The 2018 political race with perhaps the most potential for local drama got underway publicly with a polite exchange Tuesday when Kern County District Attorney candidates Scott Spielman and Cynthia Zimmer spoke to a luncheon audience of the Bakersfield Republican Women Federated.
The two co-workers, both substantial figures in the office of current District Attorney Lisa Green, touted their experience and — respectfully — insisted they’d each be the best person to replace their boss when she retires at the end of 2018.
“I’m running for District Attorney because I’m the best person for the job,” Zimmer said. “I have the support of law enforcement — every single law enforcement agency that has chosen to endorse in the race.”
She touted her 33 years of experience in all sectors of the D.A.’s office and her role as supervisor of the Gang Prosecution taskforce as the reasons why, laying out her credentials as a tough-on-crime candidate who will prosecute all crimes aggressively if elected.
Spielman, who is the Assistant District Attorney under Green, talked tough on crime as well, but added a more pragmatic picture of District Attorney operations in the real world where non-violent, non-sexual misdemeanor prosecutions have been weakened dramatically under state law.
“In the last seven years I have helped run the department. We have learned to do more with less,” he said.
When Green is out of the county or unavailable, he has been the acting District Attorney, Spielman said.
“I know, from day one, how to do the job,” Spielman said.
He said he is motivated to run by the need to protect victims, a passion for helping veterans caught in the justice system to escape the criminal revolving door and the certainty that he is “the most qualified” candidate.
Zimmer and Spielman also have different backing in this race.
Zimmer’s support comes from former District Attorney Ed Jagels and a raft of politicians affiliated with Western Pacific Research, the Republican political consultancy service owned by Mark and Cathy Abernathy.
Her website also touts the backing of the unions that represent police in Bakersfield, Taft, Ridgecrest, Delano and Arvin, as well as Kern County Sheriff’s deputies.
But Spielman disputed that those union endorsements made her the law enforcement candidate.
“I have the endorsement of law enforcement,” he said.
Among his endorsements are current District Attorney Lisa Green, Sheriff Donny Youngblood and the two former chiefs of the Bakersfield Police Department, he said.
The candidates fielded a few questions from the Republican women’s group in addition to making their pitches before the luncheon crowd.
One member of the audience asked about misdemeanor crimes such as resisting arrest, wondering if the reduced penalties for such crimes disincentivized the DA to prosecute them.
Zimmer said that, if there is a perception that crimes aren’t being prosecuted under the current DA administration, she will make sure that changes when she is elected.
Spielman said the office aggressively enforces such crimes now.
“If we ignore crime, what do you think criminals are going to do,” he said. “If you’re ignoring the lowest (priority) crimes the criminals are just going to be emboldened.”
Another questioner asked what the two candidates would do with illegal immigration crimes in light of California’s sanctuary state status.
Both candidates said that, as a federal crime, the Kern County District Attorney’s office is not involved in prosecution of illegal immigration.
Spielman said that the goal is to make sure that state crimes in the undocumented community don’t go unreported or unprosecuted.
He worked to create a visa system for victims of crimes so they can stay in the country and testify against criminals who would take advantage of people who are in the country illegally and might stay silent for fear of deportation.
“We want to aggressively prosecute a person who has abused their spouse,” he said.
Zimmer said that people are reluctant to report crime — especially in areas like Arvin and Lamont — and the DA’s office has worked to relocate them.
“We have to watch the crime waves that undocumented people bring with them,” she said.
Spielman and Zimmer used their closing remarks to reinforce their message that each believes they are the best candidate for the District Attorney’s spot.