Speakers at Athenaeum Discuss CA Ballot Initiatives

The Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College held a panel discussion entitled “California’s Choices: 2016 Ballot Measures” at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum on Wednesday, Oct. 26. Leading California political analysts Bob Stern and Tony Quinn examined the political, economic and social ramifications of the upcoming election’s ballot measures.

On Nov. 8, California residents will vote on seventeen ballot measures, ranging from marijuana legalization to death penalty abolition.

During the reception and dinner, Stern and Quinn interacted extensively with undergraduate students and professors.

The dinner was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Professor Ken Miller, associate director of the Rose Institute. Miller introduced each ballot measure with a clip from Video Voter Series 2016 – a collection of student-created, Rose Institute-produced informational videos regarding all seventeen ballot measures. For each ballot measure, Stern and Quinn subsequently analyzed the rationale of both its supporters and dissenters. Next, the pair predicted whether or not the measure would pass, and then examined the consequences of this vote.

Of the seventeen ballot measures, five were discussed in depth: Propositions 54, 55, 56, 57 and 64.

Stern and Quinn regarded Proposition 64, an initiative that legalizes recreational marijuana for adult use, as the most contentious ballot measure.

With regards to it's yes or no vote, “I think it’s going to be somewhere between 53 [percent] and 47 [percent], one way or another,” Stern predicted. According to Quinn, Proposition 64’s dissenters are wary of the lack of policies addressing driving under the influence of marijuana. Conversely, Stern argues that tax revenue from the initiative could be used to establish such policies.

According to the Rose Institute, if California passes Proposition 64, it would join Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Washington D.C. in authorizing recreational marijuana use. However, both Stern and Quinn believe that due to California’s size and political influence, a “yes” vote would induce a ripple effect, possibly influencing change on a federal level.

Stern and Quinn had split opinions regarding Proposition 56, an initiative that raises taxes on cigarettes.  

“So much money being spent against it usually means it will not pass,” Stern said. In addition, both Stern and Quinn acknowledged that Proposition 56 is a regressive tax, one that affects low-income households more than high-income ones.

However, Quinn believes that California voters will ultimately pass Proposition 56, citing fatigue of wealthy tobacco companies as his primary reason.

Stern and Quinn also had slightly conflicting opinions over Proposition 57, an initiative that increases parole and good behavior opportunities for individuals convicted of nonviolent crimes. Quinn believes it will pass, but “will be readdressed in the future.”

However, Stern noted the elaborate measures and complex language of the initiative.

“When voters are confused, they say no,” he said.   

Stern and Quinn believe that Proposition 55 – an extension of a previous income tax increase – will pass without issue. Quinn points to a lack of sympathy for incredibly wealthy households amongst California voters.

Stern and Quinn trust that Proposition 54 – an initiative that increases transparency in California state legislature – will also pass.

“It will pass by 70 to 75 percent,” Stern commented, “because the public likes transparency.”

The other twelve ballot measures were not discussed at the event.

Ultimately, "California’s Choices: 2016 Ballot Measures" was well received by the audience.

“I thought they [Stern and Quinn] did an admirable job of presenting both pro and con arguments,” said Tyler Finn CM ‘17, a student manager at the Rose Institute and a California voter.

Alec Lopata CM ‘19, the lead student project manager of "California’s Choices: 2016 Ballot Measures," praised the informative and objective nature of the talk, which he said was necessary given that “these things are so confusing” and involve “so much money.”

Stern and Quinn expressed hope that voters will make well-informed decisions come Nov. 8.

Stern, a graduate of Pomona College and Stanford Law, is the co-founder and former president of the Center of Governmental Studies, a think tank devoted to California public policy reform. As a member of various legislative committees, Stern has extensive experience in drafting election and campaign-related initiatives.

Quinn, an alumnus of Georgetown University, University of Texas and Claremont Graduate University, is an author specializing in Californian political and economic trends. Quinn has held numerous administrative government positions and co-edited the California Target Book, a non-partisan almanac of California politics.