Prop 29 and Prop 28: Major Victory for Big Tobacco and Term Limits in California Primary 2012


Leading up to the June primary in California, field polls predicted the lowest voter turnout in state history. With no contentious presidential primary and only a handful of contested races for state office, most of California's registered voters sat this one out. However, the impact in California elections often lies not with races for elected officials, but the latest propositions that have made their way to the ballot. Although there were just two statewide propositions on the ballot this June, Proposition 28 – dealing with term limits – and Proposition 29 – increasing the cigarette tax – both are interesting cases. According to election results, Proposition 28 will pass with 62% of the vote, while the "no" side of Prop 29 holds a very narrow advantage with 50.5% of the vote.

The failing of Prop 29 is significant for one reason: It is a testament to the ever increasing influence of money in deciding elections. When polls were released in March showed voters supported the additional $1 cigarette tax by 63%, the big tobacco machine kicked in. Despite the fact that Prop 29 would raise over $700 million annually – put towards cancer research – and lower the number of California smokers (according to a 2011 study), and that it was supported by the American Cancer Society and American Lung Association as well as touted by Lance Armstrong, attack ads from tobacco companies proved to be more convincing. Two months and millions of dollars later, support for Prop 29 fell dramatically, down to 53% in late May. 

Proposition 28, however, received strong support from voters and will certainly have real and hopefully positive impacts on California government. Prop 28 reduces the total time a person may serve in the state legislature from 14 years to 12 years, but it allows 12 years' service in one house. California first began experimenting with term limits in 1990, when voters approved a ballot proposition establishing the current limits of 6 years in the State Assembly and 8 years in the State Senate. Though its intention was to open the field to more Californians and more “citizen legislators,” its real effects have been to create a consistently inexperienced group of legislators who term out of their office as soon as they have finally learned exactly how the California budget works (well, get an idea of it at least). Unintended consequences have included an increasingly powerful class of lobbyists who can more easily influence freshmen lawmakers. Though the new rules under Prop 28 will not solve all of California's problems, the 1990 terms clearly were not working and these new requirements are positive step to trying something new that will change the makeup of state government and maybe even help make it a little more effective.