California Election 2020: Updates and Analysis
For the second year in a row, California Democrats have passed a progressive crowd-pleaser: a bill that would require all presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns if they want to make it onto the state primary ballot next year.
And once again, Republicans are denouncing the proposal as partisan anti-Trump trolling masquerading as a transparency initiative, and say it is all but certain to be shot down in the courts.
What’s different this time is the man who occupies the governor’s mansion.
Last year, both the Assembly and Senate passed a virtually identical bill along party lines only to see it vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Whatever the bill’s “political attractiveness—even the merits,” Brown wrote, the idea rested on shaky constitutional ground and could invite future politicians to erect ever-higher barriers to entry for those hoping to run for office.
This year’s version passed the Senate on Thursday and is expected to sail through the Democratic-dominated Assembly before landing on the governor’s desk. Gov. Newsom has yet to say whether he will sign it.
Democrats insist this is just about good governance. “President Trump is a strong example of the need for this legislation, but he is not the only one,” said Sen. Mike McGuire of Healdsburg, the bill’s author, on the Senate floor last week.
Republicans were only too happy to take that argument at face value and suggest that the state apply these tax return requirements to all federal officeholders in California—the majority of whom Democrats. With that idea going nowhere, Sen. Brian Jones, a Republican from eastern San Diego County, castigated his Democratic colleagues for “playing the Resistance card.”
Lawmakers in other blue states such as Illinois, New Jersey and Washington are considering comparable proposals this year. Another bill died in Hawaii last month.
On Monday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that he would not be turning over the president’s tax returns, refusing a formal request from Democrats in Congress.
We covered the thorny constitutional issues raised by this idea when it came up the first time last year.
Here’s the CliffsNotes version:
- The U.S. Constitution says a presidential candidate must be a natural born citizen over the age of 35 who has lived in the United States for at least 14 years. That’s it.
- The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted that to mean that states cannot place additional requirements on would-be candidates. In the past, that has included term limits (which would require a candidate not to have previously held a certain office) along with rules forcing candidates to disclose some bit of information, such as their race or where they stand on a particular political issue.
- But the Court has said that states are free to regulate the time, place and manner of elections, which include rules requiring candidates to pay filing fees, gather signatures or submit forms by certain deadlines.
So the key question is this: If California asks a candidate to publicize his or her tax returns, is that a constitutionally verboten “requirement” or a permissible “procedural regulation”?
Read the rest here.
Democratic presidential contender Kamala Harris was just about to take the stage tonight at Sacramento’s Sheraton Grand Hotel ballroom when she spotted and ran over to a group of women sporting yellow t-shirts sitting on right side of the auditorium. They were California child-care workers hoping to win collective bargaining rights in Sacramento. And Harris, a U.S. senator from California, put her stump speech on hold to exchange hugs and snap selfies.
It was a brief, unscripted moment in what was to be a fairly conventional campaign stop, but it was a notable one.
In her 20 minute speech to the conference put on by the California Labor Federation and the State Building and Construction Trades Council, Harris spoke broadly about the value of organized labor— “unions built the middle class of this country”—and stuck mostly to national politics. She promised to repeal the changes to the federal tax code signed into law by President Trump last year, and spoke about the aspirational nature of the American character.
Her one tangent into California state policy belonged to the women in yellow.
“I was going over there to talk to my sisters in the child-care workforce, and I thank you for all that you are doing to organize a critical workforce—to organize and unionize,” she said, speaking to the cheering members of the Service Employees International Union and the United Domestic Workers of America.
“The greatest expression of a society’s love of its children,” she continued, “is to put resources and support into anybody who is caring for those children.”
For more than a decade, child-care workers in California who receive state subsidies to serve low-income families have been lobbying in the state Capitol to get the right to bargain with the state over reimbursement rates, licensing requirements and other policies that affect their industry. Supporters say that direct negotiations with state agencies are the best way to improve working conditions and child-care quality, though some skeptics worry that higher reimbursement rates could eat away at state funding that could be used to serve more children. Others see the campaign as yet another way for organized labor to consolidate political power.
This year, Santa Barbara Democrat Assemblywoman Monique Limón said that she is more optimistic than ever that her bill to OK the unionization effort will be successful this time.
“This is a new era,” Limón told CALmatters last month. “We have a new governor who cares a lot about child care.”
And now they appear to have the backing of one of the Democratic front runners to be the next president of the United States. At least that’s certainly how many of the assembled childcare workers interpreted it. Harris did not take questions before or after her speech.
“It felt good,” said Nancy Harvey, who runs Lil’ Nancy’s Primary Schoolhouse out of her house in West Oakland. “She’s on our side.”
“I loved what she was saying,” added Celeste Galeno, who owns Little Lambs Daycare in Tulare. “She knows that child care affects every single one of us in this place because every single one of us has been a child.”
Harris wasn’t the only state politician to show up at the union confab to rub elbows and to seek possible endorsements. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra also made an appearance, as did at least three dozen state legislators. Also today, Harris’s campaign announced that the Oakland native and former state attorney general had raised $12 million in the first quarter of her presidential campaign, and her public appearances in the state have been sandwiched between private fundraisers.
New Way California has a message for all California Republicans: You don’t have to be like President Trump. You don’t even have to like him.
“The California Republican Party must not be a carbon copy of the national GOP,” Kevin Faulconer, the Republican mayor of San Diego, said to the modest crowd of political centrists who had flocked to the Crest Theatre in downtown Sacramento this morning for the group’s second annual summit.
“California Republicans need to create a party tailored to the people of California,” he continued, pointing to his own example as a center-right politician who has authored a local climate change action plan and recently announced a five-year campaign to make the city more welcoming to immigrants.
“Let’s take him out of the equation,” former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said of President Trump. “It’s a mistake for a state party to mold themselves after the national party.”
New Way is the product of Republican Assemblyman Chad Mayes. As an organization it is eager to show after the 2016 election that California Republicans need not doubt the science of climate change, cater only to business or consistently stand by the president. Schwarzenegger sits on the board.
The morning’s event offered a notable contrast with the California Republican Party’s convention, held two weeks ago just a few blocks away, where headliners included Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and President Trump’s former press secretary Sean Spicer.
At this morning’s event, there wasn’t a single “Make America Great Again” hat. It was also considerably smaller—some 80 to 100 attendees sat spaced out across the theater auditorium.
But crafting a more centrist GOP brand separate from the national party is likely a hard sell to both sides of the political spectrum. According to a recent poll, 77 percent of self-identified Republicans said they support President Trump’s job performance. Mayes, the former Republican leader in the Assembly, was tossed from that top job by the caucus for supporting a renewal of the state cap-and-trade program. Meanwhile, many Democratic and independent voters may be unable or unwilling to distinguish state and local Republicans from the policies and persona of Trump.
The day’s program offered a series of panels and guest speakers who touched on such indisputable but nebulous themes as inclusivity, economic mobility, and “bridging the partisan divide.”
As telling as what was said was who said it.
The early morning workforce development panel was composed entirely of people of color. That was followed by a short speech from Samuel Rodriguez, a Latino evangelical pastor from Sacramento who argued that “the future of the California Republican Party lies embedded in names like Sanchez, Miranda, Rivera and Rodriguez.”
Two moderate Republicans—former Assemblywomen Kristin Olsen and Catharine Baker—then spoke of bipartisanship with Sen. Steve Glazer, a centrist Democrat from Orinda.
The event also included a speech by Bill Kristol, the neoconservative political commentator and fierce Trump critic, and a short discussion between Olsen and Schwarzenegger about political reform.
“It’s important for the country to have healthy political parties if possible,” said Kristol. “Maybe we’ll have to go beyond the two-party system. I’m open to that.”
None of the other Republicans at today’s event went quite so far as to entertain abandoning the GOP altogether. But expectations about the future of successes of the party were tempered.
“A vibrant, competitive two-party system is essential for our state,” said Faulconer.
That hissing emanating from Sacramento is the sound of the entire California Republican Party establishment breathing a sigh of relief.
At the party’s weekend convention, state GOP delegates selected Jessica Patterson, a millennial Latina with a lengthy resume as a behind-the-scenes party operator, as their new chair.
Depending on whom you ask, Patterson’s election offers a ray of hope for a struggling party, marks the continuation of a failed strategy, or is bound to make absolutely no difference for a party tethered to an unpopular president.
Travis Allen, the Trump-supporting firebrand from Huntington Beach and former candidate for governor who had vowed to take on a party establishment came up short. So did longtime Republican activist Steve Frank. They both lost despite entering into a political alliance to “resist” Patterson.
