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Election Day Takeaways

California Resists GOP Tide


Eight bleary-eyed observations from the morning after Election Day:

California remains true blue: While Republicans across the nation crowed and claimed an alleged “mandate,” California Democrats once more triumphed by sweeping all eight constitutional offices, starting with Jerry Brown’s capture of an unprecedented fourth term as governor, as they stopped the GOP wave at the Sierra. In the most favorable political atmosphere imaginable — a very small and very conservative turnout of voters bristling with rage against the other party’s president — Republicans won a few extra House and legislative seats, but still failed to score a statewide post in their fourth effort since 2006, an astonishing streak of political failure.

But Mr. Beef won some bragging rights: Jim Brulte, the big, burly boss of California Republicans, denied Democrats a two-thirds majority in the State Senate by winning two toss-up seats in Orange County and the Central Valley, and the Reps have a chance of doing the same for the Assembly when all the votes are tallied in some still too-close-to-call districts. Brulte vowed to return the GOP to relevance by rebuilding from the ground up when he took over as state party chair last year; while legislative supermajorities these days are more symbolic than substantive, he also can claim partial credit for ousting at least two Democratic House incumbents, if nail-biting numbers hold up in final returns.

Democrats are really, really old: “When I had hair, Methuselah was walking the streets,” Brown cracked at an appearance in Torrance a few days before the election. Perhaps unintentionally, his self-deprecating joke highlighted the irrefutable fact that many longtime Democratic stars are getting awfully close to their sell-by dates. Dianne Feinstein (81) and Barbara Boxer (74) both lost powerful committee chairs in being pushed back to minority status amid the Republican’s recapture of the Senate, and they must be mulling retirement; from Brown (76) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (74) to party chair John Burton (81) and a host of geezer Congressmembers (hello Lois Capps, 76), it’s time to let a new generation — AG Kamala Harris, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, and Treasurer John Chiang, for starters (hello, Salud) — have a crack at top-level jobs.

Neel Kashkari is a good bargain hunter: Four years ago, Meg Whitman spent $150 million for the honor of losing to Jerry Brown by 13 points; this time, vanquished Republican wannabe Kashkari achieved virtually the same result by forking out less than 5 percent of that amount. Neel made a lot of rookie mistakes, but he deserves credit for trying to wrest control of the state party from the grip of grumpy old white men and evangelical right-wingers obsessed with what other people do with their private parts. “I’m just getting warmed up,” Kashkari said in his concession speech, and we expect to see him back in the campaign mix two or four years from now.

When you strike the king, you better kill the king: The saddest spectacle of election night was seeing sponsors of Santa Barbara’s Measure P whine on TV about the oil industry dumping seven or so million dollars on their heads in trouncing their measure two-to-one — what the hell did they expect? From the start, P was a holy mess. Putting it on a midterm ballot, instead of waiting for a big presidential election turnout two years hence, was felony stupid; behind the scenes, more cool-headed community enviro leaders knew it and were unhappy with the lefty factionalists too impatient to wait. Beyond that, the pro-P message was muddled — was it aimed at future fracking or existing drilling or carbon fuels in general or … ? — which gave foes an opening to focus clearly and hammer consistently on how its dozens of pages of legal gobbledygook could conceivably cost jobs by hitting current industry operations.

The lock-‘em-up era may be ending: The most profound and lasting impact of this election may be the low-profile passage of Proposition 47, which is likely to change dramatically how the criminal justice system operates. Beginning with Jerry Brown’s very first term, Californians consistently voted for ever-tougher law-and-order sentencing measures of the Three Strikes genre, one big reason why the U.S. has the second highest incarceration rate in the world and the state’s massive prison system is illegally overcrowded. With Prop. 47, state voters ignored the pleas of the cop community and downgraded a host of low-rent drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, a breathtaking change of pubic opinion with implications that just began to sink in.

The CTA rules: The campaign for state Superintendent of Public Education pitted two different kinds of Democrats against each other: incumbent Tom Torlakson has close ties to traditional labor liberals and the California Teachers Association, with its longtime control of work rules that favor seniority and make it all but impossible to dump bad, tenured teachers; challenger Marshall Tuck is allied with the charter school advocates and Arne Duncan-style reformers favored by Silicon Valley Democrats and more moderate, if plutocratic, members of the party. The race was billed as a tightly contested faceoff between competing philosophies, but in the end Torlakson won easily, proving anew that the CTA is the most powerful special interest in California.

Ernie Salomon’s emails: Salomon, S.B.’s bellicose and Groucho-browed public access TV host and commercial real estate investor, was a one-man wrecking crew who personally dismantled Measure S, the $288 million bond issue sought by Santa Barbara City College. While SBCC President Lori Gaskin and her allies mealy mouthed dreamy platitudes about the marvels of education, Salomon assembled fact after fact about the initiative’s effect on property tax bills, the college’s policies in admitting nonlocal students, and the potential impact on neighborhoods and rents, then spread his cantankerous and combative views through an endlessly entertaining series of email blasts, sometimes four or five a day, that almost singlehandedly skunked the political establishment lined up behind the bond issue.

Sic temper tyrannis.

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