California 2012: Some Victories, Some Defeats
Let’s start with a couple of victories
Educators are jubilant this morning with the passage of Proposition 30. By a margin of nearly 54-46, voters approved this proposition, which will raise income taxes for earnings above $250,000 and the state sales tax by 0.25 percent for several years, to prevent further cuts to schools and other state services. Democratic Governor Jerry Brown signed a fiscal year 2013 budget into law that assumed Proposition 30 would pass. According to Brown, $4.8 billion in cuts to schools in the middle of the school year were looming if voters had rejected the tax hike.
Another reason to rejoice is the failure of Proposition 32, an anti-union measure that received significant backing from the Koch brothers. This one, which failed by a margin of 32.8% in favor, and 56.2% against, resurrected a proposal defeated in 1998 and 2005 that prohibited union dues from being used for political purposes without an individual member’s approval. However, although it would have banned government contractors from donating to campaigns, it would have permitted any number of large corporations to donate.
And now to the defeats
Sadly, Proposition 34 abolishing capital punishment and commuting death sentences to life without parole was defeated. On April 25 of this year, Connecticut made history when it became the 17th state to abolish capital punishment. California would have been the 18th state in the nation. But it was not to be.
However, there is reason for some optimism. The vote was close: 47.3% in favor and 52.7% against. This percentage means that there has been a dramatic shift away from the death penalty in California. People like Ron Briggs, El Dorado County Supervisor and his father, Senator John Briggs, the author of the Briggs Death Penalty initiative, which passed in 1978, have come out in favor of Proposition 34, along with many other who were initially opposed: Gil Garcetti, the Los Angeles county attorney, Jeannie Woodford, former warden at San Quentin, California’s death row prison, numerous law and order officials, parents of murder victims. The tide is turning.
As it should be. Here are some facts:
Proposition 34 would have applied retroactively to condemned inmates, required convicted murderers to work in prison and contribute to victim restitution funds, and directed $100 million to law enforcement over four years. It could have saved the state as much as $130 million a year, according to California’s nonpartisan legislative analyst.
California has more than 727 inmates on death row, the most in the nation. Since the death penalty’s reinstatement in 1978, 13 inmates have been put to death and many more have died of old age, other natural causes or suicide. Court rulings have prevented executions for six years.
Perhaps Proposition 34 supporters can take heart from the passage of Proposition 36, defeated last time around, but this year supported by more than two-thirds of Californians, changing California’s infamous “three strikes” law that imposes a life prison sentence for people convicted of three felonies. Let’s hope Proposition 34 will pass next time.
Another big disappointment: California’s Proposition 37 requiring that food labels disclose if any ingredients come from genetically altered products, has gone down by 53% to 47%. The proponents were vastly outspent by a coalition of the nation’s largest corporate chemical and food manufacturers.
If it had passed, California would have been the first state in the U.S. to require GMO labeling. Countries in the European Union, as well as China, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, India and Chile are just a few of the nations that already require GMO foods to be labeled. So why did it fail?
Here in California, we have been inundated by an ugly and deceptive campaign, funded to the tune of more than $45 million, mostly by the leading biotech, pesticide and junk food companies. By contrast, the Yes on 37 people raised around $9 million.
Being outspent 5 to 1 makes it really hard, but also the Yes campaign never seemed to quite get their act together. I received several different fundraising emails from various nonprofits encouraging me to vote yes on Prop. 37, and I couldn’t help wondering why they weren’t acting in unison. One more thing: similar to several of the California initiatives, the wording on the proposition was extremely confusing, making it difficult to navigate.
Hopefully, next time all these issues will be resolved.
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Photo Credit: Steve Rhodes