Liberal law enforcement candidates speak tougher on crime as election nears

Some Democratic candidates for top law enforcement positions are distancing themselves from the liberal criminal justice rhetoric they championed before crime soared across the country.

Many candidates and incumbents have reduced the focus on reducing incarceration or prosecuting fewer crimes in favor of language that brings them closer to the public’s current fear of public safety.

Others have attempted to shed the progressive label altogether.


Julie Gunnigle, the Democratic candidate for district attorney in Maricopa County, Arizona, took issue last month when an interviewer described her as progressive.

“I’m going to push back because I’ve never described myself that way,” she said in September.

When she ran for the same job in 2020, however, “Gunnigle embraced the role of ‘progressive prosecutor’ in an interview with Phoenix New Times“, reported the outlet at the time.

And Gunnigle, who landed singer John Legend’s endorsement this week, ran in 2020 on some liberal policies she no longer regularly touts on the track, including advocating an end to cash bail and even hijacking some violent offenders serving long prison sentences into treatment programs. .

“I have no patience for those who espouse criminal justice reform but only talk about our low-level, non-violent offenders,” Gunnigle said in a 2020 interview, advocating more programs for people in prison. In another, she said jailing even violent criminals was not the way to bring justice to victims.

“A conviction doesn’t necessarily get you there, whether or not it’s for a so-called violent or non-violent offence,” she said at the time. “I think the way to do that is to start conceptualizing it in a way that restores community rather than just thinking about it in a way that calls for incarceration as the first response.”

Gunnigle has built her second bid for the office around abortion as she seeks to lead the nation’s third-largest prosecutor’s office in a dramatically different political context this time around. While she still discusses policies aimed at lowering incarceration rates, her rhetoric, like that of many Democrats in or seeking law enforcement positions this cycle, has strayed from the most polarizing boards of the liberal criminal justice platform.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison ran for office in 2018 as a Democrat focused on enforcing LGBT rights and passing Trump administration laws he says could harm to voters in Minnesota.

A well-known progressive, Ellison made opposition to the conservative values ​​of his then opponent a central point of his liberal platform. He won by a narrow margin in a year when Democrats across the country performed well above average.

But Ellison is now beleaguered in his re-election bid, largely because of the crime problem that has swept his state.

His first campaign ad this fall focused on how his attorney general’s office worked with local prosecutors to bring dozens of criminal cases during his tenure.

Ellison’s attempt to focus on crime comes as his GOP opponent Jim Schulz hammers him to support a ballot initiative that would have eliminated the Minneapolis Police Department after the killing of George Floyd in that city .

Now, Ellison rarely discusses the diversion of police department resources onto the trail.

Mary Moriarty, candidate for district attorney in Hennepin County, Minnesota, landed endorsements of Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar and has been described as a progressive candidate aligned with the movement that has pushed for the most controversial reforms.

But even Moriarty’s rhetoric struck a harsher note on the crime.

“My job as the next Hennepin County attorney will always be to protect everyone. Full stop,” Moriarty began in a recent op-ed. “I will focus our resources on prosecuting violent crimes, and in particular gun violence.”

As the county’s former chief public defender, Moriarty spoke out forcefully against what she described as systemic racism among police and in the criminal justice system, which ultimately led to a council of State to refuse to reappoint her to this position. An investigation into her conduct in 2020 found that her focus on discussing racism had made her a “divisive” leader.

Moriarty is now talking about fully defunding the police and holding the Minneapolis Police Department accountable for wrongdoing — but tends to avoid more provocative language about race and not charge certain types of crimes.

Not all law enforcement candidates are abandoning the progressive criminal justice platform; many candidates continue to run on the promise of ending low-level lawsuits and addressing concerns about racial disparities.

But a movement that felt ascendant before the violence of 2020 has found itself largely on the defensive as voters question the wisdom of policies that failed to stem a growing crime wave.

Voters this year recalled liberal district attorney Chesa Boudin to San Francisco due to public safety fears. Baltimore’s top prosecutor lost his primary to a Democratic candidate who promised to be tougher on crime. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner won re-election in 2021 but now faces an impeachment effort led by state lawmakers who accuse him of failing to deal with the explosion of violence in the city.


In Essex County, Mass., the two Democrats running in the district attorney primary this year rejected the progressive label, according to WBUR, despite the two reform proposals.

In Plymouth County, Massachusetts, Rahsaan Hall — backed by liberal Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), among other progressives — has publicly backed a series of progressive criminal justice reforms that involve keeping more people out of jail .

However, Hall tempered some of these positions; he said Bolts magazine earlier this month that he would not take office to seek an end to cash bail because he believes the public is not ready to accept such a measure.