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Gavin Newsom backs down on crime measure

Gov. Gavin Newsom addresses the media during a press conference at the Capitol Annex Swing Space in Sacramento on May 10, 2024.
Fred Greaves
Gov. Gavin Newsom addresses the media during a press conference at the Capitol Annex Swing Space in Sacramento on May 10, 2024.

The governor withdraws the proposed ballot measure that he and Democratic legislative leaders just announced. He says he ran out of time to add amendments to ensure its success.

In a stunning, last-minute reversal, Gov. Gavin Newsom is scrapping the anti-crime measure he and Democratic legislative leaders just announced. It had been designed to compete with one backed by Republicans and prosecutors that is already headed for voters in November.

In a statement tonight, the governor said Democrats “are unable to meet the ballot deadline to secure necessary amendments to ensure this measure’s success and we will be withdrawing it from consideration.”

The proposed ballot measure from Democrats cleared the Assembly’s public safety committee on a party-line vote earlier today and had been scheduled for floor votes Wednesday night, just in time to get on the Nov. 5 ballot.

On Monday, Newsom, Senate leader Mike McGuire of Santa Rosa and Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas of Salinas issued a joint statement arguing that their plan would improve public safety without returning to costly mass incarceration or the failed “war on drugs” that devastated communities of color.

The Democratic bill proposed less sweeping changes to Proposition 47, which was approved by voters in 2014 and which reduced certain property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, provided that the stolen goods aren’t worth more than $950.

But ever since the Democrats’ bill was unveiled Sunday night, a coalition of GOP lawmakers, law enforcement unions and prosecutors who back the Proposition 47 repeal measure already on the ballot angrily denounced it as dirty politics and election interference.

In social media posts tonight, Senate GOP leader Brian Jones of San Diego and Assembly leader James Gallagher of Chico both credited public blowback to the 11th-hour move by Newsom and Democrats.

“Appreciation to everyone who contacted their representatives, signed our petition, & helped educate the public on the deceitful tactics deployed by the Governor,” Gallagher posted.

After mounting opposition and brutal media hits, Gavin Newsom finally listened to our calls and dropped his soft-on-crime ballot measure that undermined our democracy,” Jones said.

Greg Totten, co-chairperson of Californians for Safer Communities, said in a statement tonight that the group is “pleased The Governor and Legislature have dropped their countermeasure and welcome them to join our campaign to responsibly amend Prop 47 to deal with retail theft, the fentanyl crisis and homelessness.”

In his statement tonight, Newsom said he and other supporters “chose to introduce an alternative measure for Californians to consider that represented a balanced and comprehensive strategy that put public safety first without reverting to outdated and ineffective policies of decades past. It included stiff new penalties for repeat offenders, stricter measures to take down fentanyl dealers, and expanded access to drug treatment programs in our communities.”

But now that the Democratic measure is dead, Newsom said, he plans to soon sign “a robust public safety package that expands criminal penalties, bolsters police & prosecutor tools, and cracks down on retail theft — the most significant reform in decades.”

But before then, Newsom is headed to the White House, where he will join other Democratic governors on Wednesday to support President Joe Biden, staggering from the horrendous debate performance last week.

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.