Why California keeps repeating same election story
Does anyone else feel like the outcomes of California’s Tuesday election were largely predictable?
It’s true that county elections officials still have to tally more than 4.8 million ballots, according to Thursday estimates. And it’s true that some state legislative and U.S. House races are still too close to call, and could remain that way for days or even weeks.
But at the state level, results were almost instantaneously set in stone. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s victory over Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle was so assured that the Associated Press called the race one minute after polls closed. And every Democratic incumbent running for statewide office easily sailed to victory.
The one exception: the race for controller, the only statewide office without an incumbent seeking reelection. Democrat Malia Cohen has declared victory, but Republican Lanhee Chen — who as of Thursday was trailing her by about six percentage points — hasn’t conceded.
But it was futile for Chen to think that he could become the first Republican to win statewide office in California in nearly two decades, especially without widespread name recognition or a massive campaign warchest, Democratic political consultant Bill Wong said at a Thursday post-election event hosted by the Sacramento Press Club.
- Wong: “It kills me because the Asian guy doesn’t know math. It’s like, 47% of the population is Democratic. Unless, you know, divine intervention is gonna occur, you’re not going to be able to do it.”
- Wong added: “He’s a great guy. He’s got a great profile. But you can’t communicate that when, the sad thing is, in a lot of ways demographics is your destiny.”
Another massive headwind for Republican candidates: the reluctance of GOP voters to cast their votes by mail, which experts largely attribute to former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of voter fraud and suppression. The California Republican Party has tried to counter this message, repeatedly telling residents this fall that mail voting is secure and urging them to vote early because it “benefits Republican candidates.”
- Tim Rosales, a Republican political consultant and president and CEO of Rosales Johnson Agency: “As much as we want them to return ballots, as much as you want to make sure that you get those early votes, there is that belief out there amongst many that they don’t trust that their votes will be counted. Until we really get a credible national figure that will say something different, that will penetrate in the minds of Republican voters and flip that script again, I think we’re likely to see that same behavior continue in subsequent elections.”
Your guide to the 2022 general election in California
Indeed, a general sense of fatality — that in statewide races between Democratic and Republican candidates, the outcome is almost preordained — hung over the Thursday event.
One of the main reasons, the panelists agreed: growing political polarization. A few examples:
- It would be extremely difficult for a no-party-preference candidate to mount a successful statewide political campaign in California, because “the single biggest predictor of vote is partisan registration,” Rosales said. He added that he’s conducted polling where he asks residents to choose between a fictional Democrat or Republican and an actual person running as an independent, and the party members will still “get more votes than that independent. I mean, it’s just the way people are wired.”
- No-party-preference voters — who make up about 23% of California’s registered voters — are not nonpartisan. “Independents in this state are oftentimes the people who don’t think the Democratic Party is liberal enough or fights hard enough, or people who don’t think that Republicans are conservative enough,” said Paul Mitchell, a Democratic political consultant and vice president of Political Data Inc. “It’s not just like this middle-of-the-road party.”
- People aren’t just polarized in favor of their political party, they’re “kind of reverse polarized against the other party,” Mitchell said. “And the data and the polling and the election results just support that. There’s no new path that we haven’t figured out.”
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 10,542,434 confirmed cases and 96,332 deaths, according to state data now updated just once a week on Thursdays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
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1 Rivas to assume speakership next summer
It was like a Sacramento episode of “Succession”: Following months of backroom jockeying, closed-door meetings and controversial fundraising practices, Assembly Democrats — including some who haven’t yet won races too close to call — announced Thursday evening a transition plan for the speakership, one of the most powerful roles in the state Capitol. Current Speaker Anthony Rendon will stay on until June 30, 2023, at which point he’ll pass the torch to Assemblymember Robert Rivas of Hollister, CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff reports. The game plan — which Assembly Democrats are expected to formally approve on Dec. 5, the first day of the new legislative session — means that Rivas will ascend to the speakership more than a year after his original unsuccessful attempt to oust Rendon.
- Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, a Woodland Hills Democrat who supported Rivas, told Alexei that many lawmakers supported the compromise because they didn’t want the speakership fight to be a distraction in the new legislative session, which will take place at the same time as a special session called by Newsom to consider a “windfall profits tax” on oil companies.
- Gabriel: “We need to put our internal politics behind us and get to the policy work.”
- The transition could mark a big change for the Legislature, which is also welcoming an unusually large number of new lawmakers. Rendon has been speaker since the beginning of 2016, the longest reign since Willie Brown — “the Ayatollah of the Assembly” — led the chamber in the 1990s, when California voters adopted term limits. Rendon is set to term out in 2024.
2 Flavored tobacco, sports betting fights far from over
Some California ballot box battles didn’t end at the ballot box: On Wednesday, the day after voters overwhelmingly upheld a state law banning the sale of certain flavored tobacco products, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company — the maker of Newport menthol cigarettes and popular vaping products — filed a federal lawsuit to block it from taking effect, the New York Times reports. The move comes after a two-year pause on the law, which tobacco companies secured by gathering enough signatures to qualify a referendum — allowing them to keep selling flavored tobacco products until voters had a chance to weigh in on the ban.
- Attorney General Rob Bonta told the New York Times: “Time and time again, Big Tobacco has attempted to steamroll state efforts to protect our youngest residents from the damaging effects of tobacco use. … We look forward to vigorously defending this important law in court.”
Voters also resoundingly rejected a pair of ballot measures to legalize sports betting in California — but Native American tribes, which qualified one of the initiatives, still see the outcome as a win. That’s because their efforts to defeat Prop. 27 — which would have authorized online sports betting in the state — sent a clear message to gaming companies: “You don’t come and try to screw the tribes,” Victor Rocha, conference chairperson for the national Indian Gaming Association, told CalMatters’ Grace Gedye.
- Prop. 27’s crushing loss puts the tribes in an enviable position for future negotiations: Their attitude can be, “‘Nothing gets by that we don’t approve of. So, come to the table willing to hear us out,’ and, most likely, ‘Come to the table willing to accept the terms that we are proposing,'” said Becca Giden, a director of policy at research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming.
3 State unveils contentious new solar proposal
A controversial proposal to overhaul California’s rooftop solar incentive program has been replaced by … another controversial proposal to overhaul California’s rooftop solar incentive program. The revised blueprint, unveiled Thursday by the California Public Utilities Commission, aims to incentivize more people to install rooftop solar panels to help the state meet its ambitious climate goals while ensuring that low-income residents aren’t saddled with higher energy bills. The new plan removes a proposed tax on homeowners with solar systems — an idea opposed by Newsom, consumer advocates, the solar industry and environmental justice organizations — but also reduces how much utilities would pay homeowners for supplying power to the grid. The result, CalMatters’ Julie Cart reports: Neither utilities nor solar groups are happy.
In other environmental news: Attorney General Rob Bonta on Thursday sued manufacturers of PFAS, toxic substances commonly known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t degrade over time. In the lawsuit, Bonta alleged the companies — including 3M, DuPont and other manufacturers — “knew or should have known that PFAS are toxic and harmful to human health and the environment, yet continued to produce them for mass use and concealed their harms from the public” in violation of state consumer and environmental protection laws.
- 3M told the Associated Press that it “acted responsibly in connection with products containing PFAS and will defend its record of environmental stewardship.” DuPont said the company as it currently exists should not have been named in the lawsuit.
California’s climate blueprint needs two key changes: First, the current goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2045 is too late. Second, regulators should emphasize natural carbon sequestration solutions rather than carbon capture and storage, argue Ellie Cohen, CEO of The Climate Center, and Daniel Kammen, a UC Berkeley professor of sustainability.
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