California’s Most Boring Election Ever

by Randy Shaw on May 29, 2012

On June 5, millions of California registered voters will not go to the polls. Instead, they will decide that they have better things to do than vote on two less than critical state ballot measures, uncontested, incumbent-driven candidate elections, and the composition of local party central committees. Because voters changed election rules so that the top two candidates in federal and state races square off in November rather than the top vote-getter of each party, even the more interesting contests – such as the North Bay’s Congressional race and Santa Monica’s Assembly seat – are not conclusive. It’s good that Governor Brown signed legislation this year preventing any future initiatives from appearing in June, because next week will prove the first of a long succession of low-turnout June elections.

As I noted last week, if Big Tobacco were not clogging the airwaves with No on 29 ads, many might not realize that California has a statewide election next week. The days when federal and state primaries in June effectively decided the winner in most districts are over, while incumbents across the state typically are running unopposed or with only token opposition.

State Ballot Changes

California’s destructive Prop 13 passed on a June ballot, and thanks to Governor Brown and his labor backers this can never happen again. Senate Bill 202 moves all state measures to the greater turnout November elections, with Props 28 and 29 the last to appear in June.

Labor wisely pushed SB 202 to prevent another anti-union initiative that limits labor spending money on political campaigns from appearing on this June’s ballot. The projected low-turnout would have almost guaranteed the measure’s passage.

Neither Prop 28 nor Prop 29 is likely to get people to make a special trip to the polls. The impact of Prop 28, which revises the state’s disastrous term limits law, is so uncertain that my Beyond Chron colleague Paul Hogarth voted against it while I favored it.

Hogarth felt that reducing state legislator’s tenure from 14 to 12 years was the wrong type of reform. I see allowing Assembly members to serve for 12 rather than six years as helping to improve a legislative body that has become totally controlled by banking, real estate and other corporate interests since term limits began.

Because most Californians pay little or no attention to the State Legislature, Assembly Democrats have paid no political price for their refusal to back strong anti-foreclosure laws or anything opposed by their conservative financial backers. We can blame Assembly Republicans for preventing tax increases through the state’s destructive 2/3 vote requirement, but only Democrats are to blame for the failure to pass progressive legislation – and to even not let many bills targeting banks or big real estate get out of committee.

State Races

With no real contested Governor, President or U.S. Senate primaries, the only reason many will vote – aside from feelings of civic duty – is in the few areas where there are contested congressional or state legislative primaries.

The Bay Area has an Assembly race on the West Side of San Francisco that is so low profile that I did not even know current SF Assessor Phil Ting had any opponents until a few weeks ago. I’ve heard significantly more about the North Bay congressional race to replace the retiring Lynn Woolsey – the Democratic candidates include Assembly member Jared Huffman, longtime progressive activist Norman Solomon and many others.

There are at least three strong progressive candidates in that North Bay race, which could give that congressional district the state’s largest voter turnout.

Beyond Chron has covered the Torie Osborn-Betsy Butler Assembly race in Santa Monica because it reflects everything that is wrong with the Democratic Assembly and its speaker, John Perez. The fact that Perez is pouring money raised from Democratic donors into a Butler campaign backed by the landlord advocacy group Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles – in pro-tenant, strong rent-controlled Santa Monica! – says everything we need to know why progressive economic legislation is often dead on arrival in the Assembly.

Osborn, a longtime progressive leader, and Butler are likely to race a November runoff. This contest between two very different visions for the state’s Democratic Party is just beginning.

Local Elections

San Francisco’s chief ballot measure is Prop A, which would require competitive bidding on the city’s garbage contract. Put on the ballot by political hack turned judicial hack Quentin Kopp, the initiative has been a financial boon for political consultants, Democratic clubs, slate card operators, billboard companies and everyone else who has gotten paid by a No on A campaign guaranteed to win in a landslide.

Kopp qualified the measure for the ballot without recognizing that funds would be needed to run a campaign. How’s that for vision and political insight? Those dragging Kopp out for anti-Central Subway events might consider that he lost any credibility with San Francisco voters long ago.

San Francisco also has races for the Democratic County Central Committee. San Francisco may be the only county where such races are seen as important, as many look at the Committee’s ability to endorse supervisor candidates as well as others.

But the Democratic County Committee did not endorse Ed Lee last November, and he got roughly 60% of the vote. Nor in 2010 did it endorse Jane Kim, Malia Cohen, Mark Farrell, or Scott Wiener as its top choice in their district, yet all prevailed.

Expect a record percentage of absentee votes next week, which might lead to calls to make June contests vote by mail only. With not state initiatives and the top two candidates in most races facing inevitable runoffs, largely empty polling booths might not be a good use of state funds.

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