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Geneviéve Jones-Wright is a public defender running for district attorney. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

Guys, something crazy is happening.

I stand by what I said last week — that there’s a lot of ridiculous stuff out there in primary campaigns — and yet the race to become San Diego’s district attorney has become thrilling to watch precisely because it features two accomplished rookie politicians who are igniting substantive policy discussions.

This week, Mario Koran followed up to a point District Attorney Summer Stephan made earlier on the VOSD podcast: that there’s basically no form of voluntary prostitution. Even the people selling sex on their own, without an abusive manager of some kind, were likely initially and illegally recruited or coerced, perhaps as minors, she told us. Stephan’s rival, public defender Genevieve Jones-Wright, had a much different take — she believes voluntary sex work is possible, and that insisting otherwise means inappropriately moralizing against an adult’s decision. (Jones-Wright’s comments reminded me of this New York magazine piece from two years ago. While it might be true that the lion’s share of sex workers have been coerced, it’d be hard to entirely explain away stories like these.)

Reaction to the piece has been extraordinary. Perhaps this is too cynical, but it’s been amazing to see folks actually engaging a political discussion on its merits.

But the trafficking vs. prostitution debate isn’t the only reason this race is such a big deal.

Though positions like mayor, or members of Congress or the Senate might come to mind first when you think of influential political roles, prosecutors wield an enormous amount of power. (Check out the fantastic book “Arbitrary Justice” if you want to explore just what DAs can do.)

And in Stephan and Jones-Wright, San Diego has two formidable women who, despite being political novices, both have had their share of national attention.

Stephan’s been recognized nationally for her pioneering work to combat human trafficking. She’s earned fierce support and loyalty from people on both sides of the aisle because of it.

And Jones-Wright is part of a class of progressive DA candidates across the country who are galvanizing young people and those seeking criminal justice reforms. Her social media feeds are something to behold: Her point-by-point rebuttal of Stephan’s entire interview on our podcast has received 20,000-plus views on Facebook.

Stephan has been vocal about state legislation that addresses trafficking and other justice issues, and has made herself far more available to the media than her predecessor, Bonnie Dumanis, ever did. Jones-Wright has spoken openly about issues like racial profiling and gang policing, even sharing a shocking personal experience in which she was confronted by SDPD with guns drawn.

Compare all this for the last race for district attorney, in which Dumanis faced an accomplished and well-financed opponent and yet the race was such a snooze that Dumanis cruised to an easy re-election in the primary without ever really having to answer tough questions or defend her record.

San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

What VOSD Learned This Week

The biggest water agency in Southern California OK’d a massive $11 billion deal to build two underground tunnels to keep water flowing south from Northern California. Ry Rivard wrote an excellent breakdown of the deal, how we got here and what it means for San Diego ratepayers.

In the Sacramento Report, Rivard also sheds some light on how Gov. Jerry Brown stepped in to get the deal across the finish line.

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Ashly McGlone has been exploring stories from schools across the county in which educators behaved badly but stayed employed. The latest examines a South Bay principal who multiple employees complained bullied and harassed them. And though a district-hired investigator found their claims credible, he was moved to another school, then to another district job.

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The civil war in the local labor community is still playing out, and now it’s spilled into a fight over ballot measures in National City. We talked more about the labor fractures, as well as efforts to connect public transit to the airport, on this week’s podcast.

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Under state law, pregnant inmates should by default be unrestrained and unshackled during labor and delivery. Only if they prove a threat should they be restrained. But San Diego County Sheriff’s Department officials say they operate in the exact opposite way: They restrain all pregnant inmates, and only unshackle them at a doctor’s request, or if the woman proves not to be a threat.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“He’s not so much a trash-talker as a trash poet. For the entire first quarter of a game last season in Philadelphia, Sixers fan and miniature-teacup troll Kevin Hart lit into Harden from courtside, with that shrieking rabbit voice of his; Harden scored 51 points that night, and as the clock ran out, he leered at Hart, before shouting, ‘Tell your team what you did to them!’” – From an exquisite profile of James Harden

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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