Monday, November 3, 2014

5 Things You Should Know About the California Election

My latest piece on the Huffington Post. 

Election day is upon us. What should California voters know?
1. Jerry Brown will be re-elected as the governor.
Drought-stricken California could be hit with torrential rain. Wildfires could sweep the state. A blue moon could shine for three nights in a row. Jerry Brown will still be re-elected.
Do you want to know why? First, because he is Jerry Brown. In California a synonym for "Jerry Brown" is "someone who holds elected office." Brown has held nearly every elected office in the state of California. We know him. We're comfortable enough with him. We're going to re-elect him (again).
Second, because he is running against that guy who oversaw the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Yes, that's right. You don't even know his name. It is Neel Kashkari, by the way. He is apparently running to see how badly he will lose against the once, current, and future governor. He had handed out gas cards to get people to campaign events, spent a week living as a homeless person, and run a television commercial with a drowning child. Translation? He is going to lose.
2. Gavin Newsom will be re-elected as the lieutenant governor
You know Gavin Newsom, right? He is the former mayor of San Francisco who ordered the city clerk to issue marriage license to same-sex couples back when that violated state law. Still don't know him? He is the one with the slicked back hair who had an affair with the wife of his former deputy chief of staff and campaign manager. I thought that would ring a bell.
Newsom is running against Ron Nehring. Newsom is going to a have "party preference: Democrat" next to his name, while Nehring will have "party preference: Republican" next to his. Since this is California, and Newsom is the incumbent who hasn't done anything disastrous (or otherwise), that means Newsom will win.
3. Kamala Harris will be re-elected as the attorney general
You may remember Kamala Harris as the object of President Obama's now famous comment that she is "the best looking attorney general." Cue Derek Schmidt's clinical depression. (Just kidding, Mr. Attorney General of the great state of Kansas).
Harris is the former San Francisco District Attorney who eked out a win against the former Los Angeles District Attorney. Some have said that Harris didn't so much win as her opponent, Steve Cooley, lost.
Harris has focused on issues dealing with cyber-crime, cyber-privacy, recidivism and truancy. But she is likely best known for being named in every discussion had in the last four years in California about "rising political stars."
Harris is running against a Republican named Ronald Gold. I'll wait here while you google his name.
4. The most exciting statewide races are for the Secretary of State and the State Controller
Didn't think you were ever going to see the words "exciting" and "Secretary of State" or "State Controller" in the same sentence? Well, then you haven't really lived.
These races provide Republicans with their only real chance to elect a republican for statewide office.
Termed-out State Senator Alex Padilla (D) is running against Pete Peterson (R), the Executive Director of a policy institute at Pepperdine University. Peterson has picked up endorsements from a number of major papers. He has also garnered the support of some good government groups. Padilla is one Democrat who may not be cruising to statewide victory.
Another such democrat is Betty Yee. Yee is a member of the board of equalization (no, you're not alone, many people don't know what they do). Yee is facing off against Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin (R). Like Peterson, Swearengin has picked up a number of big endorsements. Swearengin apparently managed to turn Fresno's fiscal house around, and now many are happy to entrust her with overseeing how California spends its money. 

So we have two open seats that are up for grabs. That sounds stirring, right? Well, no. Few of us skip to the ballot box to weigh in on who is going to print our ballots or count how the money is spent.
5. Turnout will be low. So very low.
Why will turnout be so low? See above. When the most rousing statewide races deal with who will maintain business filings (the Secretary of State) and watch the fiscal house (the State Controller), people tend to stay home.
But what about ballot measures? Surely some people will go the polls because a particular ballot mesure moves them.
These elections there are two legislatively referred ballot measures, and four ballot initiatives. As a refresher, the ballot initiative process allows citizens to stand on the same footing as their elected officials and directly propose new laws. It is ripe with problems that I won't detail here.
The two measures put on the ballot by the legislature deal with how we will try to save water and money. These are terrifically important issues, but let's face it, they're not attention grabbers. The television commercials for Proposition 1 and Proposition 2 picture Governor Brown talking about saving money and water and he's pictured next to a little umbrella. Enough said? Proposition 1 (which allows the state to issue billions of dollars in bonds to build dams and other such things) and Proposition 2 (which provides how the state should save money) aren't going to make anyone take it to the streets. Nor are they likely to get people to the polls.
Proposition 45 deals with whether the insurance commissioner can veto certain insurance rate changes, Proposition 46 addresses the legal cap on non-economic damages in medical negligence suits, Proposition 47 lowers the punishment for certain non-violent, non-serious offenses, and Proposition 48 would bless a compact made between the Governor and an Indian tribe regarding a casino. Some people will get fired up about one or some of these issues, but no one is going to write a play about whether we gave the insurance commissioner some additional powers, no one will wonder who is going to star in the musical about the Indian gaming contract, and no one is wondering whether there is a movie in the works about redefining certain crimes.
That is it, Californians. I would write more, but its time for us to start talking about how to increase voter turnout without a hint of irony in our voices.

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