California Election 2018: Updates and Analysis
A California initiative to allow more rent control appears to be failing overwhelmingly, despite the state’s exploding housing costs and ever-rising rents, and its sponsors are already talking about trying again in 2020.
Tenant-rights groups and other backers of Prop. 10 always knew they had an uphill fight. Landlords, developers, realtors and a handful of Wall Street real estate investors have predictably poured tens of millions of dollars into defeating the measure. As of five days before the election, the No on 10 side had raised upward of $75 million and the Yes side, $26 million.
Backers of Prop. 10 point out the obvious: A disparity like that is hard to overcome.
“What the opposition has done with the money they’re using gouging renters is to confuse people,” said Damien Goodmon, director of the Yes on 10 campaign. “They can only win by using their money to confuse voters, and there’s a lot of confusion out there.”
The median price of a two-bedroom apartment in California has increased more than 20 percent over the past five years. A recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found that “lack of rent control” was the No. 1 reason people believed housing had become unaffordable.
“When you’re running a ‘yes’ campaign, you have the burden of proof to show both the problem and that the solution will help the problem,” said one veteran manager of initiative campaigns, who is unaffiliated with Prop. 10 but requested anonymity because of concerns over publicly criticizing professional colleagues at election time. “Here everyone already agreed on the problem, which is helpful for the Yes side.”
Here’s a further breakdown, including what lies ahead for the rent-control movement. It’s not all about the money.
Even if the “blue wave” turns into a blue tsunami, Prop. 10 is still in trouble
In some corners of the rent-control movement, supporters argue that the polls don’t consider the possibility of a “blue wave” bigger than predicted, one including many left-leaning renters or Democrats sympathetic to the cause. They say national polls weren’t accurate in the 2016 presidential election—why should we assume they’re right today?
A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonprofit research organization, used a model for who is likely to vote that seems to tilt heavily against renters: About two-thirds of their sample is homeowners. But that’s roughly the same percentage of registered voters who are homeowners.
Public Policy Institute of California research associate Dean Bonner says he can’t remember any initiative polling as low as Prop. 10 this close to an election that actually ended up winning, even if the electorate looked wildly different from what was predicted.
Bonner says that if turnout looks like it did in 2016, a presidential election year in which California went overwhelmingly for a Democratic candidate, the Yes side could get more votes than predicted. But that would likely just trim the margin of defeat, not make Prop. 10 a winner.
Several other credible polling outlets also have the initiative trailing by double digits, with the brightest spot a Los Angeles Times/USC Dornsife poll with approval at 41 percent. Much of that polling preceded the avalanche of negative advertising that the No on 10 side unleashed.
Confusing ballot language
Prop. 10’s ballot title and summary apparently confuse voters.
The measure would repeal a state law called Costa-Hawkins, passed in 1995. That law bars local governments from expanding rent control in several ways: No rent control is allowed for units built after 1995, nor for single-family homes, and landlords have the right to raise rents after a tenant leaves.
The text on the ballot is complicated, and it invokes the prospect of state and local revenue losses of tens of millions of dollars a year. That’s actually not much in the grand scheme of things, but it sounds like a lot to the average voter.
“Because this repeals existing law and has the word repeal, there was a lot of confusion….Was this repealing rent control or was this actually rent control?” said Joe Trippi, a media consultant for Yes on 10 and a veteran of many high-profile campaigns.
Indeed, a PPIC survey in September found that 52 percent of likely voters said rent control was a good thing, though only 36 percent planned to vote yes on Prop 10. That gap was even higher for surveyed renters: 67 percent liked rent control, but less than half favored Prop. 10.
And there’s uncertainty about what cities would be allowed to do if Prop. 10 passed. They could apply it to new construction, which would dilute the incentive to build more houses. They could conceivably apply it to single-family home rentals. The latter uncertainty has aided the No campaign, which targets homeowners with advertising about diminished property values.
The proposal is flawed in its lack of exemptions for such things as new buildings, said Steve Maviglio, spokesman for the No campaign. “Writing a blank-check initiative is always potentially bad because there’s a million holes you can poke in it.”
The wrong message?
On the other hand, allowing cities to do whatever they want with rent control comes with an attractive advantage: telling voters they can have more local control over housing policy.
The Yes on 10 campaign has emphasized the allure of local control, the human cost of the state’s housing crisis and Wall Street donations to the No side, anchoring its message in a “Rent is too damn high!” tag line.
But two words are conspicuously absent from most Prop. 10 advertisements: “rent control.” Although the phrase “limits on rent increases” is included in some ads, emphasizing “rent control” might have helped, especially with the concept of rent control outpolling Prop. 10.
Some strategists have said they would have featured the words “rent control” prominently. Trippi, who joined the Yes on 10 campaign over the summer, said he understood their criticism.
“I wouldn’t necessarily argue with that,” said Trippi. “Once we understood how badly we would be outspent, we made the decision that a lot of the messaging was going towards building a movement or coalition aimed at the housing crisis.”
Almost all the money from one organization
California pollsters and campaign consultants will tell you that if you want your initiative to pass, it better be polling high—at least in the high 50s—well before the election. That’s especially true if your opponent is going to outspend you.
A Public Policy Institute of California poll published in September found that only 36 percent of likely voters liked Prop. 10. That poll was conducted mostly before the avalanche of negative advertising began.
Those early poll numbers may help explain why the vast majority of the money on the Yes side has come from just one source.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation has contributed roughly $21 million of the $26 million raised in support of Prop. 10. The nonprofit organization is headed by Michael Weinstein, a fiery and divisive Bernie Sanders-style progressive who has spent tens of millions on other state and local ballot initiatives in recent years.
Some powerful labor unions have chipped in on the Yes campaign and provided grassroots help, but few have thrown big money behind it. Amy Schur, state campaign director for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, a group pushing the measure, said some unions probably had to save resources for other causes on a busy ballot.
“We did hope we would raised more money,” Schur said.
The beginning of a stronger movement, or new leverage for landlords?
Backers of Prop. 10 say that even if the initiative loses, they’ve organized and strengthened a social movement that will continue to push the rent-control issue forward. And that might come as soon as 2020.
“If we’re not successful on Tuesday, legitimate conversations are going to take place around this state…about whether statewide rent control on the 2020 ballot is appropriate,” said the Yes side’s Goodmon.
But a loss on the magnitude of what the polls predict means landlords and their partners can say Californians have rejected an expansion of rent control in decisive fashion.
That’s powerful leverage for any future negotiations on the issue–negotiations that Democratic gubernatorial front-runner Gavin Newsom has pledged to facilitate if he’s elected governor.
Millions of Californians dropped off their ballots on Tuesday or mailed them in, but they might want to double-check online—because either a missing or a mismatched signature could void their vote.
Counties are contacting voters because they’re now required by law to do outreach. Still, voters should confirm online that their ballots were tallied. If not, they should call their county election office to be sure their vote counts, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.
“Voters need to be alert and aware,” she said.
After this year’s June primary, California lawmakers passed the Every Vote Counts Act, which gives voters time to correct a mismatched or missing signature. The law was enacted after a lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, which argued that 45,000 ballots were rejected last year because of mismatching signatures.
Already county offices are contacting voters asking them to fix their signature issues, such as this instance detailed by a Shasta county voter.
But other voters found out on their own—by checking themselves—including well-connected Democratic communications guru Roger Salazar.
So, do I vote again? File a protest with the League office? Hire a handwriting expert? Help me out here @jessemelgar.
Later he tweeted a follow-up:
@jmschwab @jessemelgar Did it the old-fashioned way. Easier.
Voters who failed to sign their ballots have eight days after Election Day to make their ballots count.
Voters whose signatures don’t match have two days prior to the certification of an election to fix their ballots, Sam Mahood, press secretary for the Secretary of State Alex Padilla, confirmed in an email. This year, county officials have until Dec. 7 to certify election results. Alexander warned that some counties may certify their results sooner.
As of today, the state still has millions of unprocessed ballots. California’s massive size along with other measures the state takes to count and certify ballots mean the state takes much longer than other states to officially call some contests.
Updated Nov. 12, 2018.
The California Legislature, controlled by Democrats for decades, will be even bluer when the new class is sworn in next month. Exactly how many more Democrats have been elected is still not certain; it takes a long time to count votes in California. But all signs point toward growing Democratic caucuses in both the Assembly and the Senate, and a supermajority that sidelines Republicans to near irrelevancy.
