California ballot measures: ecology wins, marijuana loses

As supporters celebrated the election victories of once-and-future Governor Jerry Brown and now four-term Sen. Barbara Boxer, both Democrats, they were also looking over decidedly mixed returns from the nine propositions on the Nov. 2 ballot.

In a victory for a broad bi-partisan coalition including environmentalists, labor, “clean technology” firms and current Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, voters resoundingly beat back anti-environment Prop. 23,  with 61 percent voting “no.” The measure would have scuttled AB 32, the state’s landmark global warming law, by suspending it until California’s unemployment (now 12.4 percent) dropped to 5.5 percent for a year.

AB 32, which Schwarzenegger signed into law in 2006, mandates cutting California’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, regards it as a key part of his legacy.

Prop. 23’s defeat marked the second time this year a ballot measure mainly backed by corporations and negatively affecting the environment tanked at the ballot box. Backing the measure were two Texas-based oil companies, Tesoro and Valero. In the June primaries, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. sought to make it much harder to establish local public utilities which could emphasize clean energy.

The measure that got the most national attention – Prop. 19 to legalize and tax recreational marijuana use by adults – went down with just 46 percent of the vote. Its supporters say having the measure on the ballot marked a significant step on the road to legalization, and some are already predicting another initiative effort in 2012.

Prop. 19, supported by the NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and many unions, elected officials and law enforcement groups, earlier led in opinion polls. But a statement last month by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that he would “vigorously enforce” federal anti-marijuana laws in California may have influenced the final vote. Though Prop. 19 fared best among younger voters, few called it their most important issue in this election.

In contradictory developments affecting fiscal matters, voters approved Prop. 25, to pass the state budget by a simple majority instead of the present two-thirds. But they also okayed Prop. 26, to raise the legislative threshold to two-thirds to pass many state and local fees and charges.

Before the vote, California was the only state requiring a two-thirds majority both to pass a budget and to raise taxes. With the Democrats’ legislative majority falling short of that level, and Republicans pledging no new taxes, budgets faced prolonged stalemates in many years. Now, a supermajority is still required to raise taxes. An attempt to put a measure on the ballot for majority vote on all fiscal matters failed earlier this year.

Voters also resoundingly supported extending the new independent redistricting commission’s mandates to include redrawing congressional districts as well as those for the state legislature, and defeated a competing measure that would have abolished the commission altogether, returning responsibility for redistricting to the state legislature.

The 14-member commission of five Democrats, five Republicans and four members registered with neither party was created by a 2008 ballot measure. It will redraw district lines based on the 2010 census results. The California Democratic Party, the state Labor Federation and others viewed the independent commission as undemocratic and wanted all redistricting returned to the legislature.

Voters also rejected a vehicle license fee surcharge to benefit state parks, rejected a measure to eliminate corporate tax breaks the legislature passed during recent budget compromises, and approved a ban on the state “borrowing” local government funds intended for local projects.

Image: Torben Hanson // CC BY 2.0


Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes for People’s World from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe para People's World desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.