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After the Vote

After the Vote: Electorate Passed Prop. 56 Cigarette Tax by Huge Margin

California voters on Tuesday approved state Proposition 56 by an overwhelming 63-37 percent margin to create a new excise tax of $2 per pack on cigarettes and other tobacco products. The margin of victory was a shock: Similar ballot initiatives failed in 2012 and 2006, and tobacco companies spent $71 million to blitz the state with dramatic advertising urging a No vote.

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California voters ignored tobacco industry advertising on Tuesday, approving state Proposition 56 by an overwhelming 63-37 percent margin to create a new excise tax of $2 per pack on cigarettes. The measure raises the tax to $2.87 and also taxes other tobacco products and e-cigarettes containing nicotine. The huge margin of victory was a shock, considering that similar ballot initiatives failed in 2012 and 2006, and that tobacco companies spent $71 million to blitz the state with dramatic advertising urging a No vote, outspending advocates 2-1.

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“We won a historic victory,” said Jim Knox of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which formed part of a broad coalition including health-care advocates, labor, doctors and even county chambers of commerce backing the measure. “First of all, it was the largest tobacco tax increase in U.S. history, and second, no California initiative in history has ever passed in the face of that much opposition spending.”

Tobacco companies funded the entirety of the No on 56 campaign, with just two, Philip Morris (via its subsidiary, Altria) and RJ Reynolds, footing most of the bill. The No campaign was roundly criticized for its ads, which depicted the measure as a “tax grab” that took money from schools – a claim that drew howls from newspaper editorial boards and from Politifact – and that it funded “special interests,” when the majority of the estimated $1.4 billion in annual revenues would go to Medi-Cal. Smoking-related health issues currently cost Medi-Cal about $3.5 billion a year, which is covered by taxpayers.

California’s tobacco tax has not been raised since 1999, and in the last 34 years, tobacco industry lobbying has helped defeat 35 attempts to up the tax in the legislature. The U.S. Surgeon General and many other health-care organizations have found that the most effective way to reduce teen smoking is to simply raise the price of cigarettes.

Though greatly out-funded, the Yes on 56 campaign focused on correcting the tobacco company spin and ran its own ads, some featuring billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer calling out the industry’s “lies.”

Beth Miller, spokesperson for the No on 56 campaign, said in a statement, “Since day one, we ran our campaign on the issues and substance of the measure, and urged voters to evaluate the content, intent and flaws of Prop. 56. While we believe Proposition 56 is bad public policy, the voters have spoken and we respect their decision.”

Knox said he hopes this will inspire other states to raise their tobacco taxes, adding, “When California passed our first tobacco tax increase in 1988, that was followed by similar measures around the country. And when California was the first to make workplaces smoke-free, that was followed not only by states across the country but by nations around the world. The industry is well aware of that and that’s why they spent so much money trying to defeat this.”

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After the Vote

After the Vote: Porn Breathes Easier With Prop. 60 Defeat

Proposition 60’s decisive, 54-46 percent loss was equal parts surprising and depressing to its backers, particularly the Hollywood-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which had put the initiative on the ballot.

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Proposition 60’s decisive, 54-46 percent loss was equal parts surprising and depressing to its backers, particularly the Hollywood-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which had put the initiative on the ballot.

Prop. 60 would have required male adult-film actors to wear condoms during the shooting of sexual intercourse scenes. It would also have required producers to pay for performers’ vaccinations, testing and medical exams related to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). And adult film producers would have had to obtain health licenses and post condom requirements.

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Prop. 60 would also have closed loopholes in a California health and safety rule in effect since 1992, and which requires adult film performers to wear condoms in explicit sex scenes. But AHF communications director Ged Kenslea told Capital & Main the rule is routinely ignored by producers.

“This was not an anti-porn measure, it was a measure to give workers in adult films a measure of protection by ordering condoms to be used,” Kenslea said. Violations of Prop. 60’s provisions would have been handled by Cal OSHA, which already handles safety issues on adult filming sets, but only if a complaint is first lodged.

At AHF’s headquarters on election night, there was a funereal air that spread as the hours ticked by, dampening the spirits at their election night party, as people anxiously tracked the returns for Prop. 60, 61 (which AHF had also put on the ballot) on TV screens, laptops and tablets.

Kenslea bemoaned the logic employed by the No side to challenge the need for condom use in sex scenes, since adult film performers receive testing for STDs.

“Condom use is preventative,” Kenslea emphasized.

The reasons why Prop. 60 lost are still unclear, but had little to do with money spent by the No side.

In fact, the Yes on 60 campaign received a total of $4.6 million in contributions, all of it from AHF. Meanwhile, the No side took in only $543,285, mostly from adult film producers and production companies, according to the Secretary of State.

