Contra Costa voters generally sided with the rest of California Tuesday night, voting in favor of successful measures to harshen penalties against human traffickers and soften the Three Strikes law, while rejecting a genetically engineered food labeling bill and a proposition that would limit campaign contributions from unions and corporations.
On a proposition to end the death penalty, about 51 percent of Contra Costa County voters supported the repeal, but the measure lost statewide.
Labor unions scored a victory with the defeat of Proposition 32, which would have banned corporations and labor unions from giving to politicians and prohibited automatic payroll deductions by corporations or unions from toward political purposes.
“Today is a day to celebrate in terms of the working families. It was such a big battle with money coming in from groups who wouldn’t identify themselves,” said Julio Arroyo, a representative for the Martinez-based Public Employees Union. “It is a day to celebrate for working families but the fight’s not over.
“We can’t succeed without people getting involved and caring about the issues day-to-day.”
Arroyo said the result “puts us on the right track” in advocating for retirement security, better jobs, decent benefits and fair wages.
Californians took a mixed stance on three propositions related to public safety and criminal justice, supporting longer sentences for human traffickers and upholding capital punishment, while revising the Three Strikes law.
Proposition 34, which sought to abolish the death penalty, failed. The 725 people on death row, 18 of them from Contra Costa County, would have seen their sentences commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
For a time, Prop 34 threatened prosecutors’ plans to pursue the death penalty in the high-profile Richmond-San Rafael Bridge shooting case. Nathan Burris was found guilty today of first-degree murder with special circumstances for the 2009 killing of his estranged girlfriend Deborah Ross and her friend at a bridge tollbooth.
On Thursday a sentencing trial will determine Burris’s fate.
Burris has said he wants to die, and throughout the trial Burris has criticized the state’s death penalty, calling it a joke.
“Death row on my left hand, life in prison on my right. Doesn’t matter to me,” Burris said in his closing statement Tuesday. “If the death penalty stays, I’m going to use all my appeals and hang out for 30-40 years.”
A measure calling for harsher penalties against human trafficking offenses, Proposition 35 overwhelmingly passed. The measure expands the definition of trafficking to include the creation and distribution of obscene materials depicting minors – even if the offender had no contact with the minor.
Convicted traffickers, who would face five to eight years in prison, will now face 12-20 years, or life if the victim is a minor. Increased fines levied against convicted traffickers will go to services for victims.
Veronica Monet, a sex worker rights activist and a certified sexologist based in Nevada City, said the law is too vague and broad.
“Proposition 35’s intention is to criminalize the lives of sex workers,” Monet said. The measure “sends a lot of people underground and we have to keep shining a light on them.”
The 20-year activist said many government and non-governmental organizations came out against the measure at the eleventh hour, too late to get the word out to voters. She said she thinks voters were sold something different than what they thought they were voting for.
“But the good news is there’s been quite the number of coalitions built between law enforcement, anti-trafficking organizations as well as sex worker rights organizations,” Monet said. “I’m hoping we can keep the conversation going.”
A reform of the California Three Strikes law, Proposition 36, also passed, lessening prison sentences against some criminals with two serious or violent felonies who commit certain non-violent felonies.
The measure mandating labels on all genetically engineered foods, Proposition 37, failed to catch on with voters.
John Roulac, CEO of Richmond-based health food company Nutiva and a major Prop 37 supporter, said despite the defeat, he was pleased the measure received 47 percent of the vote. He said Nutiva has plans to join with nonprofit group, GMOInside.org, which will “provide tools and campaigns to provide a GMO-free world.”
“We’re proud of the work Prop 37 did,” Roulac said. “It showed there’s millions of Californians that want the right to know what’s in their food. We essentially fought them to a draw. Like the American Revolutionary Patrick Henry, we have yet to begin the fight.”
Additional reporting by Jennifer Baires.