Low Turnout, Low Interest Expected in June 2006 Election

by Casey Mills on January 30, 2006

Despite two contentious primary races for state legislature, political analysts believe this June’s election season will be a sleeper for San Francisco. Only two low-profile state measures and at most three citywide initiatives will be decided upon, with the remainder of the races involving Democratic Party matters which Greens, Republicans and Independents will be unable to weigh in on.

While battles between Fiona Ma and Janet Reilly for the District 12 Assembly seat and Leland Yee and Mike Nevin for the District 8 Senate seat could spark fireworks on the Westside, expect low turnout citywide, particularly in the East. Also expect all the real political action of ’06 to come in November, which many politicos are already gearing up for.

While Democrats, which make up 54 percent of the city’s electorate, will make a host of decisions in June, the rest of the electorate will not be as involved. Statewide, the only initiatives to appear on the ballot will involve a $600 million library bond and a proposal to impose greater taxes on the state’s highest income bracket to fund preschools for 4-year-olds. While both appear to be well-intentioned, it’s unlikely either will resonate strongly with San Francisco leaders and activists.

Citywide, the only two sure things for the ballot involve Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s attempt to change the appointment process to the Port Commission and a grassroots initiative aimed at changing current practices at Laguna Honda Hospital.

Peskin’s amendment, which come before committee this week, would remove all current Port commissioners, create minimum requirements for serving, expand the commission and impose term limits on those who serve. While it could have significant ramifications for the future of our city’s waterfront, it’s hard to imagine widespread mobilization for it outside of the waterfront districts most affected by its outcome.

The initiative on Laguna Honda Hospital would require that seniors and other long-term physically disabled people who have historically occupied the facility continue to do so after the rebuild, as promised by Proposition A, a bond measure for $299 million passed overwhelmingly by the voters in 1999.

When Mayor Gavin Newsom recently began placing patients other than the traditional populations served at Laguna Honda into new beds created with Prop. A funds, neighborhood advocates including Barbara Meskunas cried foul. While the measure could be seen as a referendum on Newsom, once again it’s unlikely the issue will excite activists citywide.

A third ballot measure that would direct more city funding towards homicide prevention will be heard this week at the Board. Its chance at passage remains unclear, however, with only four of the necessary six Supervisors needed to get it before voters publicly declaring their support.

“It seems like it will be relatively calm in San Francisco, with no big fights,” said political consultant Jim Ross, speaking about the June election. “My sense is that people are a little tired – not just voters, but the activists have been working so hard on so many things every year for the last four years, there’s a sense that we need to take a minute, regroup, and decide where we want to go.”

That decision could be made as early as next November, when a variety of possible initiatives some thought could make June’s ballot now seem likely to go before voters. The Committee on Jobs’ long-time desire for civil service reform seems poised to be ready by the Fall, as does an attempt by tenant groups to put a moratorium on condo conversions in buildings where seniors and disabled people were evicted. Newsom’s plan to rebuild General Hospital will also likely come then.

“People are really tired after the state-wide election,” “said David Latterman, an analyst for Fall Line Analytics. “Issue-wise, people are really gearing up for November. This June, it’s light – really light.”

Latterman, however, does believe that political drama could heat up on the Westside, where Supervisor Fiona Ma and Janet Reilly will face off for a State Assembly seat. Leland Yee and Mike Nevin will also battle it out for a state senate seat, though that race appears quiet now, should be less contentious than the Ma-Reilly race, and will be waged in a district that includes large swaths of San Mateo County.

Insiders remain uncertain as to just how much dust the Ma-Reilly race will kick up, and how many people will get involved during the campaigns. The fight will likely remain mostly contained to the Eastside, however, as the district Ma and Reilly are battling over ends halfway across the city. In addition, only Democratic Party members will be able to participate, giving the more Green and Independent Eastside even less of a reason to get involved.

In addition, the race will be a choice between degrees of the political spectrum, rather than two diametrically opposed candidates. While significant differences do exist between Ma and Reilly, they may not be significant enough to truly excite voters or mobilize vast numbers of people to campaign for them.

Other than the assembly races, Democrats will chose their Central Coordinating Committee (DCCC). This race, however, seems unlikely to cause much drama, with most current members running for reelection and standing a good chance at obtaining it. Estimates run as low as only 2 of the 24 seats changing hands, and many insiders expect the race to be very low profile.

Finally, Democrats in San Francisco will be asked to make perhaps their most important decision – who will be the party candidate for Governor. Although the two front-runners, Phil Angelides and Steve Wesley, have been unable to create a strong buzz statewide, Angelides’ strong ties to labor may cause some mobilization here in the city. Last year’s special election proved local labor groups can run a strong ground operation, and if they decide Angelides is worth fighting for, his campaign could cause a stir.

Once again, however, this race, along with the assembly races and DCCC races, only involves those registered as Democrats. Almost half of San Francisco isn’t, leading some progressives and Greens to tune out.

“It’s really just a showdown for those folks competing against each other for November, and as far as Greens are concerned, there isn’t much competition,” said Green Party activists Bruce Wolfe.

Wolfe did say, however, that should a strong enough issue surface between now and Election Day in June, voters could get interested. The final deadline for filing for initiatives is about a month away.

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