Roll Back of Prop 47 Will Be On the Ballot (But Are Democrats Done Trying to Sabotage It Yet?)

Proposition 47 is the California initiative passed by the voters in 2014 which raised the bar for property crimes making most retail thefts into misdemeanors. Over the last year, Democrats have been under pressure to do something about Prop. 47 as concern about shoplifting and public drug use has gone up.


A group of California DAs joined an effort to put a repeal of Prop. 47 on the ballot this year and just a few weeks ago we learned that effort was likely to be approved. But Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state Democrats don’t want the ballot initiative to succeed. So they came up with a slate of competing crime bills which they offered to pass (and Gov. Newsom agreed to sign) in record time if only the ballot initiative to reform Prop. 47 was pulled.

In order to make clear this was an either/or choice, the Sacramento Democrats also said they would put “interoperability clauses” into the bills which would be triggered if Prop. 47 passed. In other words, they planned to put poison pills into their own bills to ensure they got their way.

This effort was so ham-fisted that even some Democrats seemed embarrassed by it and backed away from the bills entirely. Because the swift passage they had promised required a super-majority vote, the loss of even a few Democrats put the entire scheme in jeopardy.

The effort seemed to further collapse last week when someone leaked text messages between the two parties, messages that made the governor’s chief of staff sound like a condescending jerk.

In one email, the Governor’s Chief of Staff Dana Williamson tells the coalition’s lead negotiator, Greg Totten, that leadership is willing to negotiate on its package of crime bills, which would take effect immediately, clarifying “As far as an initiative, we are open to something in 2026.” 

Totten replies, “As I noted previously, our focus is on amending Proposition 47 on the 2024 ballot.” adding, “If the administration is prepared to consider an amendment of Proposition 47 on the 2024 ballot, then we are happy to meet.”

Williamson responds, “If that’s your position then I agree, there’s nothing to talk about. She adds, “It’s really amazing how you are incapable of taking a win. And the consultants you’re working with haven’t won anything in a decade. Good luck.”


If we step back for a moment and ask why Newsom and the Democrats are so eager to kill this ballot initiative, there are a couple of answers. One is that they say they are concerned about returning to the era of “mass incarceration.” In other words, they want to crack down on crime (or appear to) but they don’t want to put many people in prison. 

If that explanation doesn’t make much sense to you, well, there’s another one that’s a lot easier to understand

OK, that’s one reason Democrats hate the initiative. But hardly anyone believes it’s the main reason. The party’s dominant fear, it seems, is that the measure would help Republican candidates, especially in a handful of congressional races where control of the U.S. House is at stake.

“Yes, it’s good for Republican candidates,” says state Assembly GOP leader James Gallagher of Yuba City, referring to the initiative. “But it’s good policy, too. It would be good for Democrats who support this initiative as well.”

Democratic consultant Steve Maviglio says the initiative would “move swing voters. People see crime on the rise. Democrats have a reputation for being soft on crime. Republicans see blood in the water. They want to talk about crime. Democrats don’t.”

There you have it. This is about keeping their opponents at home by stealing their thunder, albeit in an attenuated form that won’t put many people in prison.


But there was a deadline for Democrats to make this deal. The last day supporters could pull the ballot measure from appearing on the ballot was Thursday of this week. They missed it, so the Prop. 47 reform initiative will be on the ballot.

A months-long Democratic push to remove a tough-on-crime measure from the November ballot appears to be dead in the water.

Negotiations between Gov. Gavin Newsom, legislative leaders and proponents effectively broke down last week, around the time that the governor’s chief of staff, Dana Williamson, clashed with the proponents in a leaked email chain.

Now, just before Thursday’s deadline to pull initiatives from the November ballot and with no compromise legislation in print, both sides are instead preparing for a bruising fight…

So is that the end of this fight? Well, maybe. Democrats still have one desperate effort they could take to sabotage the bill. Last week, they discussed putting a competing measure on the ballot. That was apparently a gambit intended to drive supporters of the ballot initiative back to the negotiating table prior to the deadline. However, Democrats could still do this as a way to a) punish their opponents and b) fight the aforementioned mass incarceration.

There’s a chance lawmakers could put an additional retail theft measure early next week in an attempt to draw support away from the measure, though as of Thursday evening, legislative leaders had not announced plans to do so.


They’ve already lost on the effort to keep Republicans at home, but they could still fight to keep criminals out of prison. In California, unfortunately, that’s high on the agenda for many Democrats.



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