Now that the election is pretty much over, with only one or two races still hanging in the balance, it is clear that this was not a great election cycle for Democrats. While the pundits analyze every which way, and with the Republicans delusional that this was a mandate for them, let's try to make some sense of just what this election means for California---and even being so bold as to consider its national implications. (Why not? Every other political junkie and so-called expert has put in his or her two cents worth).
So here's my take----with thanks from experts, exit-pollsters, and legitimate academics and observers who actually want to provide perspective and not propaganda or partisan spin...
There was one election day but essentially two elections---or two electorates. First and obviously, the one that showed up. Then there were the women, the younger voter and the voters of color who didn't show up at all....or if they did, they switched allegiance and voted "Republican." In California, the results were just the opposite. While the younger voter didn't come to the polls in large numbers, many did come for the aborted but still-alive notion that we should legalize marijuana. Women also came out, again not in numbers as large as previously, but they did have women running for the top two ticket items. Two for US Senate (but only one strongly supportive of womens rights and the other pretty silent on them except to be anti-choice) and one very wealthy but eminently unlikeable woman running for governor.
The key in California was the effort of labor and grass-roots groups to pull out the Latino vote---which came in droves. In fact, the Latino vote accounted for 22% of the electorate in California this year. While in the rest of the country the demographic was older, whiter, male voters who comprised the electorate, here we were more representative of the state's actual demographics. Latinos voted in large numbers for both Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown.
Ironically, the Latino voter may have been energized by Meg Whitman, who spent multi-millions to arouse this sleeping-giant of a voter bloc, knowing that she couldn't win without getting a substantial portion of them to vote for her. She spent millions on Spanish-language broadcasts, brandishing her credentials as a successful businesswoman and someone who would respect the desires of the community to achieve the American Dream. Only problem was that she got caught disrespecting her former household help by firing her when she decided to run for office. The great irony is that Meg's treatment of her Latina employee was so cruel and her rejection of the Dream Act for young and worthy Latino youth sent her campaign on an irretrievable tailspin.
We can't, however, ignore the fact that the voters ALSO sent a clear message that they're not about to increase taxes and thus the state's ability to fund programs, infrastructure and services. Even our beloved state parks, supported by the overwhelming majority of Californians were not given a much needed shot-in-the-arm. With the failure of Prop 21, the $18 fee attached to the VLF for state parks desperately needed maintenance and repairs, it appears that much work needs to be done to restore the public's faith in government and the benefits of investing in its programs.
Indeed, the most dangerous and sleeper issue of this election was the passage of Prop. 26 which will require all new and increased fees to be subject to the impossible 2/3 vote of the electorate. This totally under-the-radar measure is likely to have catastrophic affects on important environmental and consumer protections if the business community's interpretation of its impact prevails. Ironically, the public has made it clear it doesn't want big, polluting corporations to get a pass, yet with the passage of Prop. 26, they may very well have given them one.
The lessons of this election-both statewide and nationally are many--and the interpretations flowing from right-wing spin machines are as loud as they are baseless. While here in California we are patting ourselves on the back that we avoided the avalanche of misplaced anger and anti-incumbency, we would be remiss if we thought we were immune from the public's loss of faith and confidence in government. Far from it, the public's disdain for our political leadership and imposition of taxes was made loud and clear-- as demonstrated by the success and failure of the various ballot measures.
Yes, we remain a Blue State, but due in great measure to the Latino voters who, unlike our young and women, came out strong in this election. Nonetheless, we MUST restore the public's faith in our leaders, our government and the need to invest in the future of our state in order for our economy to thrive and the quality of life in this great state to be preserved. We have not made that case well for years and the public isn't happy about it.
That's the honest lesson of this election. Let's not delude ourselves. Let's start making our case for why we need public services, programs and protection of our resources. If we don't, we may find California starting to look a lot more like Mississippi than the Golden State of Golden Dreams.