That means the prevailing tension in the statehouse probably won’t be between Republicans and Democrats—but between different shades of blue. It could make for some counterintuitive outcomes, once the results are tallied, including a Legislature that skews more toward business on some fights.
The biggest shift appears to be heading for the state Senate, which in recent years has been the more liberal of the two houses. It is poised to tick toward the center, with two business-backed Democrats winning Los Angeles-area seats previously held by labor-friendly Dems, and two rural Democrats apparently flipping Republican-held seats in the Central Valley.
“It’s very significant,” said Marty Wilson, executive vice president of the California Chamber of Commerce, which lobbies for major business interests.
“We have an opportunity to have a more profound impact on the Senate.”
Business PACs including Wilson’s poured at least $6 million into electing Democrats Susan Rubio of Baldwin Park and Bob Archuleta of Pico Rivera, who secured solid wins on election night.
Two other Democrats—Melissa Hurtado of Sanger and Assemblywoman Anna Caballero of Salinas—pulled ahead of their Republican opponents Monday, in updated vote counts, apparently assuring the Senate of a Democratic supermajority. With Central Valley districts that stretch through California’s farm belt, the pair, if elected, would bring a different perspective to the Senate Democratic caucus, which is now dominated by representatives from big cities and progressive coastal enclaves. That means not only more potential interest in water and farm policy, but also on how proposals impact inland jobs and health care.
“The issues the Central Valley and other parts of rural California face will get more attention in the caucus because there will be more advocates on behalf of those regions,” said Bob Sanders, a Democratic political consultant who worked on campaigns for Hurtado and Caballero.
Caballero gained a track record as a business-friendly moderate during six years in the state Assembly. Democrats poured more than $4 million into her Senate race against Republican Rob Poythress for a Merced-area seat that had previously been held by Anthony Canella, a moderate Republican. Poythress was backed by $1.9 million from the GOP.
Hurtado is a health care advocate who sits on the Sanger City Council. Democrats spent $2.4 million to help her wrest the Fresno-area from GOP Sen. Andy Vidak of Hanford, who was helped by $428,000 from his party.
“What was different this time were the issues,” said Democratic consultant Lisa Gasperoni, who worked on Hurtado’s campaign.
Instead of focusing on water and agriculture, as most politicians do in the Central Valley, Hurtado emphasized health care access and environmental health, Gasperoni said.
“Those issues were way more potent than I’ve ever seen them.”
Wilson, whose PAC supported Vidak, said the Republican likely suffered from blowback by voters upset by President Trump.
“I think a lot of it was attributable to Trump going out there and railing on caravans,” Wilson said. “It does have a negative impact on California.”
With results still being tallied, Democrats have been cautious about declaring victory. Statewide, at least 4.5 million ballots remained to be counted over the weekend. But late ballots generally skew more liberal, so Democrats may pick up additional seats in the Assembly, where they have already flipped two.
With supermajorities in both chambers, Democrats—in theory—could pass taxes, change the state’s political ethics law, and put constitutional amendments on the ballot without any Republican support. In reality, however, it’s difficult to get all Democrats to agree on controversial proposals, a challenge that could complicate Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom’s agenda, which is ambitious, expensive and could require a tax increase. Many legislators are spooked by the successful recall this year of Democratic Sen. Josh Newman over his vote to increase the gas tax.
Still, with a union-backed governor-elect whose leanings are more progressive than Gov. Jerry Brown’s were, organized labor sees benefits to the growing number of Democrats in Sacramento, even if some of them come with backing from more conservative business interests.
“We’ve got a good situation with a very pro-worker Legislature in both chambers,” said Steve Smith, spokesman for the California Labor Federation, a union group.
But he acknowledged that with more Democrats come more factions—and disagreements that may not fall along traditional fault lines that, for example, pit environmentalists versus the oil industry. The gig economy presents new political issues that may divide Democrats next year, as tech companies will likely push to change a court ruling that limits the use of independent contractors, and labor unions work to hold it intact. Some Democrats who are progressive on environmental issues may skew more business-friendly when it comes to pressure from Silicon Valley or charter schools.
“This is not your grandfather’s labor versus business fight any more,” Smith said. “There are all kinds of layers that didn’t exist 20 years ago.”
Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom announced his first two hires today, picking one leader who will give his inner circle deep experience in the state Capitol and another who will give it a strong national scope.
Ann O’Leary, a senior policy advisor to Hillary Clinton during her 2016 presidential run, will serve as Newsom’s chief of staff, a position that makes her both the manager of his office and the closest liaison for anyone trying to communicate with the governor. Ana Matosantos, who has been a director of the state Department of Finance under the last two governors, will be Newsom’s cabinet secretary, in charge of overseeing California’s vast bureaucracy of state agencies.
O’Leary, an attorney with a Silicon Valley law firm, has a background in child care policy, an issue Newsom highlighted during his campaign. Previously she was a legislative director for Sen. Hillary Clinton and an aide in Bill Clinton’s White House.
“One of the things Ann brings is a national perspective—how California fits within the national scope,” said Amanda Renteria, who worked with O’Leary on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
That will be an asset as Newsom looks to push policies on health care and preschool that could make California a national leader.
“If you want big bold ideas, it does involve people knowing what’s happening on the national level,” Renteria said. “That’s squarely what Ann can do.”
Matosantos was the youngest person and first Latina to lead the California Department of Finance when former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed her to that role, which she also held for part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration. She previously worked for the Legislature and the California Health and Human Services Agency.
“Ana is one of the smartest policy minds in the state,” said Dana Williamson, a former aide to Brown. “She has a very deep understanding of all the policy decisions that face the governor.”
If Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom was hoping to ease into his new job as chief executive of California, he was sorely mistaken.
Newsom had planned to discuss housing and homelessness issues at a press conference this morning in downtown San Francisco, before inviting the press to watch him serve lunch to homeless and low-income residents of the city’s Tenderloin neighborhood.
But last night’s mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, the most deadly in state history since 14 people were killed in San Bernardino in 2015, has forced Newsom to confront his first crisis as governor-elect.
“The response cannot just be excuses, the response sure as hell cannot be more guns,” he told the assembled press at St. Anthony’s, a Franciscan foundation that provides meals, clothing and social services to those in need. He declined to go into the specifics about what an appropriate response would be until more is known about the details of the shooting. But he did say the state “can do more and do better.”
The Legislature “has gotten a lot done on gun safety, and they’ve got a governor who wants to raise the bar,” he said.
“There are a number of things (Gov. Brown) vetoed that I would not have vetoed, and there are a number of things that I want that haven’t been done,” he later told The Sacramento Bee’s Alexei Koseff.
This year, Brown nixed legislation that would have limited the number of long guns a person can buy within the same month. He also vetoed a bill that would have expanded the number of people who can petition the court to have guns removed from someone they believe to be dangerous.
Though Newsom will not be sworn in until January, he is currently serving as acting governor, as Gov. Brown is on a trip to Texas. After a 28-year-old gunman with a high-capacity magazine shot and killed 13 people, including a sheriff’s sergeant, at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Ventura County, Newsom ordered the state’s flag flown at half-staff.
Newsom also declared a state of emergency in Butte County, where the Camp Fire has spread across 18,000 acres prompting mandatory evacuations in the town of Paradise. Meanwhile, as Santa Ana winds whipped Southern California, a second massive fire—also in Ventura County—erupted, prompting mandatory evacuations and closing portions of U.S. 101.
With the notable exception of Mike Curb, who used a gubernatorial absence to appoint some Republican judges during Gov. Brown’s first stint in the governor’s office, California lieutenant governors have rarely used the role of acting governor to take much actual action. (In 2013, Newsom boldly made the avocado California’s state fruit while Brown was away). But with Newsom’s double-digit electoral victory over John Cox on Tuesday, he now seems to be giving the position a test drive.
“I am humbled by this responsibility,” Newsom said of this week’s election results, in which he defeated Republican John Cox by what is likely to be a margin of roughly 20 percentage points. “And boy, was that underscored in the last 24 hours.”
Newsom also used the press conference as an opportunity to talk about housing, reiterating many of the same policy positions he has outlined on the campaign trail.
