It was a super-close ending, but Andrew Warren’s victory over incumbent Mark Ober for Hillsborough County state attorney represents the upset of the year in Hillsborough politics in 2016.
The 40-year-old former federal prosecutor quit his job approximately a year ago with the Justice Department to commit himself to a dedicated effort to topple Ober, a Republican initially elected in 2000, and rarely, if ever, challenged by Democrats ever since.
“We’re really excited by the outcome,” said Warren on Wednesday. “We were expecting to win, because we ran a smart, disciplined campaign, and that doesn’t mean you always win. But we were optimistic and became more optimistic as Election Day approached. And we’re grateful for the fact that Hillsborough County shares my vision of criminal justice reform.”
In addition to Hillsborough County, new state or district attorneys (as they’re known in different jurisdictions) also were elected nationally in Chicago, Denver, Houston, Jacksonville, Orlando, and St. Louis.
“As a whole, these elections are a strong reminder that voters know that overzealous prosecution, fear-mongering, and a win-at-all-costs ethos have not made our communities safer,” writes Rob Smith with the Fair Punishment Project. “People across the country are ready for a fresh approach that provides true safety while also avoiding compounding the collateral damage to communities that years of mass incarceration has caused.”
Warren says the biggest difference between himself and Ober is their philosophy of dealing with criminal justice. He says for an entire generation, the philosophy of criminal justice has been “lock em up and throw away the key.”
“Retribution is one of the goals of the criminal justice system, but only one of them. It’s not the only goal,” Warren insists. The others, he says, are reducing recidivism, protecting the rights of victims, and rehabilitating offenders.
“There’s a been a shift in the past 10 years across the country from that philosophy of ‘tough on crime’ in all cases, to one of being tough on crime for certain types of crimes,” Warren says, referring to violent crimes, economic crimes, and chronic offenders. It’s about being smart in terms of allocating resources, he says, and attempting to steer nonviolent offenders away from incarceration so they can become law-abiding members of the community.
Warren says this trend has been moving around the nation for years, and it offered him a platform and opportunity to present in challenging the long-established Ober in the race.
“Hillsborough County is not unique,” he says about the problems and challenges in the criminal justice system that have surfaced nationally. “We did have have a lot of the same problems that other offices around the country have. We’ve just been slower in coming around to adopt changes that a lot of offices have.”
Warren says he spoke with Ober Wednesday morning, and says he’ll soon begin the work of preparing to take over the office in January. That is, after he relaxes a little bit and gets back to all of his supporters who helped him with his nearly year-long campaign.