Nov. 6 was a very bad day to be a Republican in California.
Though voters were expected to back President Obama and the state's long-serving Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein by large margins, the likely shift of four formerly Republican House seats to Democrats, and the Democratic supermajorities in both state legislative houses, surprised many observers.
Another surprise was the vigor with which voters rejected the far right's multimillion-dollar messaging as they approved a ballot measure taxing high incomes to fund public education and defeated another to bar union use of payroll-deducted funds for political purposes.
In the final days of the campaign, all eyes were on Prop. 30, to temporarily raise taxes on annual incomes $250,000 and up and impose an additional 0.25 percent sales tax to fund K-14 public education. The measure, backed by Governor Jerry Brown and the labor movement, was attacked by the far right with tens of millions in donations, including a mystery $11 million donation intended both to defeat Prop. 30 and to pass anti-union Prop. 32.
Prop. 30, polling at 48 percent just days before the election, ending up passing by a generous 54 percent.
Prop. 32, which would have deprived public and private sector unions of the ability to use payroll-deducted funds for political purposes while letting corporations spend freely, went down by 56 percent. It was the third defeat in 14 years for such a measure.
In an Election Day statement, California Labor Federation head Art Pulaski credited the ground game waged by the labor movement and its allies.
"Today's victory was the culmination of the largest voter contact program in the California labor movement's history," Pulaski said, noting that over 40,000 union volunteers walked precincts, phoned voters, and prepared mailings. "That engagement not only drove the defeat of Prop. 32, it also had a positive impact on other ballot measures and helped elect working family candidates at all levels."
If Democratic leads hold in several close Congressional races, California's 53-member House delegation could be split 38-15 - a gain of four seats.
Two races were still very close at press time:
- In the Sacramento area, Democratic challenger Dr. Ami Bera led Republican incumbent Dan Lungren, 50.1 to 49.9 percent.
- In San Diego County, Democrat Scott Peters held a 50.2 percent lead over longtime Republican incumbent Brian Bilbray.
Emergency room doctor and son of farm workers Raul Ruiz, a Democrat, defeated longtime Inland Empire Republican incumbent Mary Bono Mack, 51.4 to 48.6 percent.
Democrat Mark Takano of Riverside County, who won by double digits, is the first openly LGBT person of color to be elected to Congress. A Japanese-American, Takano's parents were interned during World War II.
Perhaps the biggest surprise this year was the likely achievement of a two-thirds Democratic supermajority in both state legislative houses - a feat the party last achieved in 1883. While the state Senate's supermajority is assured, achieving it in the Assembly hinges on the outcome of two very tight races.
A two-thirds majority would let Democrats raise revenues without votes of Republican legislators, all of whom have signed a no-new-taxes pledge. For years, lack of such a supermajority has allowed the Republican legislative minority to block any new revenues.
But Senate and Assembly leaders, and Gov. Brown, all downplayed the possibility of sudden tax hikes, with Brown calling for investment "in the right programs, but we don't go on any spending binges."
Ballot initiatives to repeal the death penalty and to require labeling of genetically altered foods both failed, while measures to alter the state's three strikes law and to close a tax loophole for out-of-state corporations passed.
Rossana Cambron contributed to this article. Photo: