of best practices that could raise the performance of prosecutors throughout the state. That's a promising idea, and Harris has the energy and the background to attract top-notch deputies to help her realize it.