Los Angeles County's embattled, combative Sheriff Alex Villanueva conceded defeat Tuesday afternoon and will serve just a single, memorable term and be replaced by retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna.
Los Angeles is slow to count its votes (mail-in votes will be accepted for days after the election as long as they're postmarked by Election Day), but from the very initial tallies, Luna held a significant lead over Villanueva that was never in danger. With 70 percent of the vote counted, Luna has a 20-percentage-point lead over Villanueva, ahead 60–40 percent.
It's an unsurprising rejection of a sheriff who was elected amid a "blue wave" in the 2018 midterms with the support of local Democratic Party organizations, but who fought transparency and accountability—feuding with county leadership—going so far as to open investigations into his critics and prompting lawsuits from department whistleblowers saying they were punished for bringing department problems to light. When Reason attempted to use a new police transparency law to get copies of any of Villanueva's past discipline records, the department got a restraining order to resist. Ultimately they lost the fight (then later told Reason there were no disciplinary records to send us that were covered by the transparency law).
All the while, Villanueva was downplaying very real concerns about the chronic problems of gang-style behavior from within the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. Soon after taking office, he rehired a deputy that was fired for stalking and abusing his ex-girlfriend. The County Board of Supervisors balked at the move, blocked the rehiring, and it has all turned into a legal mess.
Essentially, Villanueva's attempts to present himself as both a crime fighter and a reformer were undermined by his behavior that consistently appeared to protect his deputies' worst behavior.
He barely scraped his way into the top spot in the June primaries, a remarkably poor showing by an incumbent, getting just 32 percent of the vote out of a field of nine candidates. Luna was right behind him with 26 percent of the vote. The majority of the votes for those other candidates appear to have gone to Luna, not Villanueva.
Even as he accepted defeat, the Los Angeles Times reported he blamed the media and political establishment for his loss, saying, "The whole thing on the deputy gangs was literally a campaign strategy." He still insists that he was a reformer, somehow.
Los Angeles residents were so put off by Villanueva's behavior that they have also approved County Measure A, a referendum put on the ballot by the county Board of Supervisors that gives them the authority to remove the sheriff from office. The measure requires that the sheriff be removed for cause, such as violation of laws related to the sheriff's duties, neglect of duties, misuse of public funds, falsification of documents, or obstruction of investigations into department conduct. Removal would require four of the five county's supervisors to agree. With 70 percent of vote counted, Measure A is currently passing 71 percent to 29 percent. So not only is Villanueva going down, he appears to be taking some of the independence of the office with him.