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Reading the Tea Leaves: Our Guide to the State and Local Election Results

Though President Obama's re-election took up most of the political oxygen last night, the California-wide and San Francisco elections also produced some big winners and losers. Here's our guide to understanding what happened last night—and what may happen next.

San Francisco City Hall.

CALIFORNIA STATE ELECTION

California Assembly and Senate

Background: Though Democrats have held a majority in each chamber for many years, a 2/3” “super-majority” is the Holy Grail of California politics. Were a party to pass that threshold, it would have virtually-complete control of the state government.

Result: The Democrats appear likely to have passed that threshold in both chambers, although the final results won’t be known until absentee and provisional ballots have been fully counted in two Assembly races. Senate Democrats have already passed the 2/3 margin

Importance: In 2010, the Democrats swept all of the statewide constitutional offices, like governor and attorney general, for the first time since 1883, according to USF associate professor Corey Cook.

Should they solidify their hold on the assembly and senate, it would be Christmas for them. Expect Democrats to move on a wish list of long-held priorities, including reforming tax policy, according to state senator Mark Leno. He points to Proposition 39, which closed a loophole that allowed some corporations to pay less in taxes, as an example. "We tried to do that in the legislature for a couple of years, but could not get past the Republicans in the Senate," he says. He expects to look at a number of similar tax loopholes that are "costly and outdated," and to use it to re-invest in areas like public education and health.

For the GOP, these results are dire. Ethan Rarick, Director of the Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service at UC Berkeley, remarked that “Not only did the Republicans lose big, it’s hard to see who they have to run in 2014. I don’t think the party will die, but for now they are irrelevant. This continues a ten to fifteen year trend."

Race: Proposition 30

Background: Raises taxes to fund state programs. Governor Brown had promised not to raise taxes without a vote of the people.

Result: Passed by a wide margin.

Importance: Were Prop. 30 not to have passed, it would have triggered deep cuts to state spending, especially in the already-battered higher education system. “I don’t know how much credit Brown deserves,” Rarick said, “but as the chief executive he will get all the credit. He comes out looking like a huge winner on both on the policy and the politics. Californians are willing, in some cases, to raise taxes in exchange for better services.”

Race: Proposition 35

Background: Increases penalties and fines for human trafficking and extends Megan's Law to online violations. 

Result: Passed by an 81-19 margin. According to proponents, this measures amassed the highest percentage and raw votes in favor of any ballot measure in California history.

Importance: Though these provisions are small but important alterations to state law, they portend a political future for Chris Kelly, who spent over $2 million of his own money to pass it. Kelly, who had been the Chief Privacy Officer of Facebook, lost the Democratic primary race in 2010 to Kamala Harris for Attorney General. Kelly expects that he "may step back into the political realm personally", but did say that he was happy at the present "affecting public policy in this way." Arnold Schwarzenegger used a similarily popular initiative, Proposition 49, to build a political base before his succesful gubernatorial run.   

Proposition 36

Background: Limits the three-strikes sentencing law to violent or serious felonies.

Result: Passed.

Importance: In 1994, California was the second state in the nation to enact a three-strikes sentencing law, which subsequently spread to many other states. Voters dissatisfaction with the cost and overcrowding of the state prison system has now resulted in a dramatic roll-back of the scope of the law. Other states may follow suit.

Proposition 37

Background: Would have required labels on genetically-modified food sold to consumers.

Result: Defeated.

Importance: The food reform lobby, which includes prominent supporters like writer Michael Pollan, has struggled to gain victories at the national and state level. Though these issues appear to resonate with more liberal voters, they have not quite spread yet into the mainstream of political discourse. Rarick doubts that these issues have begun to resonante outside of the more liberal parts of the Bay Area.

SAN FRANCISCO ELECTION

District 5 Supervisor

Background: The race between incumbent Christian Olague and challenger London Breed quickly became the race to watch around town.

Result: Breed convincingly trounced Olague, widening her margin in later rounds of the instant run-off.

Importance: Though Breed was tagged as the moderate in the race, Cook believes that she won not on the strength of factional politics but because, “she out-worked and out-debated everybody. Olague tied herself up in knots and ended up alienated too many voters on both the left and right.”

Propositions A through E

Background: Each of these propositions came onto the ballot because of what Cook calls, “a consensus of the city family” in which the mayor and city leadership negotiated a series of compromises.

Result: “This was the unity election,” said Cook. The voters responded well to the broad coalitions that formed to support each of these measures (for instance the balance between developers and housing advocates that led to Proposition C’s easy passage).

Importance: In a pluralistic city, Mayor Lee managed to negotiate a series of policy compromises that paid off at the ballot box. Though the voters may not have intended to signal their support for the mayor, Lee’s position, and that of his backers, has been greatly strengthened after the results of the night.