“We won the campaign because Prop. 60 was initially portrayed as a worker safety issue,” Mike Stabile, a spokesperson for the No on 60 campaign, told Capital & Main. “But that became increasingly hard to defend when the performers became the base of the opposition.”

The No side did receive support from some editorial boards around the state but it ran few, if any TV spots and did no mailings of any consequence.

“We were outspent 10 to 1, so we didn’t have the money to run a traditional campaign with TV spots and mailings,” Stabile continued. “So we banded together with our coalition partners and the performers, and in the last two months of the campaign we saw the poll numbers flip, because voters recognized this was a deeply flawed initiative.”

Meanwhile the Yes side did run a small number of TV spots. It was a deliberate strategy employed by the campaign, according to Kenslea, because “we didn’t want to run a lot of spots which could seem to legitimize the No side’s positions.”

In the end, the Yes side could only muster support in four Southern California counties: Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial, according to the Secretary of State. And those margins of victory were not nearly enough to overcome the No votes in the other 54 counties.

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After the Vote

After the Vote: Californians Choose to Speed Up, Not Abolish, Death Penalty

With financial backing from law enforcement groups, the California death penalty is not only preserved, but will be sped up for inmates awaiting execution.

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San Quentin, home to California’s death row.

On Tuesday, California voters elected to preserve the death penalty for the state’s worst offenders — and to speed up the execution process for inmates on death row.

Two ballot measures had targeted capital punishment. The first, Prop. 62, sought to replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. That measure failed, by a 54-46 percent margin.

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“The outcome of the election does not change the fact that California’s death penalty is broken beyond repair and remains a sentence ‘in name only,'” Matt Cherry, campaign manager for Proposition 62, told Associated Press. “The high costs will continue to add up, the backlog of cases will continue to mount and the stories of injustice will continue to be heard. We are confident California’s failed death penalty will one day come to an end, either from voters or through the courts.”

The second measure, Prop. 66, sought to expedite the process by which death row inmates are executed. That measure won with just under 51 percent of the vote. Ironically, Prop. 62’s appearance on the ballot may have triggered the counter-measure, Prop. 66 – whose victory could speed up executions.

It was a big victory for California death penalty supporters, who had argued that the system is a much needed punishment for the “worst of the worst” offenders, and that the execution process in California is currently too lengthy and expensive. The official campaign slogan was “Mend, Don’t End, California’s Death Penalty.”

“California voters have spoken loud and clear that they want to keep the death penalty intact,” said Anne Marie Schubert, the Sacramento County District Attorney and the co-chair of the Mend, Don’t End the Death Penalty campaign, in a statement. “This is the ninth time California voters have voted in favor of keeping the death penalty for the most heinous killers…I thank all of our supporters and will continue to fight for justice on behalf of victims to ensure that our death penalty works as the voters intend.”

With over 700 inmates currently awaiting execution, California has more inmates on death row than any other state. However, only 13 prisoners have been executed since 1978, and no executions have been carried out since 2006.

“We all know California’s death penalty system is broken,” the official argument against Prop 62 explained. “Death row inmates are now able to file one frivolous appeal after another, denying justice.”

In the lead-up to the vote, law enforcement groups became the most vocal — and financially well-backed — group to publicly call for preservation of the death penalty. These groups published numerous advertising campaigns to maintain support of the death penalty, even though a nationwide survey of police chiefs found that most chiefs don’t believe the death penalty actually deters the most violent criminals.

Nationwide, recent polls have shown a decrease in popular support for capital punishment. Right now, only about 49 percent of Americans favor the death penalty.

Supporters of the abolition of the death penalty have argued that the California death penalty system is too expensive and broken, and that even this new legislation won’t fix any real problems related to crime.


Photo by Jjz3d83

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After the Vote

After the Vote: Plastic Bag Battle Over, More Fights on the Horizon

On Tuesday California said no to the plastics lobby’s wish list. Proposition 67 passed with 52 percent affirming the law banning the bags. Proposition 65 failed, with 51 percent rejecting the redirection of bag fees. It was precisely the result environmental groups, grocers and unions had pushed for.

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Judith Lewis Mernit

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When California legislators banned single-use plastic bags in the summer of 2014, the national plastics lobby, a coalition of out-of-state interests united under the banner of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, fought back at the ballot box. In addition to gathering signatures to call a referendum on the bag ban, Proposition 67, the plastics manufacturers managed to add Proposition 65, an initiative to redirect fees grocers collect for disposable carryout bags to a state wildlife fund.

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But on Tuesday California said no to the plastics lobby’s wish list. Proposition 67 passed with 52 percent affirming the law banning the bags. Proposition 65 also failed, with 51 percent rejecting the redirection of bag fees. It was precisely the result environmental groups, grocers and unions had pushed for.