“I think we did dodge a bullet,” said Assemblyman Chad Mayes from Yucca Valley, a regular critic of the party’s fervent Trump-leaning base. Prior to the chair’s race, he had warned that an Allen election would lead elected Republicans to leave the GOP.
“This will make a huge difference,” said Luis Alvarado, a consultant, adding that the election of Patterson gave him “hope” for the future of the party.
George Andrews, a party delegate and chief of staff to Assemblyman Tom Lackey, went even further, saying Patterson’s “saved the party.”
Allen’s singular appeal to Trump-supporting diehards had little draw outside of California’s few remaining red districts, he argued. “She can do the math,” Andrews said. “If you can’t do math you probably shouldn’t be chair of the party.”
Patterson is hardly a moderate. She is unequivocally opposed to abortion, is backed by the House minority leader and noted Trump whisperer, Kevin McCarthy, and spent the convention referring to Democratic legislators as the “enemy.”
After winning, the president’s eldest son congratulated Patterson on Twitter:
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) February 24, 2019
“She’s not anti-Trump,” Andrews said of Patterson, “But she knows how to campaign.”
Unlike Allen, her closest competitor in the race, Patterson did not make her political views or her loyalty to the president the centerpiece of her campaign. That’s a continuation of the approach adopted by Jim Brulte, her immediate predecessor, who viewed the chair position as an operations and logistics manager, not a spokesperson.
“There are too few of us to continue to push people out of the party,” Patterson said the day before the vote. “We are not going to shout people out. We are going to be inclusive.”
But as Allen and Frank spent the entire weekend pointing out, that hands-off approach has not been working.
“We face an existential decision,” Allen said during a moderated discussion on Saturday. “Will we change to fight to win again or will we continue the failing status quo?”
Republicans now make up 24 percent of the California electorate. In last year’s election, they lost half of their congressional delegation and saw their minorities in the state assembly and senate reduced to near political irrelevance.
Both Allen and Frank argued that the party’s core problem was not its association with President Trump, whose approval numbers hover around one-third, but its failure to adequately fund voter registration efforts.
After winning, Patterson invited Allen and Frank to lead a newly created “voter registration task force.”
“We can only hope that the Republican Party starts fighting again for the good of all Californians,” Allen said after the results of the vote were broadcast to the convention center auditorium.
Patterson’s victory represents a break from that status quo in one very obvious way. She is the first woman to hold the position of chair and the first Latina. That may be a notable achievement in and of itself. The Republican Party has struggled with white, educated women and Latino voters in the Trump era.
The party delegates also elected Peter Kuo, a Taiwanese-born Silicon Valley businessman, as its vice chairman. Greg Gandrud, an openly gay man from the Santa Barbara area, was elected party treasurer.
Lest anyone accuse the new leadership team of championing multicultural diversity for its own sake, Gandrud recently formed a nonprofit to sue the Santa Barbara public school district for, according to his website, a “curriculum that is racist against white people and teaches students that white male Christian capitalists are oppressors.”
Contrary to the party’s national image, Patterson joins a long list of women in leadership positions within the California GOP, including Sens. Pat Bates and Shannon Grove, the current and incoming minority leaders in the Senate, and Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, the top Republican in the Assembly.
“In the legislative bodies that have supported me, I am so incredibly grateful for the leaders—having three women on the legislative side,” Patterson said at the convention hall. “Senator Grove, Senator Bates and Assemblywoman Waldron: let’s go out there and do this.”
“This” presumably refers to new efforts to expand the allure of the state GOP. But that broader ideological appeal was not reflected in the line up of speakers at this weekend’s convention. They included former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, Wyoming congresswoman Liz Cheney and Housing and Urban Development secretary Ben Carson.
It’s unclear whether the events of the convention—including the election of Patterson—will resonate with California voters outside the most fervent Republican activists. But according to Mayes, Patterson’s election is a good step in the right direction.
“We still have an incredible amount of work to do,” he said. “Having a new chair is not going to solve our problems. We have to be inclusive, we have to start reaching Californians where they’re at…they’re not going to come to us, we’ve got to go to them. I think Jessica knows that and understands that.”
Editors’ note: An earlier version of this story failed to correctly note that this will be Gandrud’s first stint as party treasurer.
There’s only room enough for one “anti-establishment” bomb thrower in the California GOP.
Or so some might conclude after San Diego Republican activist Carl DeMaio held a press conference this morning at the party convention in downtown Sacramento denouncing former Assemblyman Travis Allen, who is running to be the next state GOP chair. His election, DeMaio said, would be the “final nails in the coffin” for the party.
The bad blood between the two rabble-rousers dates back at least a year. During the Prop. 6 campaign, Allen spent over $300,000 raised to push for the ballot measure on ads that prominently featured himself. At the time, Allen was running for governor.
“Travis Allen was never interested in qualifying a gas tax repeal for the ballot,” said DeMaio. “Travis Allen was interested in one thing: promoting Travis Allen. In fact, it’s the only thing he seems to be good at.”
DeMaio instead endorsed Jessica Patterson for the chair’s job. Patterson, a Latina millennial with a lengthy resume as a behind-the-scenes party organizer, has been endorsed by an overwhelming majority of elected Republicans in state government—many of them Allen’s former colleagues. Steve Frank, a Republican activist from Simi Valley, is also running for chair. Last week, Frank and Allen formed a coalition of “resistance” to Patterson, vowing to back whoever gets more votes after the first round vote on Sunday.
This is the latest development in a feud between DeMaio and Allen, two conservatives who otherwise have plenty in common.
Both cast themselves as representatives of the party’s grassroots, ready to make trouble with an out of touch party “establishment.” Both were prominent supporters of the failed effort to repeal an increase in the state gas tax last November. Both are firebrands with a talent for stirring up convention crowds and gathering fervent support on social media.
DeMaio warned that if Allen wins funding resources for the party would “dry up.”
“With Travis Allen you’ll have a vanity party centered around one individual who is an egomaniac who will turn off most of the donors,” he said. “Travis Allen shouldn’t be entrusted to run a rotary club, let alone the California Republican Party.”
Asked about the press conference, Allen hit back at DeMaio.
“Unfortunately, after failing Californians with a badly managed campaign to Repeal the Gas Tax, he now is looking for excuses and issues to distra(ct) from his failure,” he said via text message.
Asked to respond in turn, DeMaio said: “Travis, just go away.”
You know what they say: If at first you don’t succeed, run to be the chair of a major California political party.
Perhaps that explains the case of two runner-ups from the 2018 election season. State Sen. Kevin de León of Los Angeles—the former Senate Democratic leader who in November failed to unseat a fellow Democrat, veteran U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein— says he’ll decide within a few weeks whether to run for chair of the California Democratic Party. That follows former Republican gubernatorial candidate and state Assemblyman Travis Allen, who was defeated in the June primary and later announced he will be running to be the next leader of his party.
In a telephone conversation today with CALmatters, de León said that he has been asked to take up the California Democratic Party’s mantle by “a lot of activists and elected officials” within the party and is giving the matter serious thought. “My phone has been blowing up,” he said. He declined to say who has been calling and texting without first getting their permission to share that information.
De León won the endorsement of the party’s executive council for his Senate challenge last July. He ultimately lost to Feinstein in the general election by more than 8 percentage points.
If he does decide to run, de León would be seeking to replace Eric Bauman, who resigned in late November after being accused of sexual harassment. Allen hopes to replace current California Republican Chairman Jim Brulte, who decided not to seek re-election.
Neither job is uncontested. In the Republican camp, Allen would be running against the party’s vice chair, Trump-skeptic David Hadley, as well as party activist Stephen Frank. If de León decides to run, he’d be facing off against Kimberly Ellis, the progressive activist who narrowly lost the chair race last year in a bitter contest with Bauman. Ellis has plenty of support across the more left-leaning elements of the Democratic base, but de León said that he could unite “the Bernie and the Clinton folks.”
That is, if he decides to run in the first place.
Californians may have just voted overwhelmingly for more of the same—boosting Democratic majorities in both chambers of the Legislature and replacing one Democratic governor with another for the first time since the 1880’s—but many are still eager for major changes to state policy. And a majority are downright pessimistic about California’s future.
Half of all respondents, and 60 percent of respondents identified as likely voters, predicted that children growing up today in California will face a bleaker financial future than their parents. That impending decline could arrive sooner than we think. Asked if California should expect an economic downturn in the next year, respondents were split. And like the state’s economic growth, that optimism was not evenly distributed: majorities of coastal city residents foresee good times ahead, while pessimism clustered in the Inland Empire and Central Valley.
The number of Californians who believe “the good times might be over” was “decidedly different than even a few weeks before the election,” said Mark Baldassare, president of the institute.
