The inclusion of ballot measures stems from 1911 when Governor Hiram Johnson, concerned with the influence of corrupt politicians who were in cahoots with powerful railroad companies, looked at a constitutional amendment to give citizens a more powerful voice. But it has not worked out exactly as he intended as billionaires sometimes influence the outcome of ballot initiatives, helping fund their campaigns now.
About 99% of the $10.6 million raised to pass Prop 54 has come from Charles T. Munger Jr., a Stanford physicist and son of the billionaire vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. Billionaire investor Tom Steyer has given $5.5 million towards the passage of Prop 56, also called the tobacco tax.
How much has been spent on these ballot measures? As of end September, campaigns had amassed over $390 million, only $85 million shy of a record! Understanding the source of funds behind both sides of the measure can be pretty telling for voters. In other words, to make a decision about how to vote—“Follow the money.” Along with California, 23 other states and Washington DC provide their citizens an opportunity to change state law or the constitution by just gathering signatures.
To make your decision simpler, I have explained six important ballot propositions and have laid out the issues on both sides of the issues in clear, easy language.
Proposition 57: California Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements Initiative
Summary: A “yes” vote approves a constitutional amendment for reforming heavy-handed criminal sentencing, turning prisons from a warehouse for criminals to a place of rehabilitation. There are two components to this proposition.
Component 1: A judge will decide whether an accused under the age of 18 will be charged as a juvenile or as an adult. The current norm is that they are usually tried in juvenile court, but for murder or specific sex offenses the prosecuting attorney can decide if they are tried in adult court. If this proposition passes, it seeks to return that power to judges, parole boards and prison officials.
Component 2: This would allow nonviolent felons an opportunity to shorten their sentences by taking into account rehabilitation and time spent in education, as long as they have spent the minimum time stipulated in the sentence. Violent felons convicted of murder, robbery and rape would not be affected by Prop 57.
Supporters/Funds Raised: $8 million. Governor Brown, Reed Hastings, co-founder of Netflix, and San Diego’s district attorney, the only top prosecutor in favor.
Pros: Provides jailed felons an opportunity to turn their lives around, allowing law enforcement to work towards curbing more dangerous crimes. If Prop 57 passes, 7,000 inmates would be eligible for parole immediately and 30,000 non-violent felons would qualify to seek parole. Passing of this proposition is needed to comply with a 2011 federal judges’ panel recommendation to prevent prison overcrowding. If this passes, the state will likely save millions of dollars annually.
Opposition/Funds raised: About $275,000. District Attorneys, Republican Party, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, Crime Victims United, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies association.
Cons: Eligibility for parole could be seen as an undesirable choice. Critics say other sentence-reduction measures have already increased crime and Proposition 57 will accentuate that even more.
Props 62 and 66: Death Penalty
Summary: If you vote “yes” on Prop 62, it would abolish the death penalty in favor of a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Since 1978 when California reinstated capital punishment, about 875 death sentences have been handed out, but only 15 deaths were the result of a state execution (119 were deaths through natural causes or suicide). The legal system grinds on and there is no end in sight.
If you vote “yes” on Prop 66, you are voting to establish death penalty procedures which may allow more appeals, making the process even longer than it is currently. Voters will need to make up their minds about which side of the death penalty issue they stand.
Propositions 62 and 66 are at opposite ends of the spectrum. If both pass, the one with the higher margin of victory will become law.
Supporters/ Funds Raised: $5.2 million. Long-time death penalty opponent and actor Mike Ferrell, actor Edward James Olmos, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.
Pros: California hasn’t executed anyone since 2006, and has had only 15 executions in four decades. The protracted legal process is expensive, with at least $150 million per year spent in attorney fees. This money could finance therapy and job training for inmates. It will also require death row felons to work and pay restitution to victims’ families. A death sentence costs 18 times more than a life sentence. California has spent $5 billion dollars since 1978 to carry out only 15 executions. The current system allows for many appeals and costs tax payers $47,000/year/prisoner
Opposition/Funds raised: ACLU, state employee unions, innocence projects and some families of murder victims. Most of California’s 58 district attorneys oppose Proposition 62. $4.1M has been raised.
Cons: This will take away the only fitting punishment for California’s worst killers.
Proposition 64: The Adult Use of Marijuana Act
Summary: A “yes” vote means that California will join Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon to allow recreational use of marijuana. The objective of this proposition is to come up with good public policy to replace the failure of prohibition. But, there is a dichotomy that makes the decision a hard one to make. On the one hand there is a desire to see marijuana legalized, while there is concern about the new business model that will emerge which includes taxes and regulatory fees.
The measure would allow adults ages 21 and older to possess, transport and use up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational purposes and it will allow individuals to grow as many as six plants. It would bring back resentencing for many who have been incarcerated under current laws. The current regulatory body for the medical marijuana industry in California, namely the State Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation will be renamed as the Bureau of Marijuana Control and it will regulate the industry, establishing packaging, labeling, advertising and marketing procedures. There will be a $9.25/ounce tax on cultivation and a 15% retail sales tax. No matter which way this proposition goes, the use of marijuana in public and while driving would remain illegal.
Supporters/ Funds Raised: Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Policy Project, California Cannabis Industry Assn., California Medical Assn., California NAACP, and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Facebook President Sean Parker has contributed $7 million.
Pros: This marijuana act adopts the best practices of other states, includes the strictest child protections in the nation and raises a new source of tax revenue for the state. Tax revenue will be earmarked for research, youth programs, environmental remediation, along with programs that would reduce driving under the influence. The medical association has supported this as it believes that the best way to protect public health is to tightly control, track and regulate marijuana instead of ineffective prohibition. Gavin Newsom’s commission on marijuana policy made recommendations that were incorporated into the act, taking into account the problems with Colorado, and it also has protections for the small farmer from being overrun by large corporate firms which will likely jump into this new industry.
Opposition/Funds Raised: Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, which was formed to defeat a 2010 legalization initiative. The measure is opposed by the California Police Chiefs Association because of problems that have arisen in Colorado.
Cons: There is a fear of regulatory red tape and the fear of corporate agriculture driving out the small mom and pop farmers. Some feel that the cannabis industry is working well for the 800,000 patients who benefit from legally available medical marijuana. Colorado has seen problems in implementation—for example, extremely potent marijuana is being sold in Colorado which it fears will lead to high addiction rates.
Proposition 63: Sale of Firearm Ammunition
Summary: If you vote “yes” you will vote to improve public safety by controlling the sale of ammunition as against guns. It requires background checks and a permit issued by the DOJ to purchase ammunition. This bans possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines and prohibits certain individuals from carrying firearms. This also corrects a loophole making stealing any and all firearms a felony.
Supporters/ Funds Raised: Lt Governor Gavin Newsom, California Democratic Party, Amnesty International, California Medical Association, California College of Physicians, and the California American Academy of Preventative Medicine.
Pros: According to Newsom’s office, 38,576 Californians were killed in gun violence from 2002 to 2013. California law requires background checks for the purchase of firearms, not for purchase of ammunition. This one will close that loophole too.
Opposition/Funds Raised: Coalition for Civil Liberties, National Rifle Association’s official state affiliate, California Rifle and Pistol Association, California Republican Party, the California Libertarian Party, and law enforcement associations such as the California Police Chief’s Association.
Cons: Civil liberties groups, anti-terrorism experts and law enforcement officials feel that these new regulations will not make a difference in terms of public safety, but will mostly impact law abiding citizens with higher costs and taxes.
Prop. 59 is part of a national effort to urge legislators to begin the process of overturning Citizens United. Voters have passed similar ballot measures in Colorado and Montana, and another is before voters this November in Washington. This one on the California ballot will not have the force of law but is only an instruction to legislators.
In this article, we have covered six critical ballot measures, but the remaining eleven are also critical. I hope you do your research, analyze the pros and cons, while making your choice.
Rishi is a Saratoga City Councilmember. He is also the President of the Bay Area Indian American Democratic Club (www.baiadc.org) whose charter is to further the interests and values of Indian Americans, work towards political empowerment and advance ethical standards in the political system. www.RishiKumar.com.