He reiterated his support for policies that would encourage denser development around public transportation infrastructure (though earlier this year he declined to support a bill by San Francisco state Sen. Scott Wiener that would have forced cities to accept taller buildings around bus and metro stops).
Responding to the failure of Proposition 10, which would have repealed statewide restrictions on local rent control ordinances, he expressed “a real commitment, not a passing interest, to help lead in (the) effort” to find a legislative compromise. Newsom opposed Prop. 10.
He also called for a more regional approach to addressing homelessness, decrying cities “that are not carrying their weight” while allowing big cities to shoulder the fiscal and administrative costs of providing services and housing to those most in need.
“They need to do more and they need to be held to account,” he said, though he did not specify exactly how.
On the campaign trail, Newsom has discussed the possibility of conditioning state transportation funding to local governments on each city’s willingness to meet statewide housing goals. He alluded to a policy proposal today: “You’re going to hear a lot more from me about housing and transportation because I see the two as the same.”
He also promised to say more in coming days about who would serve in his administration. But he offered no additional details.
Governor-elect Gavin Newsom spoke with CALmatters about how he will lead California, covering healthcare, his relationship with President Donald Trump, climate change, and more issues facing the Golden State.
The race between Marshall Tuck and Tony Thurmond for state superintendent of public instruction has been a multi-million-dollar nailbiter. Election Day has come and gone, however, and the winner is days or maybe even weeks from being declared.
Ditto for several congressional races and legislative seats that remained too close to call Wednesday. The reason: a combination of high turnout and California’s generous election laws, which routinely make for a notoriously slow vote count in this state.
County registrars have counted millions of ballots across the state, but millions more—including last-minute mail-in ballots—still need to be counted, thanks to a 2014 law that extended the voting window for Californians who vote by mail.
The popularity of mail ballots, combined with voter procrastination, automatically sets the state up for delays, but the law this year also let Californians cast provisional ballots on Election Day without advance registration.
The moves are all in the interest of encouraging every voter to participate and ensuring every ballot is counted, according to state elections officials. But they also routinely delay final counts, sometimes for up to a month in close elections.
For example, San Diego County still had 490,000 ballots to process as of Wednesday morning. As of 3 p.m. Wednesday,Tuck, former CEO of the Green Dot Public Schools charter network, led Thurmond, a Richmond state Assemblyman, by 1.4 percentage points. That amounted to a difference of 86,902 votes.
Other races still too close to call include the California U.S. House District 48 race between Republican incumbent Dana Rohrabacher and Democrat Harley Rouda in Orange County; the state insurance commissioner race between Independent Steve Poizner and Democrat Ricardo Lara; and the Congressional District 10 race in the Central Valley between U.S. Representative Jeff Denham, a Republican, and his Democratic challenger, Josh Harder. All have significant policy and political implications for the state.
In the state superintendent contest, the latest results, which included more than 6 million votes cast, showed Thurmond carrying densely populated Los Angeles County and the Bay Area counties. Tuck, who so far has not trailed in voting returns, led most rural and inland California counties as well as San Diego County.
Thurmond said in a statement Wednesday morning that his campaign is prepared for a drawn-out race. His campaign said it expects to wait as many as two to four weeks for vote counts to be finalized.
“With millions of ballots left to come in, we are digging in and waiting for every vote to be counted,” said Thurmond, who saw returns at a gathering in Oakland. “The kids of California are in it for the long haul and we are too.”
Tuck watched Election Night returns with supporters at his home in the West Los Angeles neighborhood of Mar Vista. His campaign could not be immediately reached for comment.
The race for state superintendent was arguably one of the most hard-fought on the ballot this election. More than $60 million was spent in a campaign that featured negative attack ads from both sides and massive donations from teachers’ unions and the billionaire charter school advocates.
While the two candidates share many core similarities—they’re both Democrats—the race has been viewed as a long, high-stakes battle between teachers unions backing Thurmond and charter school supporters supporting Tuck. On Wednesday, that battle appeared to be getting longer, as officials continued their painstaking, ballot-by-ballot count.
Former ambassador to Hungary Eleni Kounalakis will become California’s first woman elected lieutenant governor, charging to victory over state Sen. Ed Hernandez in a race that pitted her campaign cash and diplomatic resume against his labor connections and legislative experience.