The rising pessimism could be the result of a waning stock market or news of the county’s still-unresolved trade war. But a general sense of economic anxiety is also in keeping with a long-term trend since the last decade’s Great Recession, he said.
“We’re at this point in the recovery which should have given people more of a sense of economic security and there are a lot of people who feel insecure,” said Baldassare.
Evidently: 67 percent of respondents said that the state was divided into haves and have-nots—and 45 percent considered themselves have-nots.
Among them, African Americans, Latinos, people without any college education, non-citizens and renters were disproportionately represented. Many of those groups are also more likely to be non-voters. Sure enough, 59 percent of those not registered to vote considered themselves on the losing end of the state’s economic fortunes, compared to only 36 percent of likely voters.
That grim economic assessment seems to have translated into higher support for expanded social programs. Fifty-seven percent of adults said they want lawmakers to spend some of the state’s multi-billion dollar budget surplus on increasing education, health and human service funding. One in six wanted universal healthcare to be a “high” or “very high” policy priority for incoming state lawmakers. A majority said the same of tuition-free community college.
But only 48 percent said there should be such focus on statewide universal pre-school, one of Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom’s top priorities.
This week, with California’s 2018 midterm behind us, we’ll be offering insights into the results with five charts—one per day. Today, Friday, we published our final installment. About 416,000 ballots await tabulation, so we’ll update these posts as warranted.
Skim how California voted on various ballot propositions—”yes” to more borrowing for affordable housing, “no” to the gas tax repeal, “yay” for bigger chicken cages—and you might think people across the state feel pretty much the same way about these things.
Which, of course, they don’t.
Proposition 6, which sought to nix a gas tax increase and thereby cut transportation funding about $5 billion per year, failed. But not everywhere. A majority of voters in most of the state’s inland counties voted for the measure. They did so despite the fact that many of these large, sparsely-populated counties receive a disproportionate amount of state road funding per person. Chalk it up to a combination of car dependence, tax-aversion and support for the Republican Party backing the measure.
So looks can be deceiving. Prop. 6 won a majority of the state’s landmass, but elections aren’t won by acreage. Overwhelming opposition in the state’s big cities (83 percent of San Franciscans and 61 percent of Angelenos voted “no”) dragged the ballot measure to defeat.
Then again, sometimes looks say it all.
Prop. 10, the unsuccessful attempt to repeal statewide restrictions on rent control and another one of the most controversial propositions on the ballot, went down just about everywhere. The two exceptions were San Francisco and Alameda County. Those two counties were also alone in opposition Prop. 11, a paramedic breaktime initiative.
For the record, those were not the most geographically lopsided outcomes among the 11 ballot measures. Tiny Alpine County was the only county that supported Prop. 8, the profit cap on dialysis clinics. But it was close: 283 people voted yes while 269 opposed.
No county carried Prop. 5, the measure to allow older homeowners to carry their Prop. 13 property tax benefits when they move.
But that’s where the unanimity ended. Looking at which propositions received the most “yes” votes in each locale, counties were split across six measures: Prop. 2 (housing/mental health bond), Prop. 4 (children’s hospital bond), Prop. 6 (gas tax repeal), Prop. 7 (to start the process of ditching the biannual switch from Daylight Saving to Standard time), Prop. 11 (paramedic breaks) and Prop. 12 (requiring larger cages for hens and other farm animals).
Sadly for the seven counties that loved the idea of repealing the gas take hike, that was the only measure on the list above to fail.
As for which propositions received the most “no” votes, counties split their disdain three ways.
The gas repeal measure, as noted, was largely rejected by the coast. Likewise, in nearly every county not touching the Pacific, the measure to allow more rent control was the proposition that received the highest number of “no” votes. That more than canceled out the support that the measure received in the Bay Area.
And Prop. 5? While no county much liked it, ell, Yolo, Sacramento, Humboldt and Mono were especially down on the property tax break.
The resignation of California Democratic Party chairman Eric Bauman comes at a particularly emotional moment in California politics—on the heels of historic wins for Democrats and after a year of bipartisan reckoning over the apparent culture of sexual bullying within the political class.
Bauman became the latest casualty of the #MeToo movement when he resigned Thursday, hours after Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom called on him to step down over allegations that he harassed staff members and party activists with numerous lewd comments and incidents of inappropriate physical contact. Bauman said he has a drinking problem and would seek treatment.