It was also a rebuke to the bag alliance which, to many people, had appeared to be sowing confusion with the dueling propositions. An October survey conducted by Capitol Weekly, for instance, showed that 68 percent of poll respondents supporting Prop. 65 believed they were voting against the interests of the plastics industry.

“It was intentionally confusing,” says Mark Gold, Associate Vice Chancellor for Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles. But in the end, Gold says, “voters saw through what the polluters had put on the ballot. It made me feel pretty good that California voters got it.”

The Proposition 65 and 67 results also offered evidence of Californians’ willingness to sort through ballot complexity in a way civic leaders sometimes fear they won’t. “A lot of people thought there would be voter fatigue about such a long ballot with so much on it,” Gold says. “They expected people to just vote no.” Instead, voters by large margins funded education, acted on behalf of the environment and allocated money for infrastructure—“all pretty positive developments for California.”

Still, the $6 million that the plastics companies invested in their ballot campaign, along with several more millions spent on lobbying the legislature during previous sessions, has not gone to waste. Both the bag alliance and the American Chemistry Council that preceded it demonstrated to other industries how to stall unfriendly legislation in progressive California. And, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, the industry made $15 million in profit while the bag ban was on hold.

“It’s always good to say you can’t buy an election in California if you’re a polluter from South Carolina,” Gold says. “But this battle has taken a decade, and there’s been an opportunity cost.” Were it not for the protracted fight over plastic bags, Gold says, lawmakers might have restricted other kinds of waste, such as foam packaging.

“If you’ve ever done a beach cleanup, you know that plastics bags are only one part of the problem,” says Gold, who headed up the environmental nonprofit Heal the Bay from 1998 to 2012. “The question now is whether [lawmakers] have the stomach to move on.”

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After the Vote

After the Vote: Prop. 61 Loses Big

The avalanche of money that rolled in from pharmaceutical drug companies to beat back the challenge to their bottom lines posed by Proposition 61 dwarfed the money contributed to the Yes on 61 effort, which still ran into the millions.

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The avalanche of money that rolled in from pharmaceutical drug companies to beat back the challenge to their bottom lines posed by Proposition 61 dwarfed the money contributed to the Yes on 61 effort, which still ran into the millions.

The totals were staggering. The No side took in more than $109 million as of Nov. 6 and spent $105.5 million through Oct. 22, according to the California Secretary of State’s office.

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Compare that to the $18.5 million received by the Yes side as of Nov. 6. Almost all of it came from the Hollywood-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

The total contributions to both the No and Yes sides made this one of the most expensive initiative battles in California history.

Prop. 61 would have mandated that California’s Medicaid, and state agencies, along with the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), pay no more for prescription drugs than the lowest price paid by the federal government’s Department of Veterans Affairs.

But the No side’s huge influx of money enabled it to flood the airwaves with a slew of commercials with the message that Prop. 61 was bad for veterans, bad for the poor and bad for almost all Californians.

It obviously worked.

The latest tallies show that 53.7 percent of Californians voted against Prop. 61, while the Yes side netted 46.3 percent, according to the California Secretary of State.

The map of where the yes votes came from is also illustrative. Prop. 61 won just 14 of California’s 58 counties, all of which, except for Imperial and Santa Clara, run along the coast.

And even here the margins of victory were quite small — L.A. County saw a razor-thin 50.4-49.6 percent win for Prop. 61, but experienced a 9.5 percent drop in voter turnout from 2012.

The Yes side had counted on L.A. County to give it a big vote and brought in its big gun, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, for a number of rallies.

But those small margins of victory simply couldn’t make up for the No vote totals in the other 44 counties like San Bernardino, where Prop. 61 lost 59.5-40.5 percent, or Mariposa, with 68.9-31.1 percent.

There were also some structural issues with the initiative that the no side exploited. One of these was that the initiative excluded managed care plans which account for about 75 percent of the Medi-Cal patients. This enabled the No side to claim the initiative would cover only an estimated 12 percent of Californians.

Ged Kenslea, communications director for AHF, acknowledged the issue of managed care plans hurt 61.

“It was the most difficult issue to understand and the most complicated one to explain,” Kenslea told Capital & Main.

There was also the “veterans will suffer” claim which the No side heavily publicized, and which used veterans groups that claimed Prop. 61 would raise drug prices for vets. The Yes side claimed it was fear mongering, but the TV spots were compelling.

Kathy Fairbanks, a spokesperson and strategist for the No on 61 campaign, acknowledged all the money helped. But, she said, “we could have had all the money in the world and it wouldn’t have made a difference if the initiative was sound. . . . Voters did their homework, looked into the details and decided it was flawed. That’s why 61 lost.”

