Proposition 47 by itself won't solve the problem of overcrowding in California's prisons. (AP/Spencer Weiner, Pool)
Proposition 47 by itself won't solve the problem of overcrowding in California's prisons. (AP/Spencer Weiner, Pool)

Californians voted to send fewer criminals to prison on Tuesday, approving a ballot measure that classified check forgery, possession of some drugs, and theft of property worth less than $950, among other crimes, as misdemeanors rather than felonies. Thad Kousser, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, told The Washington Post last week that the measure "would officially end California's tough-on-crime era." California's criminal justice system has long been among the most punitive, and the Supreme Court has ordered the state to deal with its inhumanely crowded prisons.

But the reforms might prove tougher to implement than many expect.

Proposition 47, as the measure was called, would reduce the annual number of felony convictions in California by about 20 percent, and several thousand current prisoners will be able to petition the courts for shorter terms, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Yet the current population in the state's prisons is more than 135,000 and growing, and about 89 percent of those prisoners have committed a violent or serious offense, according to the Urban Institute's Brian Elderbroom and Ryan King. To really get at the problem of overcrowding, they write, Californians will have to think carefully about the prison terms it assigns to these inmates. Proposition 47 specifically excludes criminals who have committed violent crimes.

The vote on Tuesday is one indicator that the national mood around crime is changing, but reducing penalties violent criminals will be a greater challenge politically. Some conservatives -- most notably, Newt Gingrich -- supported Proposition 47, but others with more traditional views had concerns.

Yes, most arguments against the measure were problematic. For example, residential burglary remains a felony, so prosecutors' objections about the hundreds of firearms stolen from the homes of law-abiding citizens every year just seem like a way of not talking about gun control. On the other hand, one basically reasonable counterpoint is that the threat of a felony conviction and a prison sentence is necessary to force addicts into treatment, which is ultimately better for them and their families and neighbors.

Correction: A previous version of this newsletter misspelled the name of a scholar at the Urban Institute. It is "Brian Elderbroom," not "Brian Elderbloom." This version has been corrected.


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What's in Wonkbook: 1) Obama will act on immigration 2) Opinions: The G.O.P. win, gun rights and growth and inequality 3) What Democrats did wrong 4) What Republicans will do now 5) Limiting the size of banks, halting the Medicaid expansion, rewriting tech policy and more.

Number of the day: 1.3 million. That's how many copies of Taylor Swift's "1989" were sold in its first week. It's the first platinum release this year, proving the album can still be a viable way for the industry to package and sell music. Cecilia Kang in The Washington Post.

Chart of the day: 


Pollsters systematically underestimated Republicans' strength on Tuesday. G.O.P. candidates did better than the polls predicted in nearly every race. Philip Bump in The Washington Post.

1. Top story: Obama renews promise to act on immigration

Obama said again that he will take executive action to delay deportations by the year's end. Republicans have warned that executive action could damage the chances for bipartisan legislation to reform the system, but Obama dismissed those concerns at a press conference on Wednesday. David Nakamura and Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

Primary source: The transcript of Wednesday's press conference.

Republicans won over Latino voters in the midterms in several crucial races. Exit polls in several governors' races showed that G.O.P. candidates weakened Democrats' advantage among Hispanics. Though in general, Latinos were twice as likely to support Democrats. Julia Preston in The New York Times.

Delaying the order until after the election apparently backfired for the president. The delay might have damaged Sen. Mark Udall's chances for reelection, and Democrats lost their Senate seats in red states such as North Carolina and Arkansas anyway. Seung Min Kim at Politico.

How a new executive order could benefit 5 million undocumented immigrants. This summer, the White House was considering "a range of options that could provide legal protections and work permits to a significant portion of the nation’s more than 11 million undocumented residents... Ideas under consideration could include temporary relief for law-abiding undocumented immigrants who are closely related to U.S. citizens or those who have lived in the country a certain number of years — a population that advocates say could reach as high as 5 million." David Nakamura in The Washington Post. August 1, 2014.

YGLESIAS: The White House might not deliver after Democrats' defeat in the midterms. Bold executive action now would make the president look as though he is simply ignoring the will of the people as expressed in the midterm. He'll make some changes, but advocates for immigrants are likely to be disappointed. Vox.

2. Top opinions: The Republican victory, gun rights, economic growth and income inequality

LUNTZ: Republicans did not win a mandate in the midterm. Nor were voters simply expressing their frustration with President Obama and his party. All they want is for the bickering and partisanship to end. The New York Times.

SULLIVAN: A victory for what, exactly? "If I could see any constructive policy agenda, I could have a serious opinion about it. But I don’t. I see pure negativity and bile against the president. And it seems to me that that is not a strategy to win over a majority for the presidency in 2016." The Dish.

CHEN: Asian Americans are listening to Republicans. The sample is small, but exit polls suggest that nearly half of Asian-American voters cast ballots for Republican candidates. That's about twice the share that Mitt Romney won in 2012, maybe because Republicans made more of an effort this time. Bloomberg.

FRUM: Gun-control advocates finally score one against the NRA. Voters in the state of Washington passed a gun-control ballot measure by a wide margin, even while returning a Republican majority to the state legislature. Putting initiatives before voters state by state might be the way for the gun-control movement to succed. The Atlantic.

HUBBARD: An economic growth agenda can win support from both parties in Congress. If Democrats broaden their focus beyond Keynesian stimulus measures and Republicans abandon their obsession with supply-side economics, both parties could come together on corporate tax reform and sustained infrastructure spending. Project Syndicate.

