2020 Election Fireworks will be provided by Ballot Propositions

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Ballot questions, not candidate races, are destined to dominate voters’ interest in California’s November 2020 elections. Candidate races are very predictable at this time in the state. Democrats have a huge registered voter advantage and are likely to sweep away any challenges to their current dominance, while the presidential preference race in the Golden State is over before it starts.

Even if Donald Trump decided to bow out and Republicans had to come up with a new nominee, the state’s 55 Electoral College votes will end up in the Democratic nominee’s column. 

Sure, there will be some regional action worth attention. Republicans will make an effort to win back some of the seven congressional seats lost in 2018. There could be some top-two intraparty battles that will be competitive. 

But statewide, attention will focus on ballot propositions even if not all of the proposed measures find a place on the ballot. 

Uber, Lyft and Door Dash laid down a tough hand in their poker match with the legislature over Assembly Bill 5 intended to classify many “gig” economy workers as full time employees. The $90 million pledged to set worker rules via ballot initiative for the gig economy will set a high bar in initiative spending wars vying for voter’s attention. 

Of course, the Uber/Lyft/Door Dash—let’s call them the Gig Gang—call to arms is a saber rattled in the face of the legislature to cut a deal before the companies move ahead on the initiative. 

Labor unions, gung ho for AB 5, signaled that they won’t give ground and are prepared to meet the Gig Gang initiative head on. Such a high profile battle on how the leading technology innovation state will treat workers in that field will surely gain national attention and spur out-of-state funding. The state’s voters will be paying attention. 

But that’s not all. There are the big tax issues that are being talked up for the November 2020 ballot. A number of writers on this page have already commented on the coming battle to raise taxes on business property. One measure has qualified and a second that could substitute for the qualified measure  has been filed.

Top that with the California School Boards’ proposal to raise corporate and high-end income taxes and voters’ heads will spin with the dollars being spent on such campaigns. Public employee unions are behind the property tax measure and could join onto the corporate/income tax measure. 

How unions will divide their interest and money if both the Gig Gang measure and even one of the tax increase measures are on the ballot is already under discussion by insiders. 

Business groups have pledged big dollars to oppose the tax increases. More millions of dollars would be spent on both sides of a tax question to get voters’ attention.

Efforts will be made to limit the number of tax increase measures on the ballot. The track record for taxes doesn’t look great as of late. Public polls show the property tax measure is weak, and the dominate Democrats in the legislature, no enemy of taxes, could not muster enough votes to place a lowering of the two-thirds vote to raise local taxes on the ballot or even pass a tax on guns. 

But strategists for the tax measures gamble that an angry electorate who wants to vote against Trump and perhaps jump on the bandwagon of other Democratic candidates will pull the level for tax increases aimed at corporations and the rich.

There will be other measures that will vie for attention such as the already qualified referendum on a law to restrict bail in the state, which plays into the national debate over justice reform. That is sure to get attention from across the nation. As would an initiative or referendum to undo any legislation passed in the hotly contested fight over mandatory vaccinations if such a proposition is put up.

Massive ballot proposition spending likely will drown out the relatively meager budgets of congressional and legislative candidates.

Oh, to be a ballot measure consultant in California in 2020. 

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