Leaked Emails Reveal How Gov. Newsom Tried to Keep Prop 47 Off the Ballot

AP Photo/ Aaron Kehoe

Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic leaders in California have been fighting to keep a ballot initiative which would reform Prop. 47 off the ballot this year. Having submitted more than 900,000 signatures to the state, last week the initiative qualified for the ballot. But Democrats concerned about "mass incarceration" are trying to get supporters to remove it by offering 14 new crime bills in its place.


The intended appeal of this offer is that, rather than waiting for November to see if the reform initiative will pass, Dems are willing to pass their 14 crime bills immediately and have them take effect as soon as Newsom signs them. In theory, they could be operational next month, assuming Dems can pass them.

But there's a catch. The offer is only good if the ballot initiative goes away. To make it clear that this is an either or choice, Democrats have threatened to place a poison pill "interoperability clause" in their own crime bills which would render them inoperable if the reform initiative were to pass. So you can have the bills now or the ballot initiative later but not both. And in fact, Democrats did amend some of the bills to add the poison pill yesterday.

The State Senate Appropriations Committee started that process on Monday by adding the amendments to six of the 14 pieces of legislation.

There's a reason supporters of the ballot initiative haven't jumped at the Democrats' offer. It's because they generally believe the ballot initiative is tougher on criminals while the 14 bills being offered by Dems are a bit softer

Placer County District Attorney Morgan Gire called it “quite simply dirty.” He said it’s “placing politics over problem solving.” 

“The bills are good, but they don’t go far enough,” Gire said. “They don’t go far enough in holding repeat thieves accountable. That’s what the initiative will do.”


Democrats clearly believe their bills are softer on crime too because their whole motivation for offering them is to prevent the ballot initiative from bringing back "mass incarceration."

Over the weekend there were some failed negotiations between the two sides. CBS News published an email exchange between Greg Totten, who supports the ballot measure, and Dana Williamson, the Governor's Chief of Staff.

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."

So the Democrats' plan now is to pass the 14 bills and, presumably, claim they have created a brilliant solution to California's crime and drug use problem which is a) already in place and b) will disappear if voters are naughty and vote to approve the ballot measure reforming Prop. 47. Their hope is that voters will pull back rather than risk triggering the poison pills Democrats put in their own bills.


But the road to dirty politics isn't running as smoothly as expected. Moderate Democrats are backing away from this plan. Some of them are dropping support for their own bills because of the poison pills being added.

"Unfortunately, I can’t support the retail theft package which contains my Retail Theft Accountability bill, AB 1794, with the poison pill non-operative amendments included," McCarty said in a statement. "However, I am still optimistic I will be able to revisit AB 1794 as we continue to work out a solution with stakeholders by the 27th."

Democratic Assemblymember Esmeralda Soria announced Monday she dropped her name from one of the bills amended in the Senate committee. The bill would increase penalties for those who take or destroy property in the process of committing a separate felony.

"My commitment was to work with my local law enforcement officials when I first introduced AB 1960," Soria told reporters on Monday. "When the bill was amended today, they ended up pulling their support so, for me, I want to keep my commitment."

And of course there were several progressive Democrats who aren't willing to support any of these changes. So it's not clear if Gov. Newsom and his fellow establishment Dems still have enough votes to pass these things. We'll have to wait and see. But even if they do pass them, the ballot initiative to reform Prop. 47 will remain on the ballot and can still pass as long as voters don't fall for this gimmick.


Here's a local news report on the leaked emails. Note that the reporter who got this story points to another possible reason Dems are eager to keep this initiative off the ballot in 2024. Control of the House is at stake this year and Dems are worried that the initiative will bring out conservative voters and possibly sway a few close races in the state. All the more reason to keep this on the ballot.

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