As a state bluer than Lake Tahoe in sunlight, California has adopted a slew of progressive policies that drive Donald Trump nuts. They combat climate change, protect undocumented immigrants, evangelize for Obamacare and more.
So this week—as candidate Trump morphed into President-elect Trump—uncertainty swept the state. While protesters hit the streets and the hashtag #Calexit spiked with residents semi-seriously advocating U.S. secession, policy-makers scrambled to identify state programs at risk in the coming Trump administration.
The Legislature’s top leaders, both Democrats, issued a rare joint statement promising to “maximize the time during the presidential transition to defend our accomplishments using every tool at our disposal.”
“We will be reaching out to federal, state and local officials to evaluate how a Trump presidency will potentially impact federal funding of ongoing state programs, job-creating investments reliant on foreign trade, and federal enforcement of laws affecting the rights of people living in our state,” said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon of Paramount.
The politically savvy were warning not to expect any special favors from the President-elect, given this reception by California. Although some Californians cheered him as an overdue antidote to what they see as their state’s foolhardy liberal excesses, voters statewide rejected Trump by a 28-point spread—only Hawaii and Vermont gave him a colder shoulder. Read More
Money changes everything, it is said, and that adage hovers conspicuously over two clashing death penalty proposals that Californians will weigh in next week’s election.
Proposition 62 asks voters to abolish the state’s death penalty after 38 years. The other measure, Proposition 66, promotes a streamlining of legal proceedings so the term “capital punishment” means what it says.
Mixed with the traditional ethical and legal arguments on this sobering subject is the issue of cost—what taxpayers spend on a system with nearly 800 condemned prisoners and not a single execution in more than a decade. Their otherwise warring arguments aside, the opposing camps agree on one thing: that capital punishment costs too much.
Proponents of Prop. 62, the Death Penalty Initiative Statute, say their measure would save money by ending capital prosecutions and converting death sentences to life imprisonment without parole. Backers say the sheer cost of trying a capital case, proving it to the extraordinary standards set by the U.S. Supreme Court and keeping the convicted on Death Row for decades amounts to an empty promise to the families of victims.
Prop. 66, the Death Penalty Reforms and Savings Act, would retain the death penalty and speed things up, proposing to shrink death row by breaking the expensive procedural logjam that routinely delays executions by 20 years or more. Proponents say the state has simply lacked the political will to fix a broken system. Read More
For rapper Jay Z, the war on drugs is personal: “Young men like me who hustle became the sole villain.” That’s why the hip-hop mogul— who once dealt drugs in his New York public housing project and recently made a video denouncing current drug policy as an “epic fail”—is now endorsing a California ballot proposition to legalize recreational marijuana.
It’s also personal to Alice Huffman, who has backed efforts to ease marijuana restrictions during her 16-year tenure as president of the California NAACP, once even incurring the wrath of black pastors demanding her resignation. She says she’s no stoner—“I’ve never even touched it”—but her concern about the inequities of the war on drugs led her to back marijuana legalization. “We know any time there are some things that are illegal,” she says, “we [African Americans] will be targeted more.”
Supporters of Proposition 64 have various motives. Some like getting high and would prefer not to have to break the law to do it. Some see it as a burgeoning industry and are eager to get in on the “Green Rush” to riches. But drafters also sought the support of civil rights groups, and included provisions that addressed their concerns. Today the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Drug Policy Alliance all tout Prop. 64 as a way to help remedy the mass incarceration of people of color for drug offenses, uneven sentencing guidelines for drug crimes and gang violence rooted in the drug trade.
Prop. 64, they say, would take unprecedented steps to address racial and economic injustices in drug policy.
Among its provisions: People currently incarcerated for many marijuana offenses could have their sentences reduced or overturned, and there would be thousands fewer arrests in the future. Juveniles would no longer be arrested for such crimes at all. Some $50 million a year in tax revenue from cannabis sales would be funneled back into inner cities most plagued by the drug war. And individuals with previous drug convictions would not necessarily be barred from acquiring licenses to sell marijuana. Read More
In a state with a deepening blue hue, the result is some fierce Dem-on-Dem contests. On one side are progressives backed by traditional party allies such as unions, environmentalists and teachers; on the other side is a more conservative mod squad that has the support of big business, oil companies and advocates for a more aggressive shakeup of public education.
The victors could play an influential and possibly decisive role in how the state resolves disputes over education, the environment, transportation and housing.
“There’s always been a bit of a split in the Democratic Party in California. It faded a little in the last decade and now it seems to be resurging,” said Eric McGhee, a Public Policy Institute of California researcher who has studied the top-two system. The business-backed wing of the party is “flexing its muscle now more than it did before.”
Adding oomph to the races is an infusion of millions of campaign dollars from businesses and unions. Target Book estimates that interest groups trying to mold the California Legislature to their liking have spent roughly $35 million on general election advertising campaigns independent from the candidates—allowing them to evade limits that apply to candidate donations. Absent a formal process for defining which Democrats are moderates, these expenditures are a key indicator.
“People develop a consensus in Sacramento over who is a mod and who isn’t,” said David Townsend, a Democratic consultant who runs a business-backed political action committee. Read More
In Florida, it’s Cuban Americans. Within one generation, the children of a loyally conservative immigrant group don’t feel the same attachment to the Republican Party that their parents did.
