California Legislature Rebuked by Voters

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

Measured against a number of statewide ballot propositions, the California legislature apparently has a different vision on governing the state than the people they serve. Importantly, two measures that challenged legislative actions intended to lead policy change across the nation were upended by voters.

A couple of ballot questions placed on the ballot by the legislature were turned down by the voters including the high-profile attempt to repeal the affirmative action ban in California with Proposition 16. The other measure didn’t register as much buzz, but Proposition 18 would have allowed 17-year-olds to vote under certain circumstances. Voters did not embrace the idea.

More telling was the rejection of two legislative actions that garnered a lot of attention and in the process probably altered the path of national policy change. The legislature, following the lead of the majority party’s supporters in the labor camp, passed AB 5 to set the standards for worker classification. The goal was to bring independent contractors under the state labor law umbrella and offer workers more benefits. At the same time, unions looked at an opportunity to gain new members.

That effort was thwarted when the app-driver businesses led by Unver, Lyft and DoorDash qualified Proposition 22 to prevent drivers from being required to be treated as full time employees. Proposition 22 went down handily, with many critics claiming the election result was dictated by the massive amount of money spent to pass it. However, the winning side in ballot measures does not always spend the most money. This issue was a test of advancing the gig economy or putting up a barrier to that way of doing business. The gig economy won.

As the Wall Street Journal reported, the decision on Proposition 22 sent a message across the country that strengthens the gig economy and, at the same time, chills efforts in other states and congress to advance measures similar to AB 5.

Another California contest that will have national repercussions is the result of Proposition 25 shutting down the repeal of cash bail in the justice system. The law passed by the legislature to eliminate cash bail was eyed as a pace setter for similar changes across the country in an era of justice reform. However, the bill was put on hold when a referendum qualified for the ballot and the voters had their say. By turning down Prop 25, voters were voting out the bill that eliminated cash bail. 

Passing Proposition 22 and saying No to Proposition 25 can be interpreted as telling the legislature that it is not representing the thinking of the voters. It is interesting to wonder about some other responses voters would have to many of the hundreds of bills that are enacted every year, if voters had an opportunity to pass judgment on them all.

Yet, while the voters were rebuking the legislature with their votes on propositions, they were strengthening the hold on the legislature of the majority Democrats. 

Which begs the question: Will the legislative leaders take lessons from their constituents after this election or go their merry way opening the door for more initiatives and referendums?

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