Conservative Group, Seizing on Crime as an Issue, Seeks Recall of Prosecutors
WASHINGTON – A group linked to Republicans said on Monday it was launching a recall campaign backed by undisclosed donors to label Democrats and their allies lax on crime by targeting progressive prosecutors.
The initial focus is on three prosecutors who were elected in the affluent Northern Virginia suburb of Washington in 2019 amid a nationwide wave of commitments from Democrats to make law enforcement fairer and more human.
The group, Virginians for Safe Communities, said the targets of the recall effort were Buta Biberaj from Loudoun County, Parisa Dehghani-Tafti from Arlington County and Steve Descano from Fairfax County, all of whom hold the post of Commonwealth lawyer.
The campaign faces uncertain prospects, starting with the removal of signature collection requirements and legal barriers.
But organizers described it as part of a larger national campaign to exploit voters’ concerns about rising crime rates in cities and a backlash against anti-police sentiment.
“All things in politics have their time, and now is the time when the people who are for law enforcement have woken up,” said Sean D. Kennedy, a Republican agent who is the chairman of Virginians for Safe Communities. He called the recall efforts in Northern Virginia a “nationwide test case.”
He said the group raised more than $ 250,000 and received pledges of almost another $ 500,000. It would not reveal the identity of donors to the group, which is registered under a section of the tax code that allows nonprofit groups to protect their donors from public disclosure.
Mr. Kennedy, who has worked for Republican campaigns and committees, is an official with the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, but said the new group is independent of it. Other people involved in the new group include former FBI official Steven L. Pomerantz and Ian D. Prior, who was appointed to the Justice Department during the Trump administration and prior to that, worked for Republican political committees. well funded.
Mr Kennedy presented Virginians for Safe Communities as a sort of antidote to a political committee funded by billionaire investor George Soros, one of the main donors to Democratic causes. His group, Justice and Public Safety PAC, has spent millions of dollars in recent years supporting local prosecutor candidates who have supported the decriminalization of marijuana, the relaxation of bail rules and other changes favored by progressives.
The spending turned many races upside down, which had previously attracted relatively little funding and attention from major national interests.
Representatives for Mr. Soros did not respond to a request for comment.
His PAC spent hundreds of thousands of dollars each to support the campaigns of Ms Dehghani-Tafti, Mr Descano and Ms Biberaj in 2019, when they took office promising a new approach to criminal justice.
Their victories came at a time when politicians from both parties were re-examining crackdown policies that enacted harsh sentences for drug-related crimes and laid the groundwork for mass incarceration that disproportionately affected communities. black. In late 2018, President Donald J. Trump enacted the most significant sentence reduction law in a generation. The following month, Joseph R. Biden Jr., then preparing to run against Mr. Trump, apologized for parts of the anti-crime legislation he defended as a senator in the 1990s.
Skepticism of law enforcement and the criminal justice system was further catalyzed by the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis in 2020, after which calls to “fund” law enforcement reverberated from the marches. for racial justice in the halls of Congress. Many Democrats, including President Biden, have rejected the “defund the police” movement.
But, a year and a half after Mr. Floyd’s death, American cities are facing an upsurge in gun violence and homicides that began during the throes of the pandemic and has continued this year.
Republicans sought to put the blame on the Democrats and their allies, and attempted to reclaim the mantle of law and order that politicians from both parties embraced in the 1980s and 1990s, but later downplayed in the amid concerns about police misconduct and disparities in the criminal justice system.
The Conservatives “have essentially stayed on the sidelines on this issue,” Kennedy said. “It was dominated by one side, and our side basically disarmed unilaterally. “
He accused the three Northern Virginia prosecutors of adopting “dangerous policies” that “undermine public confidence in our justice system.” He cited an increase in the homicide rate between the end of last month and the same time last year in Fairfax County.
Ms Dehghani-Tafti, chief prosecutor for Arlington County and the Town of Falls Church, said in an email that she was “doing exactly what I promised my community to do – this what I was elected for – and did it well: to make the system fairer, more responsive and more adaptive, while ensuring our security. “
Some of the most progressive planks in her campaign platform and those of Ms Biberaj and Mr Descano – ending the prosecution for possession of marijuana and not asking for the death penalty – have been at least partially codified throughout. ‘State this year. Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia signed a law abolishing the death penalty and legalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Ms Dehghani-Tafti accused Mr Kennedy’s group of using undisclosed “black money” and “relying on disinformation” to “overturn a valid election with an undemocratic recall”.
Recalls are rare in Virginia, requiring the collection of signatures from a group of voters equal to 10 percent of the number who voted in the last election for the office in question, followed by a trial in which he must be proven that the official acted in a manner which constitutes incompetence, negligence or abuse of authority. In the case of prosecutors, the signature requirement would vary from about 5,500 in Arlington to 29,000 in Fairfax.
Mr Kennedy said his group intended to pay people to collect signatures as early as this week, with the goal of reaching the thresholds by Labor Day.
Recent efforts to defeat or remove progressive prosecutors have so far not been successful in other jurisdictions, including Philadelphia and Los Angeles, and an ongoing local effort to recall the three Virginia prosecutors n has not had much apparent success.
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