After the election Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the Yes on 61 campaign, issued a statement claiming the disparity in funds was the biggest reason for the initiative’s loss.

“Yes on 61, despite being outspent 8 to 1, did succeed in creating a national conversation surrounding exorbitant drug prices, rallied strong grassroots efforts and received more than 800 endorsements,” Salazar wrote.

“Yes on Prop 61/Californians for Lower Drug Prices now challenges legislators to resist the blandishment, threats and lobbying of Big Pharma to come up with a more comprehensive solution to lower skyrocketing drug prices,” stated Gary South, a strategist for the Yes on 61 campaign.

Meanwhile, the attention of activists for lower drug prices will turn eastward, as the same initiative is now on the ballot in Ohio and scheduled for a vote in that state’s 2017 election. The Ohio initiative is being funded and backed by AHF.

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After the Vote

After the Vote: What Prop. 55’s Big Win Says About Tax Hikes

Victorious Proposition 55 has extended a policy initially approved by Californians in 2012 to make up the recession-era budget cuts in the Golden State—cuts that devastated spending on education and health care. The 2012 measure, Proposition 30, established a personal income tax increase on household incomes of $250,000 and above.

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An infographic supporting Proposition 55.

Victorious Proposition 55 has extended a policy initially approved by Californians in 2012 to make up the recession-era budget cuts in the Golden State—cuts that devastated spending on education and health care. The 2012 measure, Proposition 30, established a personal income tax increase on household incomes of $250,000 and above. Upon winning, Prop. 30 immediately released state monies–$6 billion for schools and health care.

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This year’s Prop. 55 measure, written to continue the 2012 tax hike that had been scheduled to expire in 2018, won by a whopping 62-38 percent margin.

The fat Prop. 55 victory margin likely benefited from the lack of the fierce push-back Prop. 30 had experienced from opponents that had included a multimillion dollar campaign underwritten by Palo Alto physicist Charles Munger Jr. All but five state counties out of 58 voted in support of Prop. 55.

The win may feel like yet one more temporary fix to get money to schools and services. But it could be also seen as part of a pattern showing that a previously tax-allergic electorate voted not only for Prop. 55, but here, in Los Angeles, for other tax-raising measures to address pressing problems.

The successful Measure HHH will increase property taxes on commercial and residential addresses to provide permanent housing and supportive services for thousands of L.A.’s chronically homeless. It passed with a resounding 76 percent approval. Measure M, a transportation tax designed to massively expand public transportation, passed by nearly 70 percent.

Los Angeles voted 67 percent “yes” on Prop. 55. It and other revenue-generating measures may have gained a boost from a grassroots movement in California. The Million Voters Project, a consortium of six statewide groups pledged to turn out one million new and infrequent California voters in the 2018 elections, turned out 80,000 voters this election cycle. The project is committed to re-arranging the taxation system established by Proposition 13, which fixed property taxes at an artificially low 1975 rate, draining the state of revenue.

Ongoing contact with voters by get-out-the-vote groups between elections, and a push for change by an informed electorate, is key to an ongoing shift in California policy toward the interests of low-income communities and people of color, according to Veronica Carrizales, Policy and Campaign Director at California Calls. Her group is one of the six members of the Million Voters Project.

Carrizales looks at the Prop. 55 vote as a bellwether. Prop. 13, she says, is no longer the untouchable third rail of California politics. Tuesday’s election is “a signal that voters want to see a change and we should be looking at the horizon.”

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After the Vote

After the Vote: Takeaways From Eight Ballot Measures

Most initiatives that appeared on the California ballot passed this Tuesday, but not everyone came away a winner. Capital & Main presents our writers’ analysis of what happened to eight key ballot measures – and why.

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Tom Arthur/Wikimedia

Most initiatives that appeared on the California ballot passed this Tuesday, but not everyone came away a winner. Capital & Main presents our writers’ analysis of what happened to eight key ballot measures – and why.

  • Judith Lewis Mernit reports on voters sorting out two confusing (and unsuccessful) measures put on the ballot by the plastics industry to roll back the state ban on single-use plastic bags.
  • Jim Crogan finds that money and more money buried the chances of Prop. 61, which aimed to reduce prescription drug prices for some major California agencies.
  • Dean Kuipers says Californians ignored the tobacco industry’s advertising blitz against a new tax hike on cigarettes and other nicotine-laced products.
  • Bobbi Murray explains how a dedicated get-out-the-vote effort helped ensure the passage of Prop. 55, which continues the increased funding of public education through a wealth tax.
  • Eric Markowitz examines why a ballot measure to speed up death row executions succeeded, while an initiative to end capital punishment lost.
  • Jim Crogan looks into the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s failed bid to require the use of condoms in adult film shoots.

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