Apr 20, 2023 - Politics

The fight to sway San Antonio voters on abortion, crime

Illustration of a ballot balancing on a finger.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

A sweeping criminal justice reform question on the May 6 ballot puts San Antonio at the center of national political fights, as the campaign kicks into high gear ahead of early voting.

Why it matters: Proposition A will likely lead to court battles that could settle questions about how much power cities and residents have to make their own rules, even if they run counter to state law.

  • San Antonio appears to be the first Texas city to put abortion on the ballot since state lawmakers outlawed the procedure in nearly all cases last year.

Catch up fast: Proposition A would amend the city charter to:

  • Prevent officers from investigating abortions.
  • Halt citations and arrests for low-level marijuana possession.
  • Ban police chokeholds and no-knock warrants.
  • Expand the city's cite-and-release policy to direct officers to cite, not arrest, people for certain nonviolent misdemeanor offenses, including some theft offenses.
  • Create a justice director position for the city, a person who hasn't worked in law enforcement and would oversee criminal justice policies.

The big picture: The city won't enforce many of the measures if voters pass them because they're contrary to state law, city attorney Andy Segovia has said.

  • The city would, however, create the justice director position if passed.

What they're saying: Combined, the measures aim to reduce the number of people jailed on low-level offenses and free up police to focus on more serious crimes, supporters have said.

The other side: The police union and local business leaders oppose the measure. They have focused on the cite-and-release expansion, not the abortion component, saying it will increase crime by emboldening people who won't be arrested.

  • The cite-and-release expansion includes theft under $750 and graffiti damages less than $2,500. Opponents say small businesses would be the victims.

Zoom out: Proposition A opposition taps into voters' crime fears. It's a similar strategy that candidates used in the Chicago mayoral race this year.

By the numbers: The police union spent nearly $900,000 to oppose Proposition A in the first quarter of this year.

  • A political action committee in support of Proposition A raised $50,000 from a single contribution in the same time period.
  • Most of the fundraising in support of the ballot measure is expected to appear on the next campaign finance report, but an organizer acknowledged supporters haven't spent close to what the police union has, per the San Antonio Report.

What's next: Early voting begins Monday and runs through May 2.

What we're watching: Whether voters' crime fears will trump support of abortion rights.


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