This year’s political campaigns in California have hit a low mark for relevance and a high mark for vapidity — with one exception.
California has many serious, even existential, public policy issues that urgently need political attention — the nation’s worst poverty and homelessness, shortages of housing, water and electrical power, and a public school system that’s mediocre at best, to name the most obvious.
Did you hear any of those issues debated — or even mentioned — to any noticeable degree during the campaigns leading up to today’s election? No, which is why this is the most dismally irrelevant election in recent California history.
Upwards of a billion dollars has been spent on persuading voters to vote for and against candidates and mostly special interest ballot measures, half of it on two sports wagering measures that seem destined to fail. Virtually none of the countless television, radio and online ads even mentioned any of those real world issues.
Instead, we heard a lot of noise about crime from Republicans in their mostly unsuccessful efforts to regain relevance in California. We heard even more noise from Democrats about abortion, including a ballot measure to enshrine in the state constitution rights that are already protected by law and state Supreme Court decisions.
The measure, placed on the ballot by the Legislature after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Rose v. Wade decision, is clearly aimed at getting more Democrats to vote and thereby helping the party win the state’s very few true partisan contests.
Most of those contests are in a handful of congressional districts and their outcome theoretically could — but probably won’t — determine which party controls the House of Representatives.
With the exception of those few congressional seats, the overall outcome of the election is largely preordained. Democrats who hold statewide office, including Gov. Gavin Newsom and Sen. Alex Padilla, will win new terms. With their victories assured, neither has made more than token efforts at campaigning and Newsom spends most of his time these days building a national image.
The only possible exception to a Democratic sweep of state offices is a very, very outside chance that a Republican could become state controller as the office is vacated due to term limits.
Democrats will continue to have overwhelming majorities in the state’s congressional delegation and both houses of the Legislature. Most of the expensive legislative duels pit Democrats against each other, reflecting some slight ideological differences and a sharp personal duel between two Democrats over who will be speaker of the Assembly.
The paucity of real contests for statewide, legislative and congressional offices means that today’s most important California election is for mayor of Los Angeles. It’s not only the state’s largest city, but one of its most troubled with immense amounts of poverty and homelessness, rising crime, political corruption, a lackluster economy and racial conflict.
The current mayor, Eric Garcetti, is virtually absent without leave. His 2020 presidential bid went nowhere and while conditions in his city deteriorated he’s spent the last 16 months trying, probably in vain, to win Senate confirmation as ambassador to India.
Democratic Congresswoman Karen Bass has all of the usual endorsements to succeed Garcetti and should have been a shoo-in. However, Rick Caruso, a very wealthy real estate developer and philanthropist, has spent millions of his own dollars and tapped into voter discontent with the status quo to make it a real contest.
The two rivals have gone toe-to-toe over how they would handle the squalor of homeless encampments that clog the city’s sidewalks and other issues that make the City of Angels a highly concentrated microcosm of the entire state’s ills.
The intensity and relevance of the Bass-Caruso duel underscore just how vapid the other campaigns have been.