Organization Trends

The Left’s Hollow Victory: Ballot Measure Warnings

The Left’s Hollow Victory (full series)
State-Level Wipeout | A Presidential Trickle
Senate Money on Fire | Ballot Measure Warnings

Summary: In late 2020, the Electoral College met to formally elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris president and vice president of the United States in the wake of the 2020 elections. But confusion reigned in what should have been a triumphant moment for an ascendant Left fueled by rising demographics, record turnout, and the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, which empowered the state to levels previously unseen in America. While the American electorate determined that the Trump administration would end after only four years, its successes led that very same electorate to limit the Left’s congressional power, reject aggressive liberal policies at the ballot box, and give Republicans a strong state-level base from which to build for a post-Trump era.


Ballot Measure Warnings

California is a weird state. In its largely mythical Republican past, its Republicans were as often progressive-liberals like Sen. Hiram Johnson, Gov. Earl Warren, and Sen. Thomas Kuchel as conservatives like Gov. Ronald Reagan, Sen. S.I. Hayakawa, or Gov. Pete Wilson. Sen. Johnson was Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 “Bull Moose” Progressive Party running mate. Gov. Warren was later chief justice for much of the U.S. Supreme Court’s aggressively liberal 1950s–1970s period. And Sen. Kuchel was a Warren ally who declined to endorse Richard Nixon in his unsuccessful 1962 gubernatorial campaign and who denounced Ronald Reagan’s conservative faction as a “neo-fascist political cult of right-wingers in the GOP.”

But the 20th-century conservatives of California’s purple era left behind a series of “dead hands” to keep the state from fully indulging its 21st-century liberal id. Proposition 13, a constitutional amendment in 1978, limited the rate of property assessment increases, limiting the growth rate of the state’s otherwise high tax burden. Proposition 209, a constitutional amendment passed in 1996, ordered that “the state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting,” barring state-level affirmative action programs.

Or at least they did until 2020, when the organized institutions of California’s 21st century liberal id would break those dead hands and insert their own into the state constitution. Proposition 15 would repeal the portion of Proposition 13 applied to commercial property and was backed by the state’s ruling Democratic Party; the state’s hegemonic government worker unions (the California Teachers Association, AFSCME, and SEIU); and the political-advocacy machine of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Proposition 16—also backed by the state Democratic Party, the government worker unions, and liberal activists like the Akonadi Foundation’s Quinn Delaney and ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer—would expunge Proposition 209 and enshrine critical race theory in California government practice.

But merely lifting the dead hand of Proposition 13 activist Howard Jarvis and expunging the colorblind vision of Ward Connerly from the state constitution were not enough for California’s liberals in a year they believed would deliver the final, all-conquering triumph of left-progressivism. Liberal mega-donors John Arnold, Ballmer, and Tom Steyer backed a proposal to end cash bail. Left-wing groups and Patty Quillin, the wife of Netflix’s CEO, pushed a measure to expand voting in primary elections to certain 17-year-olds. And the radical Left, led by “ex-Trotskyite” Michael Weinstein’s AIDS Healthcare Foundation, pushed a measure expanding economically ruinous rent control laws. In a year when a Democratic ticket bearing home-state intersectional hero Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) would storm to a nationwide landslide, surely California would finally bury its Reaganite, swing-state past once and for all.

But as mail votes rolled in and Election Day progressed into California’s traditional “Election Month,” Jarvis (who passed from this life in 1986) lived, and Connerly triumphed again despite being outspent nearly twenty-to-one. Cash bail was retained, avoiding a repeat of New York’s baleful experiment in “reform.” Seventeen-year-olds will not be voting. Voters rejected rent control. And voters went further by backing a measure supported by the ridesharing industry that created an exemption and regulatory structure for the industry outside of California’s “AB 5” framework, a framework that Biden and Harris had endorsed for the entire much less Democratic country.

While Biden-Harris carried the state by a margin of about two-to-one, even Californians drew lines in the sand beyond which liberalism could go no further. Other states, both red and blue, sent similar messages: Montana expanded gun rights over $1.2 million in objections from its state government worker union, Illinois rejected a graduated-rate “progressive” income tax backed by its billionaire Governor J.B. Pritzker (D), and Kathryn Murdoch’s Unite America failed to pass ranked-choice voting in Massachusetts.


The 2020 elections, like so many in recent American politics, returned a mixed verdict. Republicans lost control of the White House and the direction of the administrative state, but the electorate dashed Democrats’ dreams of a 1932-style or 1964-style repudiation of conservative Republican ideology and agendas. But the Democrats’ narrow Presidential victory obscured shifts that obviated the Left’s cherished notion of a demographic “Emerging Democratic Majority” as President Trump narrowed his losses in non-white precincts, even as upscale white suburbs turned against him.

Despite serving only one term, President Trump leaves office with his party in better shape than two-term Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama left theirs. While 43 and 44 exited, leaving their parties a regional rump and bare, ruined choirs respectively, Trump exits with Republicans in control of a majority of state legislatures and a majority of governorships with both Houses of Congress nearly evenly divided. In the words of Commentary magazine’s Noah Rothman: “Trump lost. And so, astonishingly, did his pursuers.”

And while liberals and left-progressives claimed their victories, like a minimum wage increase in Florida and a tax hike in Arizona, even the bluest electorates defeated furthest extensions of identity politics, labor unionism, and government-worker rent-seeking. After the summer of Black Lives Matter demonstrations that sent left-wing race-conscious ideological tomes from Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo to the top of bestseller lists, California voted for race-neutrality by a larger margin than a much less blue—and much whiter—California had done in 1996.

So while the electorate closed the book on the Trump administration, it did not hand an overwhelming endorsement to left-liberalism. The future of American politics will remain as it always has been: Highly competitive, with majorities frequently won and quickly lost.



Michael Watson

Michael is Research Director for Capital Research Center and serves as the managing editor for InfluenceWatch. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, he previously worked for a…
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