“I have made the realization that in order for those to whom I may have caused pain and who need to heal, for my own health, and in the best interest of the Party that I love and to which I have dedicated myself for more than 25 years, it is in everyone’s best interest for me to resign my position as chair of the California Democratic Party,” Bauman said.
That Bauman’s alleged behavior persisted even as the public gaze focused so heavily in the last year on rooting out sexual harassment may be a testament to the counterproductive role alcohol too often plays in Capitol culture. Or it may point to the declining significance of political parties—how important can a party leader be, after all, if he can decree “zero tolerance,” as Bauman did, for sexual harassment and then openly proceed to harass his staff?
But most of all, Bauman’s resignation is a sign that the #MeToo story is far from over.
“There are a lot of untold stories, and frankly, a lot of bad actors who haven’t been held accountable yet,” said Samantha Corbin, a lobbyist whose public letter last year kicked off the anti-harassment movement in the state Capitol.
During the past year of tumult and introspection, three legislators resigned, facing harassment allegations, and several others were publicly reprimanded for behavior ranging from using vulgar language to giving unwanted “noogies.” On the very day Bauman resigned, the Assembly released records saying Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia violated sexual harassment policy by acting “overly familiar” with a staffer when, in a drunken state, she grabbed him at a legislative softball game. Throughout this year, the Legislature passed dozens of laws to combat harassment in workplaces statewide, and formed a special committee that crafted a plan to improve the culture inside the Capitol.
Bauman, who is gay, spoke out last year in favor of legislation to give Capitol staffers whistleblower protection if they report misconduct. The Democratic convention he organized in February included new precautions to keep participants safe, such as extra security and a hotline for reporting harassment and assault.
Now Bauman himself will be the focus of an inquiry by a new Commission of Inquiry and Recognition being formed by a Democratic party activist in Los Angeles who says he’s been a victim of Bauman’s inappropriate advances. The commission includes former state schools superintendent Delaine Eastin.
“There is going to be a lot of focus on who enabled this. There are still people in party leadership who enabled this to persist as long as it has,” said Hans Johnson, president of the East Area Progressive Democrats club.
“They are part of the breakdown in governance in the party that contributed to the worsening and widening of the hurt (Bauman) has been allowed to inflict.”
Johnson said Bauman doesn’t deserve credit for California Democrats’ electoral victories this month—which included flipping seven seats in the House, capturing every statewide office and gaining supermajorities (and then some) in both chambers of the Legislature.
Political scientists and campaign strategists agreed that party leadership seemed to be only one factor among many in the blue wave this election. Democrats, they noted, also were buoyed by Californians’ deep dislike of Republican President Donald Trump, as well as a strong push from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and numerous labor and activist groups that raised huge sums of money and organized campaign volunteers.
“The state party did not have a major role in what happened in regards to Congress,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a retired political science professor at the University of Southern California.
“What the state party is, by and large, is a way for donors to launder money,” she said, because the law limits how much they can give to individual candidates but not how much they can give to the state party.
The party hired an employment lawyer to investigate the accusations against Bauman. That process will continue despite his resignation, said acting-Chair Alexandra Gallardo Rooker, and an executive summary of the findings will be made public.
Rooker will continue to serve as the party chair until delegates elect a new leader, likely at their convention in May. What’s not clear, however, is how many more political figures will fall before the #MeToo story is over in California.
This week, with California’s 2018 midterm behind us, we’ll be offering insights into the results with five charts—one per day. Today, Thursday, about 442,000 ballots are still waiting to be tabulated, so we’ll update these posts as warranted.
No doubt you’ve heard about the blue wave: the electoral tsunami of left-of-center enthusiasm that slammed into California on election day, flipping seven of 14 GOP-held congressional districts to the Democrats. But that was just the wave’s frothy cap.
For every single congressional district that featured a face-off between a Democrat and Republican in this midterm and the last, the California electorate shifted further blue. The average Democratic gain was 9 percentage points since 2014.
As the sea of leftward pointing arrows above shows, Democrats amassed a larger share of the vote in all but five districts this year, including several that stayed in GOP hands. In 2014, for example, Central Valley Republican Rep. Devin Nunes won 72 percent of the vote. This year (at last count) he snagged a slim majority of 53 percent.
There was a leftward shift in most solidly blue districts this year too. Take Rep. Ted Lieu in Torrence. In 2014, he won his seat by a little less than 60 percent of the vote, leaving 41 percent of the vote for his Republican opponent. This year, he won by an even more resounding 70 percent.
