Election post-mortem in California
Over the past several years, every objective measure of the party’s success has pointed toward failure. Heading into the midterm, California Republicans held no statewide offices and were subject to Democratic super-majorities in the Assembly and the Senate (though, in the Senate, the Democrat advantage was rarely realized because of members’ ethical failures, leading to three suspensions).
Though some votes are still being counted, close races for statewide office have all been resolved in favor of Democrats. In the legislative branch, it looks as though California Republicans have crawled back to simple minority status in each chamber. This is enough for California Republicans to go wild in celebration.
The significance of the Republican legislative gains are largely symbolic. The budget, formerly the best tool for leveraging their agenda, no longer requires a two-thirds vote. Still, tax increases do require the two-thirds number, thus, there likely will not be an attack on Prop 13 (property tax restrictions) in the coming session.
Democrats had a rough night nationally, but their California candidates came away largely unscathed. Arguably, the party spent time and money on unwinnable races (AD 36 and AD 65) at the expense of other close contests (AD 66).
Of more interest than the losses in vulnerable legislative districts were the results of Democratic intraparty races. Two big lessons appeared from those:
- Candidates that reached out to non-Democrats did better than those who did not. In Sacramento, one candidate sent/had sent 18 mailers directly to registered Republicans – his new title is “senator-elect.”
- No incumbent is safe. The chairman of the Revenue and Taxation Committee, and rumored speaker-to-be, walked to a large win in the primary only to lose to another Democrat in the general election. His opponent, a self-styled “humble-housewife,” had no campaign committee and no contributions or expenditures worthy of reporting to the secretary of state.
For their part, California voters had a say on a handful of initiatives. Propositions 1 and 2, a water bond and a rainy day fund, enjoyed broad bipartisan support. Gov. Jerry Brown campaigned for reelection by way of stumping for each of them (which had some Democrats grumbling about a hole at the top of the ticket). Both passed. Further down the ballot, Props 45 and 46, prior-approval of health care rates and an increase in the state’s cap on non-economic damages, tested well-funded defensive political machines. Both failed by double digits.
Here are some final thoughts on California’s election cycle and what it means for the next legislative session and California’s political future generally:
- The California Republican Party is not dead, but it took a major national wave to trigger a revival. Freshman state legislators from swing seats will need to occasionally frustrate caucus recommendations to vote their districts if they hope to survive next cycle.
- The Senate will be a confusing place to count votes, because a number of members that won reelection also won congressional seats. That will trigger special elections. What’s more, a former speaker of the Assembly was just elected to the Senate. Should further ethics problems surface, it will test the new pro tempore’s hold on his office.
- The California Teachers Association went all out in its successful effort to retain Superintendent Tom Torlakson. The challenger, Marshall Tuck, had the backing of Silicon Valley. This will not be the last time that tech and unions collide.
- The two top contenders for an open U.S. Senate seat from California are Attorney General Kamala Harris and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. Neither had significant opposition, though Harris did receive 2,000 more votes than Newsom.