Attorney General Xavier Becerra's opponents on Wednesday accused him of being "obsessed" with fighting the Trump administration at the expense of other critical issues.
His three main opponents — Republicans Steven Bailey and Eric Early and Democrat Dave Jones — threw barbs at Becerra and each other during a Sacramento Press Club debate. Becerra did not participate due to a scheduling conflict. He was traveling back from Washington after business following a Supreme Court case the day before, campaign manager Dana Williamson said.
"It is tremendously disappointing that the appointed attorney general has chosen not to face the same scrutiny as those of us on the dais," said Jones, the state insurance commissioner.
Williamson offered a different take: "While his opponents make empty promises, Attorney General Becerra is actually doing the job and delivering — fighting and winning for California."
The primary is June 5, and the top two vote getters will advance regardless of party identification.
Jones said Becerra's singular focus on Trump means he's not doing enough to take on oil companies, seize guns from people who shouldn't have them and tackle the opioid crisis. The Republicans, meanwhile, accused Becerra of being soft on immigration and crime and criticized his battle against the Trump administration's proposed border wall.
"He's completely obsessed with Donald Trump," said Early, a Los Angeles attorney.
Becerra, a former congressman, was appointed attorney general by Gov. Jerry Brown last year to replace Kamala Harris, who was elected to the U.S. Senate. Beyond fighting Trump, he's worked to get guns off the street, to protect the rights of young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, and to protect women's access to birth control, Williamson said.
Jones and his Republican rivals painted two starkly different pictures of California during the debate.
Early and Bailey, a retired superior court judge, said the state is rife with crime and that Democrats have put immigrant rights above the rights of California citizens. They pledged to end the state's participation in the border wall lawsuit if elected and to fight against its newly adopted "sanctuary state" policies that limit local and state law enforcement's cooperation with federal immigration attorneys.
"We have a public safety crisis in this state," Bailey said.
Early said he supports immigrants living in the U.S. illegally who have not committed crimes and does not support mass deportations. But he said the state isn't doing enough to protect California from dangerous criminals.
Jones had a different take, and accused his rivals of discrimination by picking on immigrants "because they're brown." He said, as Brown has argued, that the law still allows federal immigration agents to do their jobs.
The candidates sparred on other issues as well. Jones said he would defend the state law now being challenged at the Supreme Court that requires anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers to provide information about the availability of contraception and abortion and be clear if they are unlicensed.
Bailey and Early said they oppose the law and called it an infringement on free speech.
Jones stated his opposition to the death penalty, but said he would uphold California's law allowing it, while Bailey and Early said they strongly support it.