California election drama may be yet to come
After months of anticipation and buildup, California’s general election came and went — and so far, things don’t look very different than they did before polls closed Tuesday night.
But some of the races that could be among the most consequential for the country’s direction have yet to be decided.
Early returns tabulated by CalMatters’ live results tracker show that all of the state’s incumbent Democrats were on the path to being handily reelected: Gov. Gavin Newsom, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, Attorney General Rob Bonta, Secretary of State Shirley Weber, Treasurer Fiona Ma, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.
Lanhee Chen, the state controller candidate that some thought could be the first Republican to win statewide office in California in nearly two decades, was trailing his Democratic opponent Malia Cohen by double digits in early returns — raising questions about the GOP’s future in the state.
- While Cohen declared victory Tuesday night, Chen’s campaign said early today, “It is way too early to concede … there are still millions of votes left to count.”
When it comes to ballot measures, three easily sailed to victory: Proposition 1, to enshrine the right to abortion and contraception in the state Constitution; Prop. 28, to require the state spend more money on arts and music education in public schools; and Prop. 31, to uphold a state law banning the sale of certain flavored tobacco products.
On the other hand, voters decisively rejected Props. 26 and 27, which would have legalized sports betting at Native American casinos and online, respectively; and shot down Prop. 29, the third effort in as many elections to increase regulation of kidney dialysis clinics.
- The initiative — opposed by the head-scratching combination of Newsom and the California Republican Party, and supported by the California Democratic Party and prominent labor and environmental groups — proved extremely contentious up to the last minute.
- “We’ve got to defeat Prop. 30, which is bad for our state,” Newsom told reporters Tuesday morning after casting his ballot at the California Museum in Sacramento. On Monday, the initiative’s supporters filed a complaint with California’s campaign finance watchdog, alleging the No on 30 campaign sent last-minute “misleading texts” to millions of voters.
In brief remarks at a Sacramento victory party for Prop. 1 on Tuesday night, Newsom focused less on his gubernatorial win than on the significance of California voters overwhelmingly passing the abortion rights amendment — which he contrasted with policies in “red states” that exhibit “cruelty” and a “zest for demonization.”
- Newsom: “We affirmed clearly with conviction that we are a true freedom state. … That is a point of contrast with the uncertainty that we’re currently experiencing as it relates to the national mood. … In states large and small, rights that we’ve come all to enjoy are on the line. In states large and small, we have governors that won their reelection tonight in other states that are banning books, that are banning speech, that are banning abortion. And here we are in California moving in a completely different direction. That’s a deep point of pride. And it’s with that passion that I bring to this second term, a resolve to do more to advance that cause of freedom and fairness.”
Latest coverage of the 2022 general election in California
But while the outcomes of many races seemed clear Tuesday night, some of the most heated — and expensive — state legislative and U.S. House contests were too close to call, and could remain that way for days or even weeks.
It also remains to be seen whether a Republican “red wave” will crash over California House races and if so, to what extent. Ultimately, which party ends up in control of Congress could conceivably be decided by races in the Golden State.
To follow along in real time, bookmark CalMatters’ live results tracker.
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1 An end to California’s fire season?
The bad news about the fierce storm that continued dumping rain and snow across California on Tuesday: It prompted flash food warnings across the state — including one in Orange County that closed a vote center — and forced mandatory evacuations for people living in the burn scars of recent wildfires. (It also apparently set off a tornado in Sacramento County.) Driving conditions were also dangerous in some areas due to heavy mountain snow and flooded roads. In San Bernardino County, one person was killed and two people were missing after being swept away by heavy rains, according to the Los Angeles Times.
- Apart from several polling places closed due to inclement weather, the impact on voting appeared to be minimal: While some county elections offices readied backup generators in case of power outages and others shoveled snow from sidewalks and parking lots, many were as peppy as the office in Fresno County, which told CalMatters’ Sameea Kamal: “We expect the incoming storm to deliver some rain but not dampen voter enthusiasm.”
