Capitol Beat – Unpacking the Midterm Elections

Aaron Read and Randy Perry
Legislative Advocates
Aaron Read & Associates, LLC

The dust is still settling on the midterm election and the results are mixed. Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, as expected, but did not pick up enough seats in the Senate, where Republicans expanded their majority. At the time of this writing, some closely watched races still remain too close to call. 

At the state level, it is going to take weeks for all the votes to be tallied and, in some instances, it might take even longer before a winner is declared in some of the closer races. However, here are some numbers we know so far:

  • Total spending for all federal and state elections in California this year exceeded $1 billion for the first time.
  • Propositions 8 and 10 were among the most expensive in state history, topping $100 million in total fundraising.
  • Never before have women held more than two of California’s statewide constitutional offices at the same time. But the midterm results changed that. Eleni Kounalakis and Fiona Ma, both Democrats, won their respective races for lieutenant governor and state treasurer. Both will join State Controller Betty Yee, a fellow Democrat, who was reelected. Including California’s two U.S. senators and the chief justice of California’s Supreme Court, a majority of women now hold some of the most powerful offices in California. 
  • This year, 78% of the 16.7 million registered voters in the state were sent a vote-by-mail ballot, according to statistics from the California secretary of state and Political Data, a statewide voter data company. It will be a while before we know the full turnout and breakdown of those who chose to vote by mail, but the tally seems likely to surpass the 61% of voters who voted absentee in November 2014.

Election Results

Statewide Races

Governor: There were no surprises in the race for California governor. Gavin Newsom was heavily favored to replace Jerry Brown, and he did, defeating Republican Candidate John Cox with 19% of votes.

Lieutenant Governor: Eleni Kounalakis defeated state Senator Ed Hernandez to claim the lieutenant governor office.

Attorney General: No surprise here, Attorney General Xavier Becerra handily defeated Republican retired Judge Steven Bailey. As you may recall, Governor Brown appointed Becerra to the office following Kamala Harris’ election to the U.S. Senate two years ago.

Insurance Commissioner: Initially, State Senator Ricardo Lara held a narrow lead over independent Steve Poizner in their race to succeed Dave Jones as state insurance commissioner. Lara has now declared victory. As you may recall, Poizner was a Republican when he held the job from 2007 to 2011, and when he ran unsuccessfully for the California State Assembly, losing to Ira Ruskin. 

Superintendent of Public Instruction: In another race too close to call, Marshall Tuck is leading Assembly Member Tony Thurmond in their contest for state superintendent of public instruction. Tuck and his supporters raised more than $35 million, compared with the $15 million raised by donors to support Thurmond. As of this writing, Thurmond is ahead of Tuck by more than 76,000 votes.

Controller: State Controller Betty Yee won re-election, defeating Republican Konstantinos Roditis. Yee will keep her position overseeing state finances.

Treasurer: Former Assembly Member and Board of Equalization member Fiona Ma will succeed John Chiang as state treasurer. Fiona Ma defeated Republican Greg Conlon, an accountant and former chairman of the Public Utilities Commission.

Secretary of State: Incumbent Alex Padilla was easily re-elected, defeating Republican attorney Mark Meuser.

State Senate and State Assembly: Depending on the outcome in a handful of too-close-to-call Assembly races, Democrats could win as many as 59 of the 80 seats in the Assembly.

Democrats in the Assembly and the Senate are on the verge of winning a two-thirds supermajority, their third supermajority since 2012. Why is this important? The state Constitution requires a two-thirds vote in both houses to raise taxes and put measures on the statewide ballot. It also takes a two-thirds vote to pass bills with urgency clauses thereby allowing them to take effect immediately. If the supermajority is reached, Republican votes will not be required.

Senate Races

Democratic Assembly Member Anna Caballero defeated Republican Rob Poythress in their contest to succeed outgoing Republican Senator Anthony Cannella in the 12th Senate District. The district encompasses Salinas Valley and a swath of the Central Valley between Modesto and Fresno.

Farther south, Democratic challenger Melissa Hurtado widened her lead over incumbent Republican Senator Andy Vidak and claimed victory in the 14th Senate District.

Picking up these seats gives Democrats 28 seats in the Senate and restores the supermajority they lost in June when voters recalled Josh Newman.

Assembly Races

Democrats already hold a supermajority in the 80-seat Assembly. Currently, there are 57 Democrats and 20 Republicans; however, those numbers will change depending on the outcome of three races that are still close to call.

Republicans had hoped to flip seats held by Assembly Members Sabrina Cervantes (60th Assembly District) and Rudy Salas (32nd Assembly District). At the time of this writing, Assembly Member Cervantes and Republican challenger Bill Essayli are separated by fewer than 950 votes, and Salas defeated challenger Republican Justin Mendes with a more-than-6,000-vote lead.

In the 38th Assembly District, Democratic challenger Christy Smith is in the lead by more than 1,700 votes. Lastly, the 16th Assembly District race is still too close to call with Republican incumbent Catherine Baker leading by only 339 votes.

Ballot Measures

Proposition 1: $4 billion for affordable housing programs — PASSED

Proposition 2: $2 billion for housing aimed at people with mental illnesses who are homeless or are on the brink of homelessness. Funding for the measure would come from the “millionaires tax” that voters approved in 2004 for mental health services. — PASSED

Proposition 3: $8 billion for water-related infrastructure and environmental projects — FAILED

Proposition 4: $1.5 billion for children’s hospitals — PASSED

Proposition 5: Property tax break to residents over age 55 — FAILED

Proposition 6: Gas tax repeal — FAILED

Proposition 7: Gives state lawmakers the authority to change daylight saving time if federal law allows them to do so — PASSED

Proposition 8: Regulates kidney dialysis treatment charges — FAILED

Proposition 10: Repeal Costa-Hawkins rent control measure — FAILED

Proposition 11: On-call breaks for ambulance employees — FAILED

Proposition 12: Requires that ranchers raise only cage-free hens by 2022, and establishes new living space requirements for calves and pigs. — PASSED

Looking Ahead

Over the past decades, law enforcement has been dealt the responsibility of handling many of society’s problems, such as drug abuse, homelessness, mental health issues, gang violence and consequences of our growing number of at-risk youth (e.g., truancy, petty theft and other crimes). Even with that immense responsibility, officers have been given very little training in these areas and, yet, are expected to face these issues without making any mistakes.

Now with certain legislators introducing bills that would make officers criminally liable for some of those mistakes, it brings into question why or should law enforcement be handling these societal ills? Because of this, PORAC is working with other law enforcement organizations, as well as professionals and stakeholders in each of these areas, to analyze these questions. We look forward to sharing with PORAC our findings and proposed solutions to the critical issues we are facing in California.