WINSHIP: Inequality is good for the poor. In general, countries where incomes for the poor and the middle class are increasing are countries where inequality is increasing, too. "Greater inequality might actually increase the size of the economic pie rather than shrinking it." The Federalist.

3. What will Republicans do next?

The new leadership lays out an agenda. Priorities include building the Keystone XL pipeline, ending the medical device tax and passing a budget are at the top of it, but tea-party members want to insist on repealing Obamacare entirely. Lori Montgomery and Robert Costa in The Washington Post.

Republicans will move on the Keystone XL pipeline early next year. A bill to force the president's hand already has support from 10Democrats -- enough to beat a filibuster. Valerie Volcovici for Reuters.

But Republicans are split on their broader strategy. The leadership and their allies want to take a piecemeal approach, focusing on what they're most likely to achieve. Other Republicans want the party to be more ambitious. Heidi Przybyla for Bloomberg.

There are still problems with the plan. For one, it isn't clear if the leadership can deliver their caucuses. Also, Obama could probably veto any legislation on the Keystone XL pipeline successfully. A trade agreement isn't a sure bet, with U.S. companies and some foreign countries objecting. And Republicans would have to find the money to replace the revenues from the medical device tax. Steven Mufson in The Washington Post

McConnell says the government will not shut down. What if it does anyway? The only negotiating leverage Republicans have against Obama's veto power is to threaten to shut down the government or to force a default on the national debt. If the new majority leader isn't willing to consider those options seriously, a conservative agenda has no chance. Sahil Kapur at Talking Points Memo.

Newly empowered Republicans will turn several states into laboratories for conservative governance. Education, taxation, guns and collective bargaining are among the issues that Republicans in state houses and governor's mansions around the country might address. Adam Nagourney and Monica Davey in The New York Times.

McCONNELL & BOEHNER: Our priorities are your priorities. On Keystone, taxes, health care, education and the national debt, the new Congress will take action to protect the middle class and improve the economy. The Wall Street Journal

4. What went wrong for Democrats

Disputes between the White House and the Senate held back Democratic campaigning. Harry Reid and his allies tried to get Obama to support a super PAC, but White House staff were worried about creating the appearance of corruption and thought that the Senate campaigns were harassing Obama's donors. Meanwhile, Republicans learned from their mistakes in 2012, relying on new technologies and inventive, constant discipline on message. Philip Rucker and Robert Costa in The Washington Post.

Elizabeth Warren's supporters argue her approach the way forward for the party. Ideological allies like Sens. Al Franken and Jeff Merkeley won easily, which Warren partisans say shows the broad appeal of economic populism. Emily Schultheis in National Journal.

PONNURU: Democrats just have to be patient. Time and demography are on their side, but for now, their coalition is still unstable. Obama's majority is concentrated in urban areas, and doesn't show up to vote in midterms. Bloomberg.

HENNINGER: A stagnant economy suffocated the Democratic campaign. Five years of negative or low growth speak for themselves. The failed stimulus has discredited the idea of a Keynesian multiplier, and the Federal Reserve is forcing ordinary people to accept dismal rates on their savings. Now it's Republicans' turn. The Wall Street Journal.

SARGENT: Democrats lost because voters think the economy has failed the working class. "People do not think the recovery has affected them, and this is particularly true of blue-collar white voters," one pollster said. "What is the Democratic economic platform for guaranteeing a chance at prosperity for everyone? Voters can’t articulate it." The Washington Post.

MacGILLIS: In 2012, Democrats won because they talked about the haves and the have-nots. They couldn't tell that story this election cycle, partly because they haven't earnestly pursued an agenda that really helps working people. The New Republic.

SALETAN: Republicans, at least, have no problem conveying the Democratic message on economic policy. G.O.P. candidates embraced liberal ideas on the economy during the campaign, criticizing Democrats for a slack labor market, stagnant wages, and an increasingly stratified economy across class and race. Slate.

5. In case you missed it

The Fed puts a limit on the size of banks. According to a new rule, banks can't merge if the new firm would hold more than 10 percent of all liabilities in the financial system. J.P. Morgan, Bank of America, and Citigroup are already close to that limit, though, and they will be allowed to exceed it as long as they do so through growth, not acquisitions. Scott Patterson and Victoria McGrane in The Wall Street Journal.

G.O.P. victories in state governments could keep millions from getting health insurance. Some Republican governors had shown an interest in negotiating with the administration to expand Medicaid, but they could be opposed by their legislatures, which are now more conservative than ever. Meanwhile, in Arkansas, the existing expansion could expire if three quarters of legislators don't agree to extend it. Jason Millman in The Washington Post.

The FBI wants to broaden its license to hack. Law enforcement wants judges to be able to issue search warrants on computers that are located outside their jurisdiction, even outside the country. A federal rule-making panel is considering the proposal, which would give the FBI broad powers to hack foreign networks. Dustin Volz in National Journal.

Arizona voters passed a "Dallas Buyers Club" law. The law gives seriously ill patients the right to take unapproved drugs with a prescription and the agreement of the manufacturer. But critics say such laws don't address the fundamental problem, which is that experimental treatments are expensive. Jason Millman in The Washington Post.

Global warming is impossible to ignore in Alaska. Conservative voters don't see it as the result of human activity, but they know they have to prepare for the consequences. Martin Kaste for NPR.

Republicans aim to rewrite tech policy from the ground up. Putting together a new draft of the Telecommunications Act could take years, though -- it's a complicated piece of legislation. There aren't many concrete ideas being discussed yet, but industry groups could use the opportunity to undo net neutrality rules issued by the FCC. Brian Fung in The Washington Post.