Different Reality in California

As in 2010, watching the returns in California after absorbing the shock of what happened east of here was at least marginally comforting. There were no Senate races. Jerry Brown’s reelection was such a snoozer that he didn’t bother to run TV ads. Yes, there were some close House races, but none that produced a big surprise; Democrats have picked up one open GOP-held House seat (CA-31); and three tossup races for Democratic-held seats remain too close to call (CA-7, CA-26, CA-52).

Republicans have at least temporarily taken away the Democratic supermajority in the state Senate, though it should again be within reach in 2016. The hottest statewide race in this Top Two state involved two Democrats standing across the intra-party barricades on education policy in an expensive Superintendent of Public Instruction contest; the teacher’s union champion won.

As usual, there were a batch of ballot initiatives, but the only one with major national resonance was a successful initiative to reclassify all drug possession offenses and many minor property theft offenses as misdemeanors.

There was one possible echo of the national “wave” here in Monterey County, as a heavily funded crypto-Republican candidate for the nonpartisan sheriff’s post may have pulled an upset win.

But by and large, the thing California most had in common with the rest of the country yesterday is that turnout sucked. Despite having two expedients supposedly associated with more robust voter turnout, a Top Two system and