“The path that this country has taken has never been a straight line. We zig and zag and sometimes we move in ways that some people think is forward and others think is moving back, and that's OK.” President Obama
After watching the same long and painful presidential campaign and debating the same issues as the rest of the country, California voters came to far different conclusions than the nation as a whole on Election Day 2016. Not only did the state vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a landslide 29-point margin, it also maintained or added to already powerful Democratic majorities in its state Assembly, Senate, and congressional delegation. State voters also decided the fate of 17 statewide ballot measures involving controversial issues, including the death penalty, tax and bond spending, funding for state-provided healthcare, criminal sentencing, and environmental issues. Pending a final count of remaining ballots over the next few weeks, it looks as if voters have said YES to 12 measures and NO to 5, making choices that—with one big exception, the death penalty—look generally quite progressive compared to the positions taken by President-elect Trump and the voters in states that supported the Trump ticket and campaign message.
In one measure of voter interest and sentiment, California and national voters seem to have shared some reluctance to participate at all, perhaps because of the toll taken on voters by the prolonged unpleasantness of the national campaign. National registered voter turnout is hovering at 60% of the 200 million eligible voters while California turnout looks to end up at or below 60%—the lowest presidential turnout figure in the recorded history of the state.
Despite apparent voter apathy or antipathy respecting the presidential campaign, California has a lot at stake with the change in power in Washington, D.C. The new Administration has much different views than most Californians when it comes to providing and funding healthcare—including women’s health issues—dealing with climate change, immigration, and law enforcement. Federal funding for health and human services, public healthcare and emergency services has enormous impact on the California economy and state budget, which are only now finally recovering from painful reductions during the last recession. On the other hand, the health of California’s economy and its key industries, including high tech, green tech, entertainment, healthcare and agriculture, is essential to the nation’s prosperity. The new Administration and California’s leaders will need to look for common ground and shared priorities going forward.
California’s U.S. Senate and Congressional Races: Democrats Retain or Add to Big California Democratic Majorities
Pending a final count of late absentee ballots and provisional ballots, the unofficial results say California will continue to field a congressional delegation that includes two Democratic U.S. Senators, following a big win by Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris, who has defeated her Democratic opponent, Loretta Sanchez, by a margin of 62.5% to 37.5%. California’s Democrats in the House of Representatives will maintain their current big majority with 39 Democrats and 14 Republicans serving in the nation’s largest state delegation when the 115th Congress is sworn in.
Here are the results in the key contested California congressional races (* = incumbent):
California Legislative Races: Assembly Democrats Leading in Fight to Restore Supermajority. Senate Likely to Maintain Current Edge Over Republicans. Moderate Democrats Continue to Play Key Role.
Assembly Democrats, who held a supermajority of 55 seats in the 80-member house after the 2012 election (only to have it pared down to a mere big majority of 52 Democrats to 28 Republicans in 2014), targeted 7 Republican-held seats in Tuesday’s election for high-spending, hard-fought campaigns. If current returns hold up after late ballots are counted, Assembly Democrats will return to Sacramento next month with a net pickup of 3 seats, returning them to a 55-25 supermajority. When the party in power holds a 2/3 majority in its house, it can win passage of tax increases, pass votes to place constitutional amendments on the state ballot, and control the agenda and the flow of legislation. Senate Democrats have definitely held on to their current majority of 26 Democrats and 14 Republicans—one vote shy of 2/3—and still have a chance to add one more seat in a district that straddles portions of Los Angeles and Orange Counties if late absentee ballots allow the Democratic candidate to close the gap.
While Democrats in both houses maintain powerful majorities, not every Democrat is struck from the same mold. A number of moderate, more business-friendly Democrats in both houses—especially the Assembly—have tempered the social and environmental agenda of some of their more progressive colleagues, holding up some legislation and negotiating amendments on other measures. Several additional moderate Democrats will be among the newly elected legislators this year.
Legislative Democrats will join forces to fight deep budget- and service-level cuts expected from the newly elected Trump Administration and Republican controlled Congress, and will resist the imposition of a right-of-center social policy agenda such as potential rollbacks on women’s health, public education curriculum, immigration and attacks on public employees. Legislative Democrats will also continue to support environmental protection and business regulation enforcement, but may have intra-caucus debates about how to best move forward on these issues.
State and Local Ballot Measures: “While Republicans Celebrate Across the Nation, California Lurches Left,” Headline, POLITICO, November 9, 2016
While the headline in Politico is overstated (California voters DID reject repeal of the death penalty and may have approved a measure to speed up the death penalty appeals process), state voters did mark another milestone in a generational shift that is distinctly more left-of-center compared to the state that voted to ban gay marriage only eight years ago.
A younger and more diverse California electorate than ever before considered 17 statewide ballot measures, approving 12 of them (subject to changes that could result from the late absentee count) and rejecting 5.
Voters not only repealed their own previous voter-enacted ban on bilingual education (adopted at the height of the political attacks on immigrants of the mid-1990s), they embraced higher spending for school bond debt and locked in state healthcare programs using hospital fees and matching federal Medi-Cal funds (which now may be in jeopardy as national Republicans seek Medicaid changes). They voted to continue higher taxes on California’s high-income earners, enacted new taxes on all tobacco products and e-cigarettes, strongly supported criminal sentencing and parole reforms, required restrictions on firearms and ammunition sales, put the voter seal of approval on the Legislature’s statewide ban on carryout plastic bags, and topped it off by legalizing the recreational use of marijuana (only four years after rejecting legalization!). In addition to voting no on repealing the death penalty, California voters also rejected price restrictions for the state purchase of prescription drugs and a requirement for condom use by actors in adult films.
Selected Local Ballot Measures—Local Transportation, Housing, Soda Tax
After completing the state and federal portion of the ballot, some local voters had to navigate as many as 25 additional city, county and district measures on their ballots. Across the state, local voters dealt with over 400 tax, bond and land use measures, plus hundreds of candidates for local office. Here are some of the local measures which will have statewide fiscal and policy significance in the coming year as the State Legislature grapples with some of the same issues: