California voters began restoring the state’s fiscal health last night as they approved Props 30, 36 and 39. Prop 30 was the most critical state ballot measure, as it pulls California back from the fiscal cliff by raising $6 billion in annual new revenue. This money will protect public schools from steep budget cuts, halt further college tuition hikes in the near future, and prevent the nearly decade long spiral of reductions in state services. Prop 30's 54%-46% victory was helped by right-wing interests placing Prop 32 on the ballot. Organized labor mounted a massive No on 32 field, mail, and media advertising campaign that was joined with Yes on 30 in many campaign pieces. Although Prop 32 was fated for defeat for some time, the No on 32 blitz never relented, and its voter outreach efforts helped pull Prop 30 over the finish line. Prop 34, which would have abolished the death penalty, trails 52%-48% with 94% of votes counted and appears headed for defeat.
November 2012 may go down in history as witnessing the passage of the most progressive group of ballot measures in California history. It is a far cry from the days when conservatives used initiatives to achieve their goals, and represents an overdue alignment between the state's voting for Democrats and its support for initiatives that further Democratic Party goals.
I was more confident of Prop 30's victory than most, and when asked I would explain that Prop 30 campaign manager Ace Smith has never lost a major election and he would not lose this one (Smith also ran Prop 36, the three-strikes reform that easily passed). The combination of Smith and Governor Jerry Brown in a single campaign unites two of California's most electorally savvy minds; that illegal $11 million contribution from Arizona was no match for their talents.
Yes on 30 ran a solid grassroots campaign, joining with labor's No on 32 effort in many areas. Considering unions heavily backed Yes on 30, the synergy between the two campaigns was clear.
The only disappointment of the night was Prop 34, which may have been hurt by a very late negative campaign from a surprising group: African-American criminal justice activists. They argued that the trade-off for life without parole was not worth it given the loss of the right for legal appeals; on the other hand, the measure's poor showing among conservative absentees meant that the right-wing never bought the money saving argument.
In the biggest surprise of the night, Democrats appear to have finally won 2/3 majorities in both the Assembly and Senate. This would finally end the Republican obstructionism that has kept the state in a fiscal straitjacket. In combination with Prop 30's passage, this is a big deal for California's future.
San Francisco Measures Pass
Voters also were in an investing mood in San Francisco, as the Housing Trust Fund, the Park and Rec Bond, the City College parcel tax and the revenue-raising payroll to gross receipts tax shift all passed.
A hugely successful night for Mayor Ed Lee, who led the effort on C and E and played a crucial role in passing A and B as well.
And given that Lee stopped campaigning for Christina Olague after she voted to reinstate the Sheriff, her defeat in D5 hardly reflects on the mayor's popularity.