The good news: The storm likely signals an end to California’s fire season, which has already been significantly calmer than in recent years. As of Nov. 7, about 7,300 wildfires had sprung up in the Golden State and burned a little more than 362,000 acres, according to Cal Fire — far below the period’s five-year average of 7,400 fires charring a whopping 2.1 million acres. Still, officials cautioned that California isn’t completely out of the woods, given its ongoing historic drought, the possibility of dry Santa Ana winds sweeping Southern California and the ripple effects of a changing climate.
- Assistant Chief Tim Chavez, who works in wildfire forecasting and threat intelligence for Cal Fire, told the Associated Press: “Twenty years ago I would have said this was a season-ending event … but in today’s climate I really can’t say that anymore.”
2 What CA schools get from the lottery
What were the chances of winning the $2 billion Powerball, the largest jackpot in American history? About 1 in 292.2 million, according to lottery officials — and the person who bested those odds and bought the winning ticket did so at Joe’s Service Center in Altadena, a gas station in unincorporated Los Angeles County, state lottery officials announced in a Tuesday tweet proclaiming, “California Lottery makes its FIRST EVER Billionaire!”
- The winner, who has yet to come forward, will have the option of receiving $2.04 billion paid out over 30 years or a $997.6 million cash prize, which translates to about $600 million after federal taxes. (California is one of 15 states that doesn’t tax lottery winnings.)
- Joe Chahayed, the owner of Joe’s Service Center, earned a $1 million bonus for selling the winning ticket; he said he plans to share the money with his family.
The massive jackpot — the result of more than three months of drawings without a winner — has shined a spotlight on state-run lotteries, which were dealt a stinging rebuke in a recent New Yorker article by Kathryn Schulz. Voters legalized lotteries in states across the country based on promises that they would stabilize budgets without raising taxes and funnel more money into education, but reality has fallen far short of expectations, Schulz argues. She notes that “as of this year, according to the California Department of Education, lottery income accounts for roughly one per cent of all K-12 funding.”
- Indeed, the lottery alone “cannot provide for major improvements in K-12 education,” according to the state Department of Education website. The California Lottery website reads: “Remember, Lottery funds are meant to supplement public education, not replace state and local funding.”
- California public schools’ share of Powerball money: $156 million from tickets sold in the state, according to the New York Times.
3 Pension systems post updated losses
California’s behemoth public pension systems, on the other hand, actually lost billions of dollars more than previously reported, putting state and local governments on the hook for even more money, according to adjusted figures recently published by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System. The new numbers account for updated returns on private equity and real assets, a category that includes real estate, timberland and other holdings, according to the Sacramento Bee.
- CalPERS — which provides pensions for about 2.1 million state and local employees, retirees and other beneficiaries — posted a 7.5% loss on investments for the fiscal year ending June 30. That’s significantly higher than the preliminary 6.1% loss it announced earlier this year, its first since the Great Recession. “As with other institutional investors, our private assets were not spared from the impacts of global turmoil and domestic economic volatility,” CalPERS CEO Marcie Frost told the Bee. “While the final numbers are informative, we remain focused on long-term performance and our members can be confident that their retirement is safe and secure.”
- CalSTRS — which provides pensions for hundreds of thousands of public school teachers — closed out the fiscal year with a 2.4% loss in investments, up from its preliminary estimate of a 1.3% loss. The negative return was also its first since the Great Recession. (Note: A previous version of this item stated incorrectly that CalSTRS reported a 3.3% loss in investments. It actually reported a 2.4% loss in investments and a 3.3% drop in portfolio assets over the last fiscal year.)
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s political campaigns this year hit a low mark for relevance and a high mark for vapidity — with one exception.
Newly elected Los Angeles leaders must prioritize transit-oriented housing: With a few policy changes, Los Angeles can alleviate its housing and homelessness crises and its notorious traffic. Our city’s incoming leadership should start with what works: letting builders build housing, argue Thomas Irwin and Alix Ollivier, co-leaders of the Los Angeles New Liberals.
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