The highest ranking among a record-setting three women to be elected Tuesday to California constitutional offices, Kounalakis will join Controller Betty Yee and newly elected Treasurer Fiona Ma as one of the state’s top government officials. Like U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, all were elected statewide.
“We ran a people-powered campaign driven by a positive message, a powerful platform, and joyful volunteers & staff,” Kounalakis tweeted Wednesday, after spending election night with supporters at a party hosted by Emerge America, which trains women to run for office as Democrats. “We have made history, and I am so proud of what we will accomplish together.”
She led Hernandez with 56 percent of the vote to his 43 as the final precinct results came in Wednesday, in an election year that featured a wave of female candidates galvanized by the #MeToo sexual harassment scandals and the resistance to President Donald Trump.
Both Democrats, Kounalakis and Hernandez came from contrasting backgrounds but struggled to differentiate themselves on the issues. The lieutenant governor’s few official duties include serving on the governing boards for the University of California and California State University, as well as the State Lands Commission and the Commission for Economic Development.
But the position can also serve as a gateway to higher office, as it did for current lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom, who handily beat Republican John Cox in this year’s gubernatorial race.
Despite never having held elected office, Kounalakis—a longtime Democratic Party volunteer—won the endorsement of high-profile Democrats including former President Barack Obama and Senator Kamala Harris. In a race that saw $26 million in donations pour in, she raised far more than her opponent, much of it from her own wealth and that of her father, Sacramento developer Angelo Tsakopoulos.
Her pitch to voters, however, underscored her background as the child of a Greek immigrant, the first in her family to graduate from college, as she argued that her family’s rags-to-riches story helped her relate to average Californians.
“We were surrounded by fields and swam in the irrigation canals…and had a very rural kind of experience,” Kounalakis told CALmatters of her Sacramento County upbringing.
She has pledged to make higher education her top priority, oppose tuition increases at the state’s public universities and boost financial aid for poor and middle-class students. She also said she’d draw on her experience running her family’s company, AKT Development, to help solve the state’s housing crisis—including ensuring universities are not overcharging students for housing. And she promised to fight offshore drilling on the lands commission.
Hernandez, who has served in the Legislature since 2006, also stressed college affordability on the campaign trail. He said he hoped to increase the budget and profile of the lieutenant governor’s office, using it as a bully pulpit to push for universal health coverage.
An optometrist from Azusa, he built a reputation as a health care advocate in the Legislature, authoring a law forcing drug companies to disclose information about their pricing. He tried and failed to overturn California’s Proposition 209, which bans public universities from considering race in admissions and hiring.
The California Labor Federation backed Hernandez, who is serving his final year in the Senate due to term limits, and both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times endorsed him.
“Though this was not the outcome we hoped for, I congratulate my opponent and know she will work hard to create a better California for all of us,” he said in a statement Wednesday.
Kounalakis’ victory came during an election year many dubbed The Year of the Woman, which saw Americans elect the youngest congresswoman in the country’s history along with the first Native American and Muslim congresswomen.
She emphasized her identity as a female candidate while campaigning, saying she was first inspired to become involved in politics while watching another Democratic woman, Geraldine Ferraro, run for vice president in 1984. She touted her support from the National Organization for Women and NARAL, and in interviews joked about the “power of the ponytail,” her signature hairstyle.
With women making up a majority of the state’s registered Democrats, Kounalakis’ gender gave her a built-in advantage in the Dem-on-Dem race, said Mark DiCamillo, director of U.C. Berkeley’s Institute for Governmental Studies poll. “It’s not a race that got a huge amount of attention,” he said. “[Voters] are looking for cues and the most obvious cue where you’re going in to vote is ‘That’s a woman, and that’s a man.’ “
Mona Pasquil previously served as acting lieutenant governor, the first woman to temporarily fill the post, after John Garamendi was elected to Congress in 2009.
Proposition 10, the statewide ballot initiative that would have allowed California cities to expand rent control, has gone down to defeat. And while the state may not finish counting votes for weeks, it looks like Prop. 10 is going to lose badly.
