California Voters Reject Death Penalty Repeal, GMO Food Labeling
Voters in California rejected ballot measures that would have ended capital punishment and required the labeling of many genetically modified foods, while approving an initiative that abolishes “three strikes” mandatory life prison sentencing.
Led by Monsanto, DuPont, Pepsi and others, agribusiness and food corporations, most of them from outside of California, spent more than $45 million in a successful bid to sway voters from approving Prop 37. According to California Watch, supporters of the measure raised a paltry $7.3 million. The “No on 37” campaign saturated the California airwaves with negative, often deceptive and inaccurate, ads that undoubtedly eroded support for the initiative, which was once very strong.
California voters also rejected Proposition 34, which would have replaced the death penalty with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, moved the state’s 725 death row inmates into general prison population and channeled $100 million to law enforcement.
In addition to the usual law-and-order and victims’ rights groups that opposed the measure, there were some surprising voices against repeal. The Chicago-based Campaign to End the Death Penalty and many California death row inmates rejected Prop 34, mostly because of the diminished legal protections that would be afforded convicts after abolition.
“The people of California sent a clear message that the death penalty should still be implemented for those who commit the most heinous and unthinkable crimes,” former US Attorney and ‘No on Prop 34’ co-chair McGregor Scott told the San Jose Mercury News.
Even as they affirmed their support for capital punishment, Californians overwhelmingly passed Proposition 36, a measure that ends the state’s highly controversial “three strikes law,” under which two-time felons convicted of even the most minor third offenses receive mandatory life prison sentences.
Under the new rules, life sentences may only be handed down if the convict’s third “strike” is a “serious or violent” offense or if a murderer, rapist or child molester commits a minor felony. Under the current system, offenders have been sentenced to life behind bars for stealing a pair of socks, writing a bad check for $146 and breaking into a soup kitchen.
Also approved was Proposition 35, an anti-human trafficking initiative mainly funded by Facebook executive Chris Kelly. Under Prop 35, prison sentences for human traffickers are doubled, life sentences are imposed on those convicted of sexually trafficking children, the definition of trafficking is broadened to include the distribution of child pornography and sex offenders’ privacy rights are further curtailed. Sex workers and some feminist groups were among those strongly opposed to the measure.
Many California liberals were left feeling somewhat defeated as they watched voters in other states take the lead in passing progressive measures. Maine, Maryland and Washington state legalized same-sex marriage. Minnesota rejected a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Colorado and Washington state legalized recreational marijuana. Maryland also granted in-state college tuition rates to undocumented immigrants.
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