5 political themes to watch tonight in California

2:44 AM, Nov 6, 2012   |    comments
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Well, it's here. Are you ready?

Election Day has arrived, after months of hard campaigning, weeks of nonstop TV ads... and a lot of soul searching by voters. Voters have until 8pm tonight to weigh in on eleven statewide ballot measures and dozens of congressional, legislative, and local races for elected office.

And so as we await the first real results, and the end of the punditry, here are five California political stories worth watching.

The Governor's Big Bet: It's hard to overemphasize what this election means to the man behind the ballot's marquee measure, Gov. Jerry Brown. The 74-year old cagey and persistent Democrat has put all of his political poker chips on this single bet: a tax increase to help balance the books. Brown won a rare third, unconsecutive term in 2010 by promising to do just what this day is all about - leave any new taxes up to the voters. Along the way, the governor had his share of stumbles: a long courtship of Republican legislators to place the taxes on the ballot, a series of awkward negotiations with other liberal groups intent on pushing their own tax hikes, a Proposition 30 campaign that focused on schools in its TV ads but veered to a defense of the entire budget once the governor hit the road... and so on. But the governor is the one who may, if Prop 30 passes, get credit for its single biggest selling point: the specter of $6 billion in automatic budget cuts should the initiative be rejected.

It's hard to declare this campaign a definitive chapter in Jerry Brown's political legacy, but it does seem fair to see the initiative's fate as a snapshot of the voters confidence in his vision. Its passage, or failure, will also play a large part in how the final two years of his current term in office play out.

Labors' Pains: One of the most memorable scenes in the 1987 movie, The Untouchables, where the wily old cop played by Sean Connery says, "He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue." It was a declaration of war that California labor unions could appreciate after the campaign they've now wrapped up to kill Proposition 32. All told, unions plopped down an astounding $75 million in opposition to the anti-paycheck deduction initiative (supporters have put in their own big cash, about $60 million). And if the polls are right, their money has been the game changer. It would also mark the third time in less than 15 years that conservatives have failed to get voters to agree to such a measure. Labor unions not only used their political cash to fight Prop 32, they used their sheer reputation to scare off GOP leaning political consultants to even publicly advise the Yes on 32 effort. Should organized labor win this fight, it will be fascinating to see what's next on their agenda. Of course, should they win this... but lose with the governor's Prop 30... some will wonder if they shouldn't have done more to help Brown.

Know Thy Voter: For months, the conventional wisdom in California was that young voters may have showed up in 2008... but not this time. No, they weren't interested. But then the state's online voter registration showed up... and other data suggested the young ones may turn out after all. As Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo pointed out last week, younger voters reflect the changing face of California - they're more ethnically and socially diverse than their older voting counterparts. They're also much more in favor of measures like Prop 30. If they show up, liberal causes and candidates will fare well. If they don't, then the reliable older, conservative voters will successfully push back on a number of issues.

Top Two Topsy Turvy: Of all the things that may feel familiar about this election, the absence of more than two names on the ballot for each elected office is a first. Thanks to 2010's Proposition 14, all of the candidates that didn't finish either first or second in June are out of luck. So what will voters do, especially in the handful of same party squabbles across the state? Will Republicans really vote for one of the liberal Democratic congressmen thrown together in a single San Fernando Valley District, the Battle of the -Ermans, as it's been called? Will Democrats in the Sacramento-Sierra foothills pick between two fairly conservative Republicans on the ballot for the state Assembly? And the biggest question - are the politicians elected this time around going to be more collaborative in their legislative seats... or just as combative as always?

Shhh, Nobody's Looking: This general election is certainly going to be representative of one thing - the long ballots to come every two Novembers. That's because of the bill Gov. Brown signed into law in 2011, SB 202, which pushes all initiatives onto fall ballots and off of primary ballots. That, plus a huge congressional ad blitz in some areas, has made it awfully hard for some of these ballot propositions to get any real attention. And that might be a good thing, allowing an otherwise controversial measure - like Proposition 36's Three Strikes changes - to fly under the radar, and thus quietly sneak over the finish line. Prop 36 would indeed be an interesting case, given a similar measure in 2004 was poised to do the same thing until a certain Austrian born governor made killing the proposal a top priority in the last few weeks.

Conversely, there are also measures - like the governance revamp, Proposition 31 - that may very well go down to defeat from, in part, the election clamor on other races taking up all of the public's political bandwidth. And that could also include the referendum-no-one-loves, Proposition 40. Of course, if it's rejected, the state Supreme Court will be asked to redraw state Senate districts... a process that could just result in the Court keeping the districts as they are now, putting its own imprimatur on tit.

We'll see how these, and other big narratives, fare once the dust settles from Election Day. Until then...


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