Welcome to the Wednesday, December 7, Brew.
By: David Luchs
Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:
- Runoff to determine who will be Austin’s next mayor
- Two citizen initiatives certified to the state legislature in Maine
- Campaign to repeal California fast food wage and labor regulation law submits more than 1 million signatures
Runoff to determine who will be Austin’s next mayor
With the U.S. Senate runoff in Georgia in the rear-view mirror, let’s look at another runoff set for next week. Celia Israel and Kirk Watson are running in the Dec. 13 nonpartisan general runoff election for mayor of Austin, Texas. Israel and Watson, who have both served in the state legislature as Democrats, were the top two vote-getters in the Nov. 8 general election. Israel received 40% of the vote and Watson received 35% of the vote. To win, a candidate must receive more than 50% of the vote.
Incumbent Stephen Adler did not run for re-election.
Israel has represented District 50 in the Texas House of Representatives since 2014, while Watson represented District 14 in the Texas Senate between 2007 and 2020. Watson earlier served as mayor of Austin between 1997 and 2001.
According to The Texas Tribune, “While both have acknowledged the magnitude of the crisis and have diagnosed similar issues, they’re approaching it through different philosophies: Israel is looking to enact sweeping reforms to alleviate Austin’s housing shortage and Watson is trying to balance the need for more housing with neighborhood interests.”
Israel says she would provide monetary assistance to renters while reducing parking requirements and increasing density to encourage development. Watson says he supports modifying the development review process to encourage new projects, temporarily halving fees related to development, and giving individual city council members authority to propose housing plans for their districts.
Israel and Watson disagree on how to spend a $250 million housing bond voters approved on Nov. 2, 2022. Israel said the city should “partner with a nonprofit who’s going to work to take our unhoused off the streets first and put them in a dignified place.” Watson said, “So one of my priorities would be to work with the private industry, the private developers as they’re developing their projects, bring in that public money, so we would be able to together be able to buy down those units.”
The winner of the 2022 election will serve a two-year term instead of the typical four. In 2021, Austin voters approved Proposition D, a measure that aligns mayoral elections with presidential election years. Following the 2024 election, the mayor will serve a four-year term.
Austin has a Democratic mayor. As of December 2022, 62 mayors in the largest 100 cities by population are affiliated with the Democratic Party, 25 are affiliated with the Republican Party, four are independents, seven identify as nonpartisan or unaffiliated, one mayor’s affiliation is unknown, and one office is vacant.
The city of Austin utilizes a council-manager system. In this form of municipal government, an elected city council—which includes the mayor and serves as the city’s primary legislative body—appoints a chief executive called a city manager to oversee day-to-day municipal operations and implement the council’s policy and legislative initiatives.
Two citizen initiatives certified to the state legislature in Maine
On Nov. 30, Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows (D) confirmed that two citizen initiative campaigns—Protect Maine Elections and Our Power—submitted enough signatures for both initiatives to be certified to the state legislature. Both will have a chance of being approved by the state legislature or appearing on the Nov. 2023 ballot.
The Protect Maine Elections campaign submitted 67,550 valid signatures on Nov. 1, 2022. The initiative would prohibit election spending by foreign governments, including entities with partial foreign government ownership or control. The campaign said, “Our initiative stops foreign governments from spending in Maine elections, imposes new public disclosure requirements on foreign entities that engage in issue advertising, and requires that media companies disclose illegal spending by foreign powers.”
The other campaign, Our Power Maine, submitted 69,735 valid signatures on Oct. 31, 2022. The initiative would create a municipal consumer-owned electric transmission and distribution utility called the Pine Tree Power Company, which would replace Central Maine Power and Versant. Our Power Maine stated, “The company’s purposes are to provide for its customer-owners in this State reliable, affordable electric transmission and distribution services and to help the State meet its climate, energy and connectivity goals in the most rapid and affordable manner possible.” The campaign opposing the initiative, the Maine Affordable Energy Coalition, said that the initiative would result in higher electric bills. The coalition said, “A scheme to seize Maine’s electric grid by eminent domain would create a government-controlled utility — and we would all be on the hook for the cost.”
Both initiatives are indirect initiatives, the only kind permitted in Maine. Unlike standard citizen initiatives, which are certified to the ballot after a campaign submits enough valid signatures, an indirect initiative goes to the state legislature first. If the legislature passes the initiative, it becomes law. The initiative only goes to the ballot if the legislature rejects the initiative or does not take action by the end of the session.
If the state legislature rejects or does not take action on either submitted initiative, they will go to Maine voters at the election on Nov. 7, 2023.
There were no measures on the ballot in Maine this past November. The last indirect initiative to appear on the ballot was in 2021 when voters approved an initiative to prohibit the construction of electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region.
Other initiative petitions in Maine are still circulating. The deadline to submit signatures to the secretary of state is Jan. 26, 2023.
Campaign to repeal California fast food wage and labor regulation law submits more than 1 million signatures
On Dec. 5, Save Local Restaurants submitted more than 1 million signatures to the California secretary of state to place a veto referendum on the 2024 ballot that would repeal Assembly Bill 257 (AB 257). AB 257 will create a fast food council authorized to increase the minimum wage of workers in the fast-food industry to $22 per hour in 2023 and set working hours and conditions for fast-food workers. The minimum wage in California is set to increase to $15.50 on Jan. 1, 2023.
The state Senate approved AB 257 by a vote of 21-12 with seven absent, and the state Assembly approved it by a vote of 47-19 with 14 absent. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed the bill into law Sept. 5.
Save Local Restaurants filed the referendum on Sept. 6 and had until Dec. 5 to submit 623,212 valid signatures. According to the latest campaign finance filings submitted on Nov. 23, Save Local Restaurants reported over $13.7 million in contributions. The top donors to the committee included Chipotle Mexican Grill ($2 million), In-N-Out Burgers ($2 million), Starbucks ($2 million), Yum! Brands ($1 million), and Wing Stop ($500,000). The International Franchise Association, the National Restaurant Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have also endorsed the committee.
Save Local Restaurants said in a statement, “The FAST Act would have an enormous impact on Californians, and clearly voters want a say in whether it should stand. The measure would establish an unelected council to control labor policy in the counter-service restaurant industry, cause food prices to increase by as much as 20% during a period of decades-high inflation, and harm thousands of small family-, minority-, and women-owned businesses across the state.”
SEIU California State Council supports the law. Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, said, “Ten years after 200 fast-food workers walked off the job in New York City and galvanized an international movement of workers demanding $15/hr and union rights, the passage of AB 257 is the most significant advance in workers’ fight for fairness on the job in a generation. Workers from coast to coast are stepping into their power, and they’ll take their fight to any company in any industry. It’s time for corporations like McDonald’s, Amazon, Starbucks and Delta to come to a national bargaining table to raise standards across their industries and ensure every worker is respected, protected and paid a living wage.”
In 1912, Californians voted on a statewide veto referendum for the first time. The most recent veto referendum was on the ballot in 2022, and voters decided to uphold the law. Californians have voted on 50 veto referendums, upholding laws 21 times (42%) and repealing laws 29 times (58%).