I usually write my own sentence or two to introduce the article I’m linking to and commenting on, but honestly I can’t do any better than the lede of this story.
Proposition A, the wide-ranging police reform measure also known as the Justice Charter, went down in flames Saturday night, with a wide margin of voters casting a ballot against the measure.
Opponents began celebrating just minutes after early vote totals posted.
“The defeat of Prop A is a victory for local families, for local businesses and our quality of life,” wrote San Antonio SAFE PAC Co-Chairs Eddie Aldrete and April Ancira in a statement. “San Antonio is one of America’s unique, great cities and today our citizens professed with a loud and unequivocally clear voice we want to keep it that way.”
Ananda Tomas, executive director of ACT 4 SA, which gathered more than 38,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot, said Saturday night she thought it would be a tighter contest — early vote totals came in with more than 75% against Prop A.
With all 251 vote centers reporting, election day voters had reduced that lead to just under 72%.
But the “grassroots effort” was no match for the police union’s money and political reach, Tomas said. “It’s just big, monied interest and misinformation that’s out there.”
The Current adds on.
In addition to decriminalizing abortion and low-level pot possession, Prop A would have codified cite-and-release for Class C misdemeanors such as petty shoplifting and vandalism. Additionally, it would have codified SAPD’s current ban on police choke holds and no-knock warrants.
Prop A’s backers were outspent 10-to-one by opponents including the powerful San Antonio Police Officers Association and deep-pocketed business interests.
Indeed, Prop A’s fatal flaw may have come down to the difficulty explaining exactly what it would do amid a barrage of ads depicting it as a step toward rampant crime and violence in the streets.
“We still have to do a lot of public education. We’ve been doing it for several years and we’re going to continue,” Ananda Tomas, executive director of police reform group Act 4 SA, told reporters at the Prop A watch party. “We know when we’re at the doors and we break all of these things down, that folks are with us.
High-profile leaders including San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and most of city council also declined to back Prop A. Proponents accused the mayor of backpeddling on his prior support of cite-and-release.
“The challenge with Proposition A is that I think it mischaracterizes what cite-and-release was about,” Nirenberg previously told the Current. “Cite and release has always had officer discretion. Prop A effectively removes officer discretion, and again, theft and property damage are not victimless crimes.”
Tomas said she was disappointed with the the mayor’s decision to campaign against Prop A. However, she said that she and fellow progressives aren’t giving up in their fight for criminal justice reform.
I had mostly described San Antonio’s Prop A as being about marijuana decriminalization, but it was a lot more than that, I think to its detriment. I get the appeal of trying to address these things systematically, but this is one of the downsides of that approach (see also: Obamacare and Build Back Better), in which the more controversial and less popular aspects of the package are weaponized against it. It also may be the case that the electorally successful marijuana reform referenda from 2022 benefitted from being more under the radar, while this effort was regularly topline news. I don’t think most of the individual components of Prop A are any less popular on their own – marijuana decriminalization, not pursuing abortion-related prosecutions, banning choke holds, that sort of thing. It’s just that proponents of them will need to strategize further in advancing them. (How many of them will be to a city or county’s discretion following this legislative session is another matter.)
Meanwhile, it was a different story in Austin.
The May 6 election made it clear: Austin is ready to dramatically expand civilian oversight of police.
With about 78,000 voters turning out for the May 6 election on two police oversight propositions with the same name (Austin Police Oversight Act), the progressive Prop A got approval from a resounding 70% of voters, per unofficial voting numbers. Prop B, which copy-pasted language from Prop A and then edited it to reduce oversight powers, received support from only 20% of voters.
As we observed from early voting numbers, turnout overall was not spectacular. In 2021, when a GOP-aligned PAC Save Austin Now was able to get a measure on the ballot to increase police staffing, roughly twice as many people cast a vote (and the police association-backed measure lost). A little more than 10% of Austin voters showed up this election, which is not atypical for a May election without high profile offices on the ballot.
Still, the passage of Prop A – which seeks to grant the Office of Police Oversight a whole lot of freedoms, including greater access to Austin Police Department’s internal affairs investigations – marks a huge stride for the city, and possibly the beginning of litigation over the legality of some of the measure’s language. If a court does eventually throw certain elements of the measure out, the undisputed parts of the ordinance will still stand.
I was vaguely aware of Austin’s referenda, but saw much less news of them than I did the props in San Antonio, for whatever that’s worth. I’m not saying this is the only way forward – indeed, as I have said before, what we really need is a better state government, because even this path forward is increasingly narrow and hostile – but what was tried in San Antonio didn’t work, and seem unlikely to be viable elsewhere. Let’s learn what we can from what happened and make the best of it going forward.