In 2024, will more cities relax the grip
of progressive policy?

by Kerry Jackson  |  January 12, 2024

Joel Kotkin of Chapman University recently posted a piece on Unherd in which he reports that, “​​Across America’s cities, voters are driving out progressives.”

Encouraging, if true.

Kotkin says that in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, policymakers are cracking down on public drug use, points to George Soros-backed prosecutors being turned away, and notes the emergence of “second thoughts” in “places that incubated inept policies such as ‘defund the police’ and ‘sanctuary cities.’” He also identifies the role of “stupefying regulations” in taking progressive “cities close to bankruptcy and decay.” 

If we might borrow from the great lyricist Kris Kristofferson, freedom is not just another word for nothing left to lose, it’s the only condition humans can flourish under. Yet the elected and unelected officials in too many cities for far too long have undermined and erased the liberty that is necessary to prosper.

Though it’s not overly obvious, voters are awakening to the disasters that result from progressive policies, as they limit rather than release human creativity. Consider the self-correction happening in San Francisco.

Last year, voters recalled progressive San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. They apparently had grown weary with his casual approach to prosecuting crimes. Earlier in the year, San Francisco voters recalled three “ultra-progressive” school board members, and it seems The City by the Bay isn’t done. Its daily newspaper recently wondered if 2024 is going to be “the year that progressives will be dealt a fatal blow in San Francisco?” 

“The tenor of the city’s politics certainly makes it seem that way. Voters are dissatisfied with the status quo – which many seem to associate with incompetent progressive governance,” says the San Francisco Chronicle.

Read Sal Rodriguez’s Free Cities Center column about Portland’s self-correction on housing.
Read Sal Rodriguez’s Free Cities Center column about Seattle’s rejection of rent control.

The dissatisfaction will appear in March on a pair of ballot measures.

One will require welfare recipients to undergo drug tests and receive treatment if they fail. The other – “Safer San Francisco” – “will remove obstacles that have been put in place that prevent San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) officers from being able to more effectively and efficiently do their jobs,” which includes changing “rules to get more officers out on the street and pursue criminals,” according to Mayor London Breed’s office.   

Neither of the measures can be found in the progressive playbook. The former was “immediately compared to Republican-style welfare mandates” by progressive critics, Politico reports. The latter, says Courthouse News Service, caught “backlash from some progressive groups.”

In a pre-election story about political trends, Governing said progressives were increasingly being “challenged in local politics.” “Highly progressive candidates” were encountering “opposition from more establishment-oriented or business-friendly challengers.”

Nick Licata, a former Democratic member of the Seattle City Council, predicted that candidates who were running for the empty seats in the city, “won’t be as aggressive in their progressive positions as the council has been.” He also expected that even when “the more progressive candidates” won, “you would not see the same progressive agenda as you’ve seen the last few years.” Instead, they’d be “much more cautious,” “more pragmatic” in their policymaking.

Governing reporter Alan Greenblatt further noted that a pair of progressive members of the Boston City Council had been booted from office while “progressives backed by Mayor Michelle Wu” were challenged by “opposition from more centrist candidates.”

Local elections didn’t turn out quite like Greenblatt anticipated, though progressive prosecutors saw some setbacks. Maybe he was just a couple of years early. After all, Michael Shellenberger, author of “San Fransicko,” said two years ago “that the backlash against the excesses of progressivism is already underway,” even using the failed recall against California Gov. Gavin Newsom as an example of the “early stages” of change.

Just as the capture and decline of cities didn’t take place overnight, their liberation and renewal is a long march, too. While wondering if 2024 is the Year of Retreat for San Francisco progressives, the Chronicle summed up thusly “the ‘party of no’” that has so long had its way by the bay:

“No, you can’t open a bakery without getting seemingly a thousand different permits. No, you can’t have a free library in front of your house without paying a $1,400 fine. No, you can’t remodel your house without going through a years-long, expensive bureaucratic process.”

Rather than the disagreeable and incessant “no” of San Francisco, cities need to hear “yes” from policymakers. Yes to an easier tax burden. Yes to a lighter regulatory environment. Yes to property rights. Yes to innovators. Yes to market-based incentives for businesses. Yes to new ideas. Yes to prosecuting violations against life, liberty and property. Yes to civic order. And yes to a bureaucratic dismantling.

None of this means that cities have to be Disney-fied, stripped of their gritty character, and robbed of their color and uniqueness. They just have to lose the hard-left ideologues whose policy bombs have been as destructive as real bombs.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

Scroll to Top