Prop 47 Reform Backers Accuse Newsom and Lawmakers of Dirty Tricks

Governor Gavin Newsom and Democratic leaders really don’t want voters to touch Prop 47. 

Emails obtained by CBS News last week reveal the administration’s attempt to strongarm local district attorneys into withdrawing their Prop 47 reform initiative from the November ballot. Critics are now accusing them of essentially holding a set of anti-crime bills hostage. 

An email chain obtained by CBS News California Investigates reveals that the Governor's Chief of Staff would not negotiate to strengthen a Democratic package of crime bills unless a coalition of crime victims, retailers, and law enforcement leaders would agree to postpone thier [sic] ballot measure until 2026.

When the lead negotiator for the coalition, Greg Totten, made it clear that the group intends to move forward with a ballot measure in the fall, Newsom’s Chief of Staff Dana Williamson said there was nothing left to discuss. 

“It's really amazing how you are incapable of taking a win,” she added. “And the consultants you're working with haven't won anything in a decade. Good luck."

After those terse exchanges, Democratic leaders introduced so-called “poison pill” amendments, which would trigger a repeal of their anti-crime legislation if Prop 47 reform passes in the fall. In response, Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) pulled his crime bill. Assemblymember Esmeralda Soria (D–Fresno) and Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil (D-Modesto) removed their names from two others.

“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. “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.” 

Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas (D–Hollister) denies the amendments were intended as a “poison pill.” He argues they’re trying to prevent conflicts between the crime bills and the ballot measure’s provisions. It’s not clear what those conflicts would be. 

Rivas, Newsom, and Senate Pro Tem Mike McGuire (D-North Coast) all oppose the Prop 47 reform initiative, fearing it would send more people back into California’s overcrowded prisons. As far as supporters are concerned, this has all been a cynical play to split the anti-crime coalition and keep the decade-old Prop 47 intact. I’s not over yet. Reports suggest Democratic leaders are even considering a last-minute ballot initiative of their own.  

Newsom’s office and some lawmakers have responded to the email leak, and they’re not happy.

"You ought to be able to rely on the district attorneys to be a good partner in those negotiations, and I think the release of those emails is disgraceful," said Senator Angelique Ashby (D-Sacramento).

While the two sides point fingers at one another, residents and businesses await a solution to crime. Property theft remains a very real concern for Californians, no matter how much some criminal justice reform advocates brush it off. As Magnus Lofstrom, policy director for the Public Policy Institute of California, testified in January: 

“Overall, crime data indicate that retailers have increasingly been the target of crime in parts of California. Reported shoplifting incidents rose in the Bay Area, and shoplifting is trending up in Los Angeles and other urban areas. Commercial burglary and robbery increases in recent years are more widespread. By 2022, commercial burglary was up in 21 of California’s 58 counties—mostly large urban counties—and commercial robberies rose in 25 counties. Together, these more serious crimes are impacting the counties where the majority of Californians live.”