Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley spoke in public for the first time Wednesday after his narrow defeat to Kamala Harris in the state attorney general’s race.
First things first for Cooley, who lost the state attorney general’s race to Harris by less than one percent of the vote.
“I commend her on her victory. I wish her well, and my focus now is to look forward," Cooley said.
He spoke with reporters as he sat behind his desk on the 18th floor of downtown L.A.’s criminal courts building. Two miniature ceramic Christmas trees sat amid a phalanx of microphones.
It’d been a week since he’d conceded a race in which he had prematurely declared victory on election night.
He said he had “no regrets, no recriminations. I found it to be an absolutely fascinating experience."
It was Cooley’s first run for a statewide office. Some analysts have suggested he was a reluctant candidate who didn’t campaign as hard as his opponent. He bristled at the suggestion.
“I’ve never worked harder in my life," Cooley said. "So whoever is saying that – they weren’t with me all over the state of California sleeping in the various hotels away from my home, away from my family.”
Cooley attributed his loss to factors that included the death of his key strategist Joe Shumate in the middle of the campaign - and his party affiliation. The office of district attorney is non-partisan, but he ran for attorney general as a Republican.
“All across the country, there’s this red tide, and here in California there’s this blue tsunami. What does that say about us?"
Cooley, a moderate Republican who’s never had particularly close ties to the GOP, said the party needs to change in California.
“I think they’ve got to seek out more socially moderate, thoughtful people with real qualifications and be consistent in their core philosophies which I think is basically fiscal conservatism and growing business," he said.
“I’m not totally eliminating the possibility of a fourth term.”
The 63-year-old career prosecutor said that if a good candidate emerges to succeed him in the next couple of years, he’d step aside. But he’s watching for what he called “political types” who might “ruin” the work he’s done.
“Unqualified, disreputable lawyers – and that’s the only requirement to run for district attorney – I would stay and protect the office from those individuals.”
Cooley showed little inclination to run for attorney general again – or any other office.
“This is maybe the peak of my professional career," Cooley said as he chuckled. "It may be the Peter Principle.”
That's when someone rises to the level of his incompetence. It was Cooley’s typical self-deprecating humor.
The L.A. District Attorney added that he’s just thankful to have a day job. It’s one Cooley loves, and probably isn’t so sad to return to.