Election Recap: California’s Successes and Defeats for the Future of the State

Last week’s midterm elections ushered in a number of changes for California. While Republicans did extremely well nationwide on November 2, California Republicans had good reason to be disappointed, as seemingly competitive Republican candidates in the gubernatorial and US Senate races ended up falling far short of victory. Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman lost by double digits, while Senate candidate Carly Fiorina lost by nearly as much against Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer. In the midst of a national Republican tide, California will be sending one more Democratic representative to the U.S. House of Representatives.

At the state level, there were other signs that the Republican wave failed to break on California’s shores. If the results for the pending Attorney General race favor Democrats, Republicans will have lost every major California state office, including Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Controller, and Treasurer. In the state legislature, California Republicans lost another seat in the State Assembly and failed to pick up a single seat in the State Senate. (Two extremely close congressional districts are awaiting the absentee ballot count, but they too appear to favor Democrats.) This came as Republicans won outright control of 11 previously divided or Democrat-controlled state legislatures across the country and added over 675 seats to their ranks nationwide.

California has once more proven to be a bastion of Democratic support. The fact that a competitive Republican senatorial candidate running against an unpopular incumbent still lost by nine points in a wave election like 2010 indicates that the Republican Party clearly still has trouble winning over large swaths of the California electorate.

The reelection of Democratic candidates will probably have a negligible effect on national politics. The reelection of Barbara Boxer, for instance, only ensures that California will continue sending a liberal senator to Washington; the same is true for California’s House representatives. Neither will it have an effect on California state politics. The reelections of Democratic executive officials like Treasurer John Chiang and Controller Bill Lockyer will likewise have little effect. While they have done a good job under difficult circumstances, their reeelection does not address the real source of California’s current problems: the state legislature and the broken proposition system.

Unlike all the other races, the rise of a Democratic governor in California will have a significant impact. The governor of California is given more power than any other person in the state and is consequently more responsible for solving California’s problems. Unfortunately, both candidates for governor this election were fairly unimpressive. Republican Meg Whitman campaigned on the promise to change California by drawing on her business experience. Though some politicians with business backgrounds can boast successful political résumés, many more (see: Arnold Schwarzenegger) have failed to navigate the chasm between business and politics. Former Governor and current Attorney General Jerry Brown, on the other hand, campaigned on a lackluster environmental platform based on green jobs and education. Brown won despite his relatively weak campaign because Ms. Whitman was such a flawed candidate, but his lack of ideas is troubling for the future of California.

Similarly important in shaping California’s future are the results of the 2010 propositions. For the most part, the results were quite positive. Most important was the yes vote on Proposition 25 which will institute a majority vote to pass the budget in the State Legislature rather than the current two-thirds majority, a major step toward stabler state finances. Voters also came strongly out against gerrymandering, approving Proposition 20 and defeating Proposition 27.

Unfortunately, Californians also approved two propositions which make passing budgets much more difficult. By approving Proposition 22 and Proposition 26, Californians took billions of potential revenue sources away from an already revenue-starved state. Proposition 22 prohibits the state from borrowing money from local governments, while Proposition 26 sets a two-thirds supermajority requirement for some fees to be passed. The approval of Proposition 26 is particularly bizarre when one considers that Californians also voted in favor of Proposition 25. Proposition 25 makes passing budgets much easier; Proposition 26 makes passing them much harder. Voting yes on both propositions is kind of like being pro-life and pro-choice at the same time. Yet on election night many Californians supported positions at polar opposites of the policy spectrum.

But all in all, the proposition results—especially the approval of Proposition 25—leave California in better shape than before the election. While the approval of Proposition 21 and Proposition 26 do real damage to the state budget, the benefits of Proposition 25 more than compensate.

On the other hand, California was forced to choose between two unimpressive candidates in the gubernatorial race, neither of which showed much promise in overcoming the challenges facing California. Governor-elect Brown has already made some useful gestures like beginning work on the state budget. Given the imporance of the governorship, one can only hope that Jerry Brown will overcome the same difficulties that defeated both Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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