Prop 29: A Temporary Victory?

Close vote may incite similar measures in California and beyond

Melissa Vonder Haar, Freelance Writer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Tobacco retailers in California had reason to celebrate after the state’s hotly debated Proposition 29 was voted down. However with the measure only being defeated by a 50.8% margin, Jay McKeeman, California Independent Oil Marketers Association’s (CIOMA) vice president of government relations and communications, warns retailers the fight is far from over.

“It’s a temporary victory because of the close margin,” said McKeeman. “It may engender another attempt next year, having it redone the tax in a different way.”

Still, with two-thirds of voters polled last March supporting Prop 29, defeating the referendum by any margin has to make retailers smile -- especially those who helped aid in the defeat. While much has been said about the money spent in opposition, McKeeman believes any kind of education on Prop 29’s shortcomings was the key to victory.

“These close elections show that every ounce of effort spent is so important,” McKeeman said. “Even for the smallest retailers, talking to customers, talking to employees, putting something up on the counter, that does make a difference. You just don’t know how the vote will play out.”

Having important regions like Los Angeles County and San Diego County come out against the measure also made a difference.

“The editorial was a huge part of that,” McKeeman said, referencing The Los Angeles Times’ anti-Prop 29 sentiments.  “The more people knew about the proposal, the less they liked about it. At the end of the day, enough people understood this was just another giveaway without any results that were subject to any kind of independent oversight.”

With 49.2% of voters  supporting of Proposition 29, the down-to-the-wire results could work both for and against tobacco retailers across the country.

“Certainly California is a harbinger of many ‘creative’ ideas and this was yet another one,” McKeeman said. “It sends the signal to other states that this is not particularly the best way to set up cancer research funding.  I also think it sends a cautionary signal, because of the close vote, it may be attempted elsewhere.”

For the time being, McKeeman hopes both Proposition 29 supporters and opponents will take some time to consider how to better fund important projects like cancer research – methods all voters can get behind.

“There’s a growing frustration about how the money is spent,” McKeeman said of government-funded science initiatives. “It wasn’t just an anti-tax sentiment – it was an understanding of how money is spent and the need for valid independent science to occur.”