‘Blatantly Undemocratic’: Republicans Slam Newsom Move to Block Anti-Tax Ballot Initiative

GOP-backed ballot measure would make it harder to push through new taxes

Gavin Newsom (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)
November 16, 2023

California Republican lawmakers slammed Gov. Gavin Newsom (D.) and Democratic leaders on Wednesday over their emergency lawsuit to block a California ballot measure that would increase the voting threshold required for state and local officials to raise taxes.

"The Democrat supermajority portrays themselves as the protectors of democracy, yet this lawsuit is a deliberate attempt to silence voters before they even have a chance to make their voices heard at the ballot box," said Republican state senate minority leader Brian Jones, who co-led a GOP coalition amicus letter against the governor’s suit.

Newsom filed suit in September to remove a ballot measure, backed by a California tax watchdog and business groups, that would require state and local officials to win a two-thirds majority vote before imposing new special taxes. While the ballot initiative has garnered enough signatures to qualify for a general election vote, the governor and other Democratic legislators argue the measure would harm voters by making it difficult to raise revenue for emergencies. Pollsters have yet to gauge the measure’s popularity with the electorate.

Newsom argues the initiative would wrongfully shrink or strip taxation powers from the governor and legislature, while crimping local governments’ ability to impose new administrative fees. It’s unclear if the lawsuit will succeed, but it will be heard by a state supreme court heavily tilted toward Democrats. Newsom appointed the chief justice and two of six associate justices. Of the rest, just one was selected by former Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Republicans’ letter, filed in the state supreme court, decries what they call Democrats’ "blatantly undemocratic attempt to disenfranchise voters." This criticism comes as Newsom frequently lambasts GOP leaders for "assaulting" voting rights—in April claiming on MSNBC that red states are leading a "rights regression." The governor has framed his federal fundraising campaign, seen as preparation for a potential presidential run, as a defense of democracy.

A representative for Newsom did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit isn’t the only way Newsom and state Democrats are fighting the voter initiative. The legislature passed a separate measure, set to appear on the state’s primary ballot in March, that seeks to undermine the anti-tax proposal completely. The Democratic initiative would require two-thirds of Californians to vote yes on the anti-tax measure for it to pass.