Opinion: The week Sheriff Villanueva out-Trumped Donald Trump

Closeup of a man with short gray hair and in uniform.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva at a news conference on March 29.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, April 30, 2022. If you’re around Alhambra tomorrow, I highly recommend checking out 626 Golden Streets, a CicLAvia-like open streets festival for the San Gabriel Valley. Let’s look back at the week in Opinion.

Look, I’d love to move on from Alex Villanueva, but Los Angeles County’s embattled sheriff refuses to stop acting in ways that disgrace his department and demand top billing in this newsletter for the second consecutive week (and two Saturdays before then, his attack on my Opinion colleague Robert Greene got a brief mention before the main topic). This week, however, Villanueva outdid himself, which is saying something for a man who’s been called L.A. County’s Donald Trump. If he keeps this up, we’ll have to start calling the former president’s behavior Villaneuva-esque.

As you probably know by now, earlier this week Villanueva reacted to allegations that he directed a department cover-up of an altercation in which a deputy was caught on camera kneeling on an inmate’s head for three minutes by threatening to criminally investigate Times reporter Alene Tchekmedyian and two people he considers his political enemies. It should go without saying that this retaliatory behavior by a law enforcement leader flagrantly violates even the narrowest reading of the 1st Amendment and threatens a bedrock principle of participatory democracy — that citizens have a right to know what their elected officials are doing, and the press has the right to report on those actions. But we have to say it, because Villanueva evidently doesn’t know or care about it, and he’s running for reelection.


Of course, the best way to respond to Villanueva’s attack on Tchekmedyian is to read her journalism that set off the sheriff, including her most recent report revealing the first eyewitness account alleging that the sheriff lied about his role. That report was published after Villanueva threatened to investigate Tchekmedyian, so of course we know the sheriff’s tinpot dictator act failed to intimidate her.

To read more of the journalism that Villanueva probably wishes would just go away already, check out The Times Editorial Board’s recap of its recent endorsement interview with the sheriff, during which his campaign bizarrely sent the newspaper a letter declaring it will refuse to seek our endorsement. I also recommend reading this letter for the ages by Times general counsel Jeff Glasser strongly encouraging the sheriff not to follow through on his threat. I’ll finish with the editorial board’s take on Villanueva’s latest outburst:

“Los Angeles County voters chose this sheriff in 2018 in part because they were seduced into backing a supposedly liberal Democrat over the Republican incumbent. He has now swung far to the right to appeal to voters who might somehow believe he is the answer to the crime and homelessness that grew on his watch. But regardless of changing politics or ideology, the constant is Villanueva’s paranoia and misuse of his authority. He is a stain on self-government — one that voters have in their power to wash away.”

Truth doesn’t matter to the GOP. Both these statements are true: Kevin McCarthy said after Jan. 6 he would ask Trump to resign, and Kevin McCarthy said he did not say that. If this seems reasonable, then you might be a Republican. Says the editorial board: “McCarthy recognized the danger posed by Trump and the Big Lie in the days after Jan. 6, which is why his retreat from truth is all the more appalling. Republican politicians who have kowtowed to Trump are thumbing their nose at the truth. Elected leaders and candidates who ignore or deny the facts are chipping away the foundation of our electoral democracy and they do not deserve your vote.” L.A. Times

Jesus said to pray in a “closet,” not on the 50-yard line. Never mind that it’s wrong constitutionally for the coach of a public school’s football team to hold on-the-field prayers with his players, even if the Supreme Court appears poised to decide differently; it’s also wrong biblically. Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest, writes: “Jesus had something to say about the matter. He castigated the religious authorities of his day for their public prayers. He called them hypocrites, ‘standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets’ so they could be seen by others.” L.A. Times

Angry parents are ruining youth sports. We need to rein them in. As the father of three young children in Little League right now, I am saddened to find plenty with which to agree in this piece by media executive and kids’ soccer coach Ben Sherwood: “As I watch parents go nuts on the sidelines — and sometimes feel a little rage myself as a parent coach — I can’t help thinking we’ve gotten everything entirely backward. With time, no one really remembers the score of a youth game. But everyone remembers the parent who went berserk or the ref who was socked in the face.” L.A. Times


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Which party is acting like the Soviet communists now? Former GOP operative Kurt Bardella detects a Russian flavor in his former party’s increasingly paranoid approach: “In both the U.S.S.R. and modern Russia, homophobia is rampant and LGBTQ people are brutally punished for their existence. A common slur for gay men in Russian is the same word as that for ‘pedophile,’ and Russian President Vladimir Putin has perpetuated the vile trope that gay people abuse children. Sound familiar?” L.A. Times

Will Twitter survive Elon Musk? She’s sticking around to find out. Virginia Heffernan first signed on to Twitter in 2007, when it was still known as a “microblogging platform” and the dig against it was that people only used it to post about their lunch. Now, as Elon Musk prepares to purchase Twitter for $44 billion, there’s good cause to worry that the marginalized voices thriving on the site will be driven off by trolls given carte blanche by the new “free speech absolutist” boss. But Heffernan doesn’t plan on going anywhere: “As long as dangerous and ridiculous true-life twits ... can be mercilessly satirized on Twitter, I’m staying.” L.A. Times

We have recommendations for the June 7 primary. So far, the editorial board has endorsed in races for L.A. city controller, the LAUSD school board, the L.A. City Council, L.A. County assessor, state controller and state insurance commissioner. Still to come are picks for additional city races (including mayor), judicial contests and much more. Check for new recommendations before the June 7 vote.

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