By Shea Johnson, Staff Writer
Posted:     May 22, 2018 at 5:42 PM
Updated:  May 22, 2018 at 5:44 PM

SPRING VALLEY LAKE — Two weeks before the statewide primary election, two San Bernardino County District Attorney candidates were making last-minute pushes to appeal to voters. It’s officially a nonpartisan seat, but both found a responsive audience inside the Country Club here Tuesday.

Mike Ramos, the incumbent seeking a fifth term, appeared to read the room well. He minimized the New York Times as a “very liberal paper,” sharply criticized sanctuary cities, declared he was “sick of this liberal state” and vowed to push back against the California Democratic agenda.

In describing results of meetings with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as president of the National District Attorney’s Association, he said they were high-fiving each other.

Meanwhile, former Attorney General Eric Holder, who served under the Obama Administration, had refused to meet with him, he added.

Ramos, who once criticized President Donald Trump for disparaging remarks made about Mexicans, declared he stood by the president and Sessions in hard-line stances against the so-called “sanctuary state” law.

“Sanctuary cities are nothing but a protection of criminals,” Ramos said. “That’s all it is.”

Each of these points yielded approving head nods and verbal approvals from the audience at the luncheon hosted by Hi-Desert Republican Women, Federated — a political organization that advocates for conservative issues and seeks to influence election outcomes.

Jason Anderson, a former prosecutor turned private defense attorney, was also sure to make clear he did not support sanctuary cities, either, viewing them as a slippery slope and suggesting the state should follow federal law. That particular discussion was one raised by attendees who were afforded time to ask questions of the candidates.

When crafting their own dialogue, the two sought to articulate their vision of the chief prosecutor seat in the county.

“My commitment is that I believe you can be tough on crime, you can be smart on crime and you can invest in the community,” Anderson said, calling for an equitable criminal justice system.

It was a point he made, in part, to cast off the suggestion that his past four years spent defending suspected criminals — after 17 years in the DA’s office — should be viewed as a detriment.

The system works best when both prosecution and defense sides are well represented, he said.

“Because any one-person fight is not fair. There’s no integrity in it,” he added. “We don’t feel good about it, we don’t like it and it’s not what this country’s built upon.”

Ramos, who lauded Anderson’s work in his office, had also said he believed people wanted a prosecutor for the job, not a defense lawyer. Anderson rebutted that his experience on both sides only broadened his experience.

For Ramos, an unyielding tough-on-crime attitude has proven fruitful: “We don’t mess around.” It’s led to the convictions of more than 7,200 gang members since 2005, the incarceration of 75 sex traffickers and national interest in a unit created to protect law enforcement from attacks.

His hard-nosed stance is reflected in one story he likes to repeat — Gov. Jerry Brown once called him to say he was putting too many people behind bars — and in another when a parolee with two strikes was recorded in a probation officer’s report vowing to leave the county when he was released because Ramos was too tough.

But that firm position has also drawn scrutiny. The Times published an opinion piece on Sunday questioning the guilt of Kevin Cooper, a 60-year-old black man convicted of a 1983 quadruple homicide in Chino Hills.

The columnist, pointing to inconsistencies in the case, raised questions over whether new DNA testing should be conducted.

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