Kern County Voter’s Guide: District Attorney candidate Cynthia Zimmer

Leading up to the June Primary Election, the News Review will spotlight candidates in local races

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Kern County Voter’s Guide: District Attorney candidate Cynthia ZimmerWhen Cynthia Zimmer got her start with the Kern County District Attorney’s office 34 years ago, California faced many of the same challenges that threaten criminal justice today.

In an eerie coincidence, Gov. Jerry Brown had just finished his first two terms as state governor. “The devastation caused in the justice system, with the appointment of liberal judges who struck down the death penalty, did a lot of harm that ultimately left us in a position where we could not protect victims — or law enforcement — as well as we needed to,” she said.

Born and raised in the San Joaquin Valley, Zimmer graduated from California State Bakersfield and Loyola Law School. After her first year, she came home during the summer to intern at the county.

“Ed Jagels was running for district attorney at that time,” she recalled. “He was in his early 30s and facing a very difficult race against a sitting Superior Court judge. I watched the race, and how he fought for victims, and I knew then that was something I was passionate about. He wanted to make a difference in Kern County, and so do I.”

Fast forward to today — Zimmer has worked her way through every kind of prosecution, spending the last 12 years supervising the Gang Violence Unit — which deals with the most serious offenders in the county.

“When I first came to the DA’s office, Jagels worked with Gov. Pete Wilson to implement the Three Strikes law, which drove down crime rates in Kern County and California,” she said. “We went from having the fourth-highest crime rate in the nation to the 29th highest. But when the law was revisited, it was not passed. I think people got complacent.”

Now California is seeing similar trends in prioritizing criminals over victims, she said. “All that work we did in this state — with Kern County at the forefront — was undone. We are looking at the same terrible crime rates now that California had back in the 1970s.

“Elected district attorneys have a lot of influence, as well as power and responsibility,” said Zimmer. “First of all, they need to legally prosecute in their home counties to keep people safe. And they need to make sure they know what to do and have the skill sets to do it.”

Zimmer said she would like to see the county make better use of new scientific tools to convict the most violent criminals — which is what happened when she successfully convicted “Eastside Rapist” Billy Ray Johnson.

“We are making such strides with new technology and DNA evidence, we can now convict people who have committed heinous crimes where in years past they might have gone free. We have to better leverage these tools and find ways to outsmart the criminals,” said Zimmer.

“As DA, you have to know how to prioritize cases. I have worked in every unit, and I know how do to that. I have the benefit of the wisdom and experience that has come from prosecuting every kind of case, including gang violence — which has unfortunately become our No. 1 safety issue in Kern County.

“I truly believe the best way to keep people safe is to lock up recidivists — people who commit crimes for a living.”

Zimmer said she has never been one to accept unfair laws. “I was born here, I will die here and I will do everything I can to keep people safe. That includes prosecuting violent criminals as well as advocating for victims’ rights at the state level.”

She noted that she has great relationships with and endorsements from Rep. Kevin McCarthy, state Sen. Jean Fuller and candidate Shannon Grove. “I’ve worked with Vince Fong for a long time, and I think I have a real ability to work with our legislators to make sure we stay on top of these policies in California.”

Zimmer also has the endorsement of every law-enforcement agency in Kern County. “The reason is that I have an excellent working relationship with them as well. Of course I have my independence, but when I’m presenting a case, these are the people I work with and I’m proud to have their confidence.”

She also acknowledged the local sentiment that Ridgecrest residents sometimes feel neglected when it comes to allocating county resources.

“Every outlying community I have visited feels like Bakersfield’s stepchild. That’s one of my priorities — correcting that perception,” she said. “I understand that Kern is facing budget issues, but I grew up in a small town and I don’t want anyone to feel unsafe because they’re not getting the same resources that Bakersfield gets.

“That said, thank goodness Ridgecrest does not have the crime rate that Bakersfield does! But I also know that you don’t want that to get out of control. You want to keep the Ridgecrest community a safe place to live, work and go to school. There are parts of Bakersfield where people don’t feel comfortable walking down the streets. We can’t let that happen here.”

Story First Published: 2018-05-11