Former Carney deputy legal counsel jumps in race for attorney general

 

Chris Johnson

DOVER — A fourth person has joined the race for the Democratic nomination for attorney general: Chris Johnson, formerly the governor’s deputy legal counsel, recently announced he plans to run for the position.

In his announcement speech, Mr. Johnson, 32, pledged to combat inequality and fight for a fairer legal system.

“My strategy is to unite coalitions of people who face oppression every day,” he said. “I will be the candidate who speaks up for those whose voices have been silenced.

“I am not afraid to say that ‘Black Lives Matter.’ I support the ‘Me Too’ movement, and am not afraid to say ‘Time’s Up.’ I will stand up for the rights up the LGBTQ community. I will stand with our DREAMers, even if Washington will not. And that’s just who I am. Being unwilling to compromise in a world fraught with bigotry, hatred, and injustice, I stand for a bold new vision for Delaware.”

Mr. Johnson, who resigned his position with Gov. John Carney’s office at the end of January, has previously worked for the city of Wilmington’s law department. He is the vice chair of the Wilmington Democratic Party and sits on the board of directors for the Delaware Center for Justice and the executive committee of the Delaware State Bar Association.

Also seeking the Democratic nomination for AG are three former Delaware Department of Justice high-ranking officials: Chief of Staff Tim Mullaney, state prosecutor Kathy Jennings and Chief Deputy Attorney General LaKresha Roberts. Republican Tom Neuberger, a private attorney, has announced his intention to run as well.

Current Attorney General Matt Denn revealed in August he would not campaign for a second term, citing “grueling” politics and a desire to spend more time with family.

The current field of Democratic candidates is quite varied, ranging in age from 32 to 67 and including one white man, one black man, one white woman and one black woman.

In an interview, Mr. Johnson said he opted to enter the race “simply to represent a voice that isn’t heard, the voice for chance and that progressive voice.”

As priorities, he pointed to urban gun violence, the opioid epidemic and criminal justice reform. Wilmington has seen record levels of violence in recent years, and 308 people fatally overdosed in Delaware in 2016. Delaware’s imprisons people at a higher rate than the 50-state average, while the United States’ incarceration rate is much higher than almost every other country.

“These statistics are sobering. Especially considering that national crime rates have been dropping in other jurisdictions,” Mr. Johnson said. “The Delaware criminal justice system is truly broken and stacked against low-income and minority communities.

“That is why I am here. I am ready to lead the movement towards achieving a truly just, equitable, and color-blind criminal justice system in Delaware.”

Describing gun violence in cities, particularly Wilmington, as his main issue, Mr. Johnson said he would aim to collaborate with local governments to create programs to keep kids and teenagers off the streets.

That’s an area Mr. Denn has not completely solved, Mr. Johnson opined.

“I do believe there’s a lot he’s left on the table, again in terms of specifically addressing gun violence from a state perspective,” he said, although he was otherwise complimentary of the current officeholder.

Unlike the other candidates, Mr. Johnson is against capital punishment. Mr. Neuberger, Mr. Mullaney, Ms. Jennings and Ms. Roberts have all said they would be willing to seek the death penalty in certain circumstances.

The death penalty was struck down by the state Supreme Court in 2016 over a provision justices ruled to be unconstitutional, but lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would reinstate it.

Mr. Johnson is in favor of the legalization of marijuana, saying it would have “economic and criminal justice benefits alike.”

Legislation awaiting a vote in the House would allow adults to consume cannabis for recreational purposes.

Mr. Johnson kicked off his campaign in Wilmington with a career workshop, emphasizing a focus on reducing crime other than through incarcerating offenders.

“I could go on about my other positions on urban gun violence, consumer protection and many more that you will hear from me on the campaign trail. But today, I will end with this: I believe that the Attorney General’s Office, now more than ever, has a responsibility to influence the cycle of crime outside the scope of prosecution,” he said in his announcement speech.

“Imagine the number of crimes that would be prevented if there were more funding available for public education beginning at pre-k, for after-school programs, for community centers, for health and rehabilitation services, and for job preparedness resources — especially for ex-offenders who are re-entering society.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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