Incumbent California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat who has been at the center of the state's legal war with the Trump administration, will face off in the fall general election against a conservative GOP challenger, retired judge Steven Bailey, to keep his job as the state's top lawyer.
Becerra, a longtime congressman who was appointed to the state attorney general post last year by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, garnered 45 percent of the vote and first place in Tuesday's "top two" primary system. Bailey, a retired Superior Court judge from El Dorado County and critic of the state's so-called sanctuary laws, received 25 percent and took the second spot.
There were nearly 768,000 votes separating Becerra and Bailey. Under California's so-called "jungle primary" system, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the general election. The state's general election will be held on Nov. 6.
Another Republican opponent, Los Angeles attorney Eric Early, last month during a debate called Becerra "obsessed with [President] Donald Trump." Early finished third in the race for attorney general with nearly 15 percent of the vote, while Dave Jones, a Democrat and the state's insurance commissioner, was fourth with slightly over 14 percent.
Jones was a harsh critic of Becerra during the campaign but tweeted his congratulations and support Wednesday for the incumbent attorney general. "I endorse his candidacy for AG & encourage CA to unite in supporting him," Jones tweeted.
Associated Press reported that Becerra spoke Tuesday to supporters at an election party in Sacramento and took another swipe at Trump. The attorney general said that 2018 was not 2016, a reference to the presidential election that put Trump into the White House.
Becerra also spoke to supporters about the need to go after polluters harming the state's water and air. He also pledged to go after street gangs, sex-trafficking rings and fraudsters preying on seniors.
At latest count, Becerra has filed at least 35 lawsuits against the Trump administration, including legal action taken last week against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over landfill methane regulation.
More than half of the lawsuits filed, or 18 suits, have dealt with protecting the environment. There also have been actions filed against the Trump administration involving health care, reproductive rights, education and the transgender military ban as well as immigration and the 2020 Census.
Becerra also challenged the administration's planned border wall by charging it didn't comply with U.S. and state environmental laws. But a federal judge rejected California's claims to stop the construction. The state is appealing the ruling.
"While the current attorney general has focused on fighting Washington, crime has increased, homelessness has reached record levels, and drug abuse has taken more lives, but he has been absent on all of these issues," Bailey told supporters Tuesday evening at an election party in Folsom. "It is time for an attorney general who is focused on solving problems here in California — someone who will stop the unconstitutional sanctuary state, prevent the early release of violent career criminals, and provide fair and honest ballot titles and summaries for initiatives and referendums."
During a debate last month, Bailey lashed out at Becerra for the flood of lawsuits filed against the federal government. "Unfortunately, what we're faced with here in California is a whole series of frivolous lawsuits that have no basis," Bailey said.
Meantime, Becerra is defending the state against the Trump administration's lawsuit challenging California's sanctuary laws that protect undocumented immigrants. A key hearing in that case is scheduled for June 20 in a Sacramento federal court where a judge is expected to hear the federal government's request for a preliminary injunction against three of California's sanctuary laws.
State Senate Bill 54, one of California's controversial sanctuary laws, was passed last year by the Democratic-led state legislature and bars local jails from detaining undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of a crime past their normal release time at the request of federal agents. Some police also have complained it puts restrictions on their ability to communicate concerns with federal authorities such as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, about certain undocumented offenders being released on the street.
Bailey said last month the sanctuary legislation "has the collateral consequence of creating a situation where we're forcing ICE into our neighborhoods. That's exactly what we shouldn't be doing. If we were just allowing ICE to function the way they wanted to function, and that is going to the local jails and picking up law breakers, you wouldn't have the collateral consequence."
The state's sanctuary legislation also includes a law that bars employers from voluntarily giving employee information to federal authorities. In January, Becerra warned that businesses could face a $10,000 fine if they violated the law.
According to Bailey, small businesses, in particular, are in a tough spot due to the state's sanctuary legislation because they are forced to decide "whether they are going to be prosecuted by the federal government or by the state government. That quite frankly is wrong."
Bailey was endorsed by the California Republican Party as well as the National Rifle Association. "I'm rock hard on the Second Amendment," Bailey said last month. "It's not guns that are the problem; it's people that are the problem."
In contrast, Becerra said last month during a debate that "responsible gun owners" have rights to weapons but added he "will fight to the dickens to make sure that California's progressive gun safety laws stay in place. I have been sued by the NRA four times."