Commentary – Quentin Kopp

Best and Worst D.A. Choices

By Quentin Kopp

Poet Paul Valery declared in the Los Angeles Times last month: “Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them.” San Francisco voters face an important election regarding the rule of law on Nov. 5, 2019. 

The incumbent district attorney, a 2011 political appointee who, while admitted to the state bar of California, has never tried a case in a courtroom, won’t seek another term. 

There are now four choices: the two best with genuine experience in criminal law and belief in law enforcement are Leif Dautch and Nancy Tang. The two worst are Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin, a champion of illegal immigration which results in more work for public defenders at taxpayer expense and Suzy Loftus, the City Hall establishment favorite, weaned on the public trough as the sheriff’s attorney, who doesn’t prosecute crimes. 

Dautch, a four-year veteran of the San Francisco District Attorney’s office and Harvard Law School graduate, is now a deputy attorney general in San Francisco, trying cases the state attorney general must prosecute because of a conflicted county prosecutor. 

Tang, a one-time San Francisco deputy district attorney, has been an Alameda County deputy district attorney for several years, realizing that office constitutes the second-best district attorney’s office in the nine-county Bay Area, exceeded in results only by the San Mateo County district attorney, Steve Wagstaffe. 

Dautch neatly observes about prosecutorial failures of the incumbent district attorney and the candidacy of a deputy public defender, that San Francisco “doesn’t need two public defenders.” (Loftus last month wrote a mind-boggling column in the San Francisco Examiner that said she would reverse the sorry record of the current district attorney in failing to pursue sexual violence cases like rape and assault. Her bromide includes mental health, social services and “crisis lines … community-based services and protective orders.” She eschews “increasing rates of conviction” as solving an asserted sexual violence epidemic in San Francisco. She is afraid to identify the inept incumbent district attorney as responsible for failures to prosecute sexual violence cases. She informs people she was president of the San Francisco Police Commission. That’s true; ask San Francisco police officers their opinion of her tenure. Proof is in the pudding: The Police Officers Association refuses to endorse her candidacy.)

Tax Breaks for Billionaires

Meanwhile, the forgiveness of gross receipts taxes of billion dollar technology companies on Market Street has resulted in more wealth for corporate executives, but hasn’t changed upper Market Street to a desirable place to walk. Now customary homeless persons still occupy sidewalks and illegally cross Market Street, deposit excrement and beg for alms from those brave enough to traverse the area. 

Every generation of politicians, including the current bunch of majority “progressive” Board of Supervisors members, has to learn you don’t build a desirable city (or county or state) by cutting deals with business barons to abolish or decrease tax responsibilities in return for locating here. It’s not only San Francisco; three months ago, New York City’s leaders finally decided not to give Amazon $3 billion in corporate welfare and billionaire socialism for building a new headquarters across the East River from Manhattan in Long Island City. The San Francisco tax cut for billionaires ends this year – fortunately. As noted in the Wall Street Journal, such political giveaways are based upon “a pernicious theory of civic welfare that presumes private development is New York’s primary goal, the truest measure of urban vitality and health, with money the city’s only real currency.”

Public Financing

This year also resulted in City Hall, through the Ethics Commission, changing San Francisco’s public financing system by using a 6-to-1 “matching rate,” meaning taxpayer money to candidate-raised money from private sources. Spending more than $1 million of your tax money this year on worthless candidates (and more next year) represents a failed proposition, namely, giving fervent politicians tax revenue to propagate their campaigns reduces overall campaign spending. 

Public financing doesn’t shrink the influence of large campaign contributions through independent expenditure committees. It doesn’t reduce campaign spending (see Mayor London Breed’s 2018 expenditures of $2,251,065). It doesn’t reduce advantages of incumbency. It’s false public policy at taxpayer expense. Yet, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other charter law cities in California pursue the Holy Grail. Fortunately, state law because of a voter initiative written by the late State Sen, Ross Johnson, a Republican, Sen, Joe Montoya, a Democrat, and me, an Independent, in 1988 prohibits all 460 general law cities from public financing of local campaigns for public office.

Remember late Louisiana U.S. Senator Russell D. Long’s 1986 wisdom: “A tax loophole is something that benefits the other guy. If it benefits you, it is tax reform.”

Quentin Kopp is a former San Francisco supervisor, state senator, member of the SF Ethics Commission and a retired judge.

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