One of my more popular posts was when I summarized all the California ballot propositions using Simpsons quotes. I also gave useful info, like summaries and whether there were any sketchy ads. Ballot props are fun to write about because you get some weird coalitions. Nothing like seeing Republicans and Democrats unite to say “this bill stinks.” I will write about the ballot propositions again this year, but most of them are pretty straight forward. The actual primary process…that’s a bit different.
The Jungle Primary:
In most states, primaries are run by political parties. If you are a Democrat, you vote in the Democratic primary, and whoever gets the most votes is the Democratic party’s nominee for the general election. California voters agreed to change the state primary process in 2010, taking power away from political parties. Every race this year puts all the candidates on one ballot. The top two vote getters face off head-to-head in November.
Jungle primaries are intended to help moderate election results. In theory, even if someone with extreme partisan positions is able to get through the primary, everyone else will vote against them in the general election. Proponents argued the jungle primary could also unseat long-term incumbents. The actual results have been…weirder. In 2016 Democratic state Attorney General Kamala Harris won the US Senate primary with 39.9 percent of the votes cast. Loretta Sanchez, a Democratic legislator from Santa Ana, was second on the ballot with 18.9 percent of the votes. The top four Republicans combined for 19.9 percent of the votes. In the Fall, Harris easily defeated the more centrist Sanchez.
Political parties don’t really have the muscle to force candidates off the California primary ballot. In an election cycle where anti-establishment candidates have been successful, it’s much harder for parties to give candidates a shove. Orange County Democrats have too many choices, stoking fears that Republicans will take the top two slots on the ballot in newly competitive districts. Candidates try to leap in to the void with deceptive mailers. I think all three of the leading Democratic candidates for governor have sent me campaign mail claiming that they are THE Democrat in the race, with a small note at the end that this mailer is not officially imply a party endorsement. I think I prefer text messages from random people seeking my vote on behalf of their candidate because texts don’t end up in a landfill.
California primaries require voters to be somewhat strategic. You can’t just write in the best candidate, because write-in votes are not counted. (The Libertarian Party sued over this and lost.) Many statewide races present the real possibility that two candidates from the same party could go on to the general election. With that, I will go on to the interesting races, and then the ballot propositions.
The ballot has 10 Democrats, 11 Republicans, 1 Libertarian, 1 Peace and Freedom, and 9 candidates without a party preference. It’s a gigantic list, but the entire race boils down to who comes in second. Incumbent Dianne Feinstein is expected to cruise to first place. Most Democrats have endorsed her, including Barack Obama and Gavin Newsom. Her main Democratic challenger is Kevin de Leon, the president of the State Senate. de Leon argues that Feinstein has been too willing to compromise with Donald Trump and the Republicans, but few progressive organizations have backed him except for the Service Workers’ Union. A recent Public Policy Institute of California poll showed liberals favored Feinstein 63-18 over the more progressive de Leon. He hasn’t exactly attracted a Bernie Sanders style groundswell of support from the left.
Pollsters are divided on whether or not it’s worthwhile to ask about the various Republicans in the race, since it seems so unlikely they could win in the fall. PPIC is one of the most comprehensive polling organizations in the state, but they only polled Feinstein vs. de Leon. Most Republicans refused to choose either Democrat and 59 percent said they were unsatisfied with their choices. The one poll to include multiple Republicans, an April 27 SurveyUSA poll listed Patrick Little as the leading Republican candidate and #2 overall with 18 percent of the vote. Little is a Holocaust denier who has praised Hitler. The state party’s communications director told USA Today: “Mr. Little has never been an active member of our party. I do not know Mr. Little and I am not familiar with his positions.” Today the Sacramento Bee speculated James B. Bradley could get a last minute boost because he listed his occupation as “Chief Financial Officer.” There’s a surprising amount of mystery here.
Another crowded ballot here. There are 12 Democrats, 5 Republicans, 2 Greens, 2 Libertarians, 1 Peace and Freedom, and 5 candidates without a party preference. Democratic Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom is the favorite in all polls. Newsom has kept his name in the news by criticizing Trump and promoting the state’s progressive culture and economic success. He is endorsed by most state unions, Equality California, and the Sierra Club. Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is running as a center-left Democrat, trying to get enough votes to win a runoff. Villaraigosa’s main endorsements come from character school advocates (who are bankrolling his campaign) and some police unions. Villaragosa is running false ads implying an endorsement from Obama, according to Politifact. Former state treasurer John Chiang has a number of endorsements from LA-area progressives but little statewide traction. Delaine Easton has the backing of a few groups aligned with Bernie Sanders.
Republicans have largely cleared the decks in this race, trying to get all their votes behind one candidate to try and get someone in to November’s runoff election. John Cox is their leading candidate and recently got an endorsement on Donald Trump’s Twitter feed. Cox previously ran for Senate in Illinois but has never won an election. He has the backing of pro-life groups and the anti-tax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, making him the Republican “establishment” choice even though he hasn’t won an election. Travis Allen is much closer to Trump in his attitude, running as the Republican outside (despite being the only elected official running as a Republican). Allen has made multiple false statements about immigration. A staffer accused him of making inappropriate physical contact in 2013, according to a list of incidents where “discipline has been imposed or allegations have been determined to be well-founded.”