In California, it’s Vietnamese Americans. And the flight from the GOP among younger Vietnamese voters appears to be happening at very rapid pace. The generational change in Vietnamese voters
It’s bad news for a party who has relied on Vietnamese-American voters as a predictably conservative voting bloc since the 1970s, when refugees fleeing Vietnam’s communist regime began populating cities such as San Jose and Garden Grove in large numbers. What once was one of the few key minority groups the California GOP could bank on at the polls increasingly trends Democrat and independent. Today young Vietnamese voters are now more likely to register Democrat than your average young Californian.
And that trend could have major implications for legislative elections across California. Read More
UC Davis student Daniel Mendoza walks across campus in Davis, California, November 1, 2016.Today, he has a job at UPS and is an honors student majoring in sociology at the University of California, Davis, pondering law school or other graduate studies. He wants to help other youths with troubled backgrounds. “I was fortunate to be given the services that I got, to have people care about what happened to me,” he said. Meanwhile, Aguilar, having spent most of his youth in prison, is now working for change in the community where the only life he once knew involved drugs, violence and gangs. Both his parents were drug addicts and served time in prison, so Aguilar bounced from one relative’s home to another. He witnessed beatings, robberies and other violence. Still, nothing prepared him for prison, he said. Today, he hides most of his tattoos behind business-casual clothes. Working for Boys and Men of Color in Stockton, he talks to young people about his experiences, hoping to inspire them to think about the consequences of their actions. “One bad choice,” he tells them, “can affect the rest of your life.” Minerva Canto is a Southern California freelance journalist and a contributor to CALmatters.
The upcoming ballot is so stuffed with complicated propositions that someone had to explain them in haiku. And song. And cartoon and emoji.
The surge of creations speaks to a wave of younger, first-time and time-pressed voters who might not study the record 224-page tome that is the official California Voter Information Guide. That doesn’t even take into account the local measures: All told, voters in San Francisco have 42 ballot measures to decide and 536 official pamphlet pages to peruse—more pages than Charles Dickens needed to write Oliver Twist.
If you’re feeling daunted, you’re in luck: You can now find out about all 17 measures via explanatory poetry, animated films, a bluegrass ditty and more.
Or maybe you prefer your politics up-close-and-personal? You could join other civic-minded Californians and host a proposition potluck for your own friends—dishing out assignments like “Would you bring pasta salad and a primer on Prop. 52?” If your friends aren’t game, you could plug into one of several “prop prep” sessions being hosted around the state at churches, bars and art studios.
Or this Saturday, you could sojourn to Los Angeles City Hall, site of the first-ever Ballot Con. The free event is scheduled to run for six and a half hours at Los Angeles City Hall, and will feature advocates pro and con debating the merits of ballot propositions, along with food and live music. The event is sponsored by SeePolitical, a nonprofit that aims to demystify elections, and the Los Angles Times. Read More
Oh, to be a plastic bag. Helpful, ubiquitous and ever useful. Carefree, wafting on the wind, and alive for a thousand years.
On the other hand, you are cheap and trashy. Discarded, your presence mars beautiful landscapes. You and your trillions of clones clog sewers, accumulate in the worlds’ oceans, and entangle and choke wildlife and sea creatures.
California banned your flimsy presence in the Golden State, consigning you to an environmentally-sensitive death by recycling.
But, as shoppers know all too well, getting rid of plastic bags isn’t that easy.
The “paper-or-plastic?” checkout query was supposed to be a relic of our unenlightened past. After reviewing the scientific evidence of persistent environmental harm, California legislators in 2014 banned thin plastic carryout bags, authorizing stores to charge customers 10 cents for heavier-duty plastic sacks or paper bags. (Smaller, handle-less bags offered for produce or meat aren’t affected.) Read More
Sure, this presidential campaign has been nasty, divisive and frequently in need of parental control settings. But for how hard it’s been to stomach at times, this election season may be producing a civic upside: Californians are registering to vote at rates not seen in 20 years.
The state’s voter rolls are surging. Nearly three-quarters of those eligible to vote are now registered, the highest rate at this point in the election cycle since a different Clinton was running for president in 1996 (because of the ebb and flow of voter registration rolls, it’s best to compare registration counts at the same point in election cycles). According to the most recent estimates from the Secretary of State’s office, California now boasts more than 18 million registered voters—more than the population of 46 states. That number is likely to grow before California’s registration date cutoff on Oct 24.
A CALmatters analysis of voter registration data estimates that up to 2.2 million people who are likely new to the California political process have joined the state’s voter rolls since primary season began in earnest in January of this year. These new voters reflect major growth in the number of Latinos and Asian-American voters, who—along with younger voters registering for the first time—are steering clear of the GOP.
California’s swelling voter registration could have profound implications for election results next month. Here is some context: Watch the GOP share of California voters shrink
In California’s Democrat-dominated statehouse, big business usually plays defense. Liberal groups—like labor unions and environmentalists—typically push for new bills, while corporate interests work to kill them. Legislators feel that push and pull.
A similar dynamic is now at play on California’s ballot, where major industries are spending big bucks to defeat policies backed by progressives. On three key ballot measures, corporate opponents have collectively raised four times as much money as supporters. Now it’s voters in the middle of that push-and-pull—and voters who will determine which side wins.
Here are three corporate industries pouring millions into “no” campaigns on California ballot measures: Pharma:
With the rising price of medicine sparking national fury, the pharmaceutical industry marked a victorious year in the California Legislature.
The year began just after the announcement that Henry Perea, a powerful assemblyman who led a caucus of business-oriented Democrats, had quit mid-term to take a job with PhRMA, the industry’s lobbying association. Drug companies went on to score two big wins in Sacramento, beating back bills that would have compelled them to report the costs and profits of specialty drugs, and required health plans to disclose more details about medication prices. Read More