The only districts that proved immune to the national wave of anti-Trump energy that swept the country—and swept Democrats back into the House majority—were districts where a Democrat and Republican did not square off against one another in one of the two election years (those districts are indicated by dashed lines above).
In California’s 8th congressional district, which covers much of the state’s eastern desert, two Republicans, Rep. Paul Cook and former Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, made it into the top two. That sole GOP shutout in the primary allowed the Republicans to rack up 100 percent of the vote there this year.
The other exceptions are true blue enclaves such as Burbank or San Jose where Republicans were shutout in 2014. This year, Republican candidates in those districts were able to improve upon their party’s prior vote share of 0 percent—but only modestly.
Democratic districts such as the one based in San Pedro didn’t see a Republican compete in either year. Not much room for Democratic improvement there.
If the graphic above looks familiar, it’s because we’ve run a similar version before. In a post from earlier this summer, we showed how the share of the vote going towards Republican candidates in the June primary fell dramatically in most seats between 2014 and 2018. The title of that article was “California’s Blue Wave watch: Why this graphic should worry Republicans.”
In retrospect, that sounds about right.
This week, with California’s 2018 midterm behind us, we’ll be offering insights into the results with five charts—one per day. Today, Wednesday, about 442,000 ballots are still waiting to be tabulated, so we’ll update these posts as warranted.
Some races are more popular than others.
Sure, even the least engaged voters pick one of the candidates running to fill the state’s chief executive. This year, some 12 million cast their vote for either Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom or Republican businessman John Cox. But as voters work their way down the state’s super-sized ballot, within which they were asked to weigh in on the more obscure positions of California governance, many had a habit of shrugging and moving on.
In fact, a closer look at the statewide races that received the fewest votes this year underscores how California’s electoral system is leaving Republican and GOP-leaning voters with few good options.
First, let’s start with the most popular races.
At last count, the governor’s race received the highest number of votes, followed by the contest for secretary of state and attorney general. Among the statewide ballot measures, voters were most likely to weigh in on Proposition 6 (which would have repealed an increase in the gas tax) and Prop. 10 (which would have nixed state restrictions on rent control).
At the bottom of the list are four races for statewide office: insurance commissioner, U.S. Senate and state schools superintendent and lieutenant governor. The race for the state’s second-ranking executive officer received just shy of 2 million votes—16 percent fewer votes than those cast for governor.
The lackluster enthusiasm for the school chief race may come as a surprise to the various donors and interest groups who poured more than $63 million into that race, making it the most expensive on the ballot. (That works out to a little over $6 per vote, for those counting at home).
What do all those least-popular races have in common? There wasn’t a Republican to be found competing in any of them.
That’s thanks in large part to California’s top-two election system, which allows only the first- and second-place candidates from the primary to compete in the general election, regardless of which party they belong to. In the contests for U.S. senator and lieutenant governor, only Democrats made the cut. In the insurance regulator race, Steve Poizner, a former Republican, ran as a political independent. And though the race to be California’s schools superintendent is nonpartisan by law, it so happens that both candidates were Democrats.
One argument in favor of the top two is that it strips political parties of power to pick and choose nominees. It also, in theory, drives candidates and voters to the ideological center. In a race with two Democrats, for example, centrist and right-leaning voters theoretically will be more likely to choose the moderate in the race.
But the numbers suggest that in the face of two blue choices, many Republican-leaning voters opted not to choose at all.
An analysis of county election data shows that the voters most likely to leave the double-D races for lieutenant governor and U.S. Senate blank on the ballot live in counties with more registered Republicans than Democrats.
For example, in San Francisco County, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by over 50 percentage points, there was only a modest 2.6 percent drop off in votes between the race for governor and the race for U.S. Senate.
Meanwhile, in Lassen County, one of the state’s most conservative, nearly one-quarter of voters who cast their ballots for governor skipped the U.S. choice.
Presumably, some Democratic voters were turned off by the partisan uniformity as well. The competing “D”s and “R”s on the ballots make the process of choosing a candidate relatively easy for most voters who already lean one way or another. Between two progressives like Eleni Kounalakis and Sen. Ed Hernandez, the two lieutenant governor candidates, it’s possible many Democrats were stumped.
But the results suggest that the drop-off mostly came from Republicans: Rather than choose a “lesser of two evils,” many right-leaning voters simply didn’t choose at all.