Lieutenant Governors take over if the Governor isn’t able to serve for some reason. Other than that, the Lieutenant Governor doesn’t do a whole lot. Sometimes you get a mayor like Newsom who are somewhat known, but not well known enough to run for governor so they take the “stepping stone” job. In 2018 there are four candidates I have never heard of before, all hoping this position could give them an inside track to be governor one day.
Ed Hernandez is the only current elected official. He seems like a generic California Democrat and has endorsements from teachers, nurses, labor, and others others looking for a known quantity. Jeff Bleich is a former Obama administration ambassador whose main experience is cybercrime law. He has endorsements from the Sierra Club, Howard Dean, and other progressive Democrats. Eleni Kounalakis was a Clinton fundraiser and the daughter of a major real estate developer who is funding her campaign. She’s endorsed by Kamala Harris, feminist groups and Equality California. Cole Harris won the official Republican nomination at the State caucus. (Most primary races don’t have official party nominations because both Republicans and Democrats require 60 percent of the caucus vote to secure a nomination.) The one poll of the race (YouGov) puts Harris and Kounalakis in the runoff with 41 percent undecided.
This may be the most awkward race for California Democrats. Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones expected he would be able to transition from eight years as the state’s progressive Insurance Commissioner to be the next Attorney General. But when Kamala Harris won her senate election in 2016, Xavier Beccera was nominated to fill the rest of her term. Beccera has used to position to sue the Trump administration and protect various progressive state laws, particularly with regards to immigration. Jones argues that Beccera is too focused on Trump and is ignoring other problems in the state. Both have strong progressive credentials, so many Democratic groups are endorsing both candidates. Beccera’s much higher visibility makes him the favorite. Steven Bailey is the main Republican in the race and has a good chance of making it to the general election.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
This office had the most expensive race in 2014. Yeah, more money went to this somewhat behind the scenes office than to Jerry Brown’s re-election campaign and Republican attempts to defeat him. State Superintendent rarely has the same clear partisan lines. Charter school backers open up the war chest every election, this time for non-partisan Marshall Tuck. Democrat Tony Thurmond wants to tax private prisons to help fund pre-school and after school programs. He’s backed by the teachers’ union, the Democratic Party and most progressive groups. No one is running as a Republican. Conservative groups have not made any endorsements in the race.
The Convoluted, Deceptive Ballot Proposition
Every ballot it seems like there is one weirdly worded thing on the ballot that seems fine on the surface but actually means something else. This election’s winner is Proposition 70. The short answer is this is an entirely partisan proposition about California’s cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, with Democrats saying no and Republicans saying yes.
The long answer is much more convoluted, as these things always are. California implemented cap-and-trade in 2012 after a relatively bipartisan vote in the legislature and then six years of planning. California Republicans have shifted against cap-and-trade since then, attempting to kill the plan with a ballot proposition in 2010 but only getting 38 percent of the vote. After losing at the ballot box Republicans tried to sit and wait, since the initial law authorizing cap-and-trade was set to expire in 2020. Jerry Brown and Democrats needed a 2/3 majority to extend the law dealt since it dealt with taxes. One Republican State Senator had to switch sides. Putting Prop 70 on the ballot was the price that Democrats paid to get a 10 year extension.
If Prop 70 is passed, the legislature would need another 2/3 majority vote to spend any revenue gained from cap-and-trade after 2024. Democrats would just need to get the votes one time in the decade, but it’s still an opportunity for Republicans to get more concessions. It’s a long, convoluted political ploy that many newspapers dismiss as a “colossal waste” and “ballot clutter“.
Rubber Stamp Ballot Propositions
The June ballot mainly has low impact, relatively boring ballot propositions.
Proposition 68 is a bond measure to improve local drinking water and other environmental projects. Democrats support it. There is some token Republican opposition to bond measures on principle, but they have not raised a penny. Even the conservative Chamber of Commerce supports this bill.
Proposition 69 closes a small loophole in a gas tax passed by the legislature last year, making sure the money can be spent at intended. Democrats support it and newspapers universally endorse it as good governance. A few Republicans are still upset about about the tax increase but a no vote here won’t un-do the tax increase.
Proposition 71 closes a weird constitutional loophole. Right now, any ballot proposition with a lead in the votes counted on election day could take effect immediately. However, a majority of Californians vote by mail. These ballots can take a while to count. What happens if 50.1 percent of in person voters approve a proposition, it goes in to effect, but then we count the mail-in ballots and it turns out that proposition lost? Prop 71 ensures that no ballot proposition can go in to law before all votes are counted and the election is certified. It’s also a fun story of a law professor finding a weird loophole and bugging legislators until it could be fixed. And there is no campaign fundraising on either side of this proposition.
Proposition 72 allows people to install rain catchers on their property to help resolve California’s ongoing drought without being reassessed property taxes. Democrats like it as a pro-environment measure. Republicans are fine since it’s an option with no additional taxes. No one bothered to file opposition with the Secretary of State for the official voter’s guide.