May 8, 2023 - Election

How Proposition A was defeated in San Antonio election

Illustration of a "no" symbol being made in a ballot.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

After advertisements claimed San Antonio would fall siege to criminals, voters definitively rejected Proposition A, a sweeping ballot question that sought to reform a range of local criminal justice policies.

  • It represents a turning point from two years ago when voters narrowly rejected a police reform ballot measure.

Driving the news: About 72% of voters cast ballots against Proposition A, Saturday's election results show.

The big picture: Proposition A faced an uphill battle from the very beginning.

  • City Attorney Andy Segovia said the city would not enforce most of the charter amendment if it had passed, since the measures were contrary to state law.
  • The police union's political action committee spent nearly $2 million to defeat Proposition A — more than 10 times what supporters spent.

Zoom in: The police union's opposition centered on the proposed expansion of cite-and-release policy, which directs officers to cite, not arrest, people for certain misdemeanor offenses. In particular, the union was concerned about citations for theft under $750 and graffiti damages less than $2,500.

  • Business leaders were also united in their opposition.
  • Mayor Ron Nirenberg and many council members also came out against Proposition A.

Why it matters: An opposition campaign that tapped into fears of rising crime appeared to resonate with voters, even those who may support decriminalizing abortion and low-level marijuana possession.

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

Zoom out: Other components of Proposition A have proven popular elsewhere. Voters in at least six other Texas cities overwhelmingly supported local ballot propositions to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession, per the Texas Tribune.

What they're saying: Police union president Danny Diaz attributes Proposition A's defeat to the time and resources union members spent communicating with voters. But he was still surprised at the outcome.

  • "I think the voters see that we're being honest and upfront about what officers need, what they're doing — and opening that dialogue with the community," Diaz tells Axios.
  • "Prop. A sought to enshrine in our city charter the exact sorts of measures that brought disastrous consequences to cities like San Francisco, Portland and Austin," Eddie Aldrete and April Ancira, co-chairs of a business-backed political action committee opposed to Proposition A, said in a statement.

The other side: Ananda Tomas, one of the lead organizers behind Proposition A, was not available for an interview Saturday night or Sunday. But supporters released a statement Sunday night.

  • "We found that most people were receptive to the community-driven reforms of Prop A, once they heard the facts and understood what it was about," the statement reads.
  • Supporters accused the opposition of sowing division. "Unfortunately, the police union and business chambers poured $2.5 million into campaigns spreading fear tactics and lies, rather than offering people-centered public safety solutions," they said.

Details: Proposition A sought to 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 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.

Reality check: Many of the Proposition A policies are already in place in San Antonio — they just won't be enshrined in the city charter.

By the numbers: Voter turnout was about 15%. That's down from about 17% in 2021, the last time the City Council and mayor were on the ballot alongside police reform.

Flashback: Some of the organizers behind Proposition A also worked to support Proposition B in 2021, which would have stripped the police union of its right to collectively bargain with the city.

  • That measure proved much more popular among voters and failed narrowly — 51% against to 49% in favor.

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