On one hand, the rent control initiative’s defeat was eminently predictable. The polling started bad, and then got miserable. The “No” campaign—largely funded by landlords and Wall Street firms with large California single-family-home portfolios (the loosened rent control laws could apply to their properties if Prop. 10 passed)— out-raised the “Yes” side 3-to-1. Even in a “blue” wave, the California electorate is still predominantly homeowners. The math was never good.
We’ve written extensively on the reasons Prop. 10 was tanking so bad in the polls, but there’s more to the story that will certainly leak out from the “Yes” side in the days ahead.
The big question among tenants’ rights groups and housing wonks is what happens next? Governor-elect Gavin Newsom has pledged to negotiate a compromise on rent control early in his tenure, but the chief of the “Yes” campaign has publicly stated he doesn’t trust Newsom enough to negotiate. Perhaps the bigger question is what incentive the landlords have to compromise at all. If nearly two-thirds of Californians rejected an initiative to expand rent control, why compromise? The voters have spoken.
Tenants’ groups still hold a few other points of leverage. They’ve talked about putting an initiative on the 2020 ballot, with the hope that presidential turnout and better ballot language could reverse their fortunes. They are also still campaigning at the local level for new rent control ordinances, including in major cities like Sacramento. The landlord association doesn’t want to have to spend money on those fights.
But despite over $20 million spent against them and slogans of “The rent is too damn high!” echoing across the state, the landlords appear to be in a better position than they were before the Prop. 10 campaign began.
Gavin Newsom first ran for governor in 2010, an effort he abandoned and then relaunched in 2015 with the long, long campaign that crescendoed tonight. Now that California voters have given the 51-year-old Democrat the job he has sought for eight years, he is about to discover that winning was the easy part.
Governing is hard, particularly in a state as big, complex, troubled and expensive as California. We have the world’s fifth largest economy and, with our cost of living, the nation’s highest rate of poverty.
The shortage of affordable housing has pushed the middle class out of the state’s coastal jobs centers—or out of state altogether—while exacerbating a decades-long crisis of homelessness and sending college housing costs into the stratosphere. Pension costs weigh on city finances, wildfires rage nearly year-round, the academic achievement gap hobbles prospects for too many poor and brown public school students, and lately the state’s relationship with the federal government has been one of permanent litigation.
Over the course of his very long candidacy, Newsom laid out a robust vision. In his words: “Guaranteed health care for all. A ‘Marshall Plan’ for affordable housing. A master plan for aging with dignity. A middle-class workforce strategy. A cradle-to-college promise for the next generation. An all-hands approach to ending child poverty.”
He hasn’t always detailed how he would pay for his promises, nor which policies he would be willing to jettison in the face of political pushback or certain budgetary constraints.
That changes on January 7 with his inauguration. On key issues, here’s what to expect.
After the victory music had quieted, after the introduction by his wife was done, Gavin Newsom took to the stage at a Los Angeles nightclub and began to walk the fine line that will likely define his first year as California governor. Even as he laid out his vision for renewing California, calling it “a land of plenty but… far from perfect,” Newsom praised the man he will replace.
“For literally my entire life, Gov. Jerry Brown has been blazing his trail. He’s been a role model for me, and tonight we all owe him a profound debt of gratitude,” Newsom said to loud applause from the crowd that included many campaign donors, lobbyists and Democratic legislators.
It’s been more than 130 years since a Democrat followed another Democrat into the California governor’s office—and with this generational changing of the guard, Newsom will replace one who is particularly accomplished and popular. That means he’ll face a tension other recent governors have not: to both follow the path carved by his predecessor while also living up to his campaign slogan, “courage for a change.”
“Too many Californians are being priced out of housing, health care and higher education,” Newsom said as he declared victory in his campaign against Republican businessman John Cox. “Too many children are growing up in poverty, starting school from behind. In many ways, in many places, we are simultaneously the richest and the poorest state.”
Newsom’s priorities and connections are, in many ways, more of an extension of Brown’s than either camp tends to highlight. Both are Democrats eager to challenge President Trump’s approach to immigration and the environment. Both have roots in San Francisco and experience as big-city mayors. Even their family history is intertwined: Brown’s father was friends with Newsom’s grandfather; and Brown appointed Newsom’s father as a judge. Newsom has said he feels very connected to Brown’s legacy and is “inclined to protect it.”
