SACRAMENTO (CN) — While American voters were cementing conservative Republican control over national politics Tuesday, the nation's most populous state slid even further left. California voters flexed their progressive muscle and legalized recreational marijuana, strengthened already tough gun laws and OK'd higher taxes for the rich.
A record number of registered Californian voters were asked to weigh in on a cluttered statewide ballot that included dueling death penalty initiatives, mandatory condoms for porn actors, higher tobacco taxes and a major criminal sentencing reform plan pushed by its fourth-term governor.
Along with voting for Democrat Hillary Clinton and electing the first black woman to the U.S. Senate since 1999, Golden State voters approved 12 of 17 statewide propositions.
Voters overwhelmingly passed Gov. Jerry Brown's contentious measure that loosens determinate sentencing laws and increases the number of inmates eligible for parole. Brown spent millions campaigning for the measure that he promises will reduce California's skyrocketing prison population and roll back decades-old sentencing laws he helped pass in his first go-round as governor.
While state lawmakers raised the legal smoking age to 21 in May, voters agreed Tuesday to punish smokers with a $2-per-pack tobacco tax in hopes of generating Medi-Cal funding. After failing twice with similar measures, supporters overcame heavy Big Tobacco fundraising and passed Proposition 56. California's excise tax will rise to $2.87 per pack, ninth highest in the country.
Similar tobacco tax hikes in North Dakota and Colorado were rejected by voters.
An effort to repeal and abolish California's fractured death penalty law failed, while a competing measure to speed up death penalty appeals is squeaking by with only mail-in ballots left to be counted.
"California voters have spoken loud and clear that they want to keep the death penalty intact. This is the ninth time California voters have voted in favor of keeping the death penalty for the most heinous killers," Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said in a statement.
Leslie Hawkins, a public school teacher, voted in favor of abolishing the death penalty, which hasn't been used in California since 2006.
"I would rather err on the side of caution and not sentence an innocent man to death," Hawkins said at a Pasadena polling place.
In the aftermath of the terror attack in San Bernardino nearly a year ago, voters agreed to subject gun owners to background checks for ammunition purchases and outlawed magazines holding more than 10 rounds. The comprehensive gun-control package pushed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom was approved by 62 percent of voters as of Wednesday morning.
Newsom, also a vocal supporter of California's successful marijuana legalization effort, thanked voters for "blazing a different path."
"A lot of people thought we were a special kind of crazy to take on the National Rifle Association and the Drug Enforcement Agency in the same election," Newsom tweeted. "But here's the thing. Californians don't back down from the difficult."