But their styles and life experiences are different. Brown had been governor before voters granted him two more terms in 2010 and 2014; he had his 10,000 hours long before his most recent election. This is Newsom’s first time in the state’s highest office.
In the 1970s, Brown was the monastic young governor who frequented a Zen meditation center and drove a Plymouth sedan. Newsom is an impetuous entrepreneur who owns bars and wineries and has three Teslas parked in his driveway. Brown never had children. Newsom has four. Brown’s early political crisis involved fruit flies. Newsom’s involved his campaign manager’s wife.
Fatherhood, private enterprise—these are formative experiences that give Newsom a different perspective from Brown, whose most recent gubernatorial tenure focused largely on fighting climate change, reversing tough-on-crime criminal justice policies and launching a high-speed train. Newsom insists he’s going to govern accordingly, laying out his own policy priorities: preschool, universal health care, affordable housing.
Yet even as he proposes expanded services that could cost billions of dollars, Newsom also says he will emulate Brown’s fiscal restraint.
“When it comes to fiscal discipline, I am absolutely in the same mold,” he said.
It will be a difficult balance to strike.
“The biggest question is: Does Gavin take the same approach on spending that Gov. Brown has?” said Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, a group that advocates for the state’s biggest companies.
“The economy defined a lot of Gov. Brown’s priorities… Gavin can define his own priorities, until the economy defines him.”
Brown won his third term in 2010 in the depths of a recession, and, through a combination of program cuts and tax increases, spent his first few years digging the state out of a $26 billion deficit. Much to the irritation of legislative leaders, Brown, by then 72, earned the reputation as the “adult in the room” who reined in Democrats’ desires to spend more. Even when the economy began to recover, he lectured legislators with Bible stories about saving grain for years of famine, and handed them playing cards with pictures of his dog saying, “Bark if you hate deficits!”
Newsom takes the reins during a strong economy, with low unemployment and state coffers flush with $9.4 billion in reserves. He campaigned on an ambitious—and costly—agenda, and will soon negotiate a state budget with legislative leaders who share his interest in expanding housing, health care and preschool. They expect Newsom to deliver—and with Democrats appearing to win a supermajority, could potentially pass a tax hike without any Republican support.
“I do think we need more money as a state,” Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said, adding that he’s open to considering a tax increase to pay for expanding public preschool.
“It’s hard to speculate without any details, but if we want to do pre-K we will have to.”
Senate leader Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat who wrote the single-payer health care bill that stalled last year, said she’s excited to work with Newsom to expand health care and reduce homelessness. But she said lawmakers are well aware of the state’s budgetary limits, and don’t need Newsom to put them on a leash.
“None of us want to be part of a Legislature that goes from a surplus to being in deep trouble,” Atkins said. “That is not the legacy I want.”
Their views indicate the Legislature’s growing sense of empowerment, an outgrowth of a change to term limits voters approved several years ago. Most of today’s lawmakers can run for re-election for up to 12 years, giving them a new sense of longevity in the Capitol. Whereas Brown, who is 80, was the long-time politician negotiating with a changing cast of less experienced lawmakers, Newsom will come in as a brand-new governor working with a more stable Legislature. The generational shift could affect dynamics as well: Newsom, who is 51, is a contemporary of most lawmakers, whose average age 53.
Rendon has said he thinks the Capitol’s balance of power will tilt toward the Legislature when Newsom becomes governor, though a past legislative leader dismissed the notion that the Legislature’s power changes much from one governor to the next.
“The dynamic largely remains the same,” said Darrell Steinberg, the Sacramento Democrat who led the state Senate during the last gubernatorial transition, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Brown.
“Governors are very powerful institutionally. They have the bully pulpit. They initiate. They veto… And they generally are able to get most of what they want done.”
Brown has been selective about attacking Trump, and has shunned the word “resistance.” Newsom campaigned to head the resistance, and may go even further than Brown did in positioning California—and himself—as the nation’s progressive leader.
“I think he realizes we are not just about saying no all the time…. We have to lead. That means being bold,” said Steve Smith, spokesman for the California Labor Federation, a powerful union group that endorsed Newsom.
“If we have a bold agenda, we will have to figure out how we pay for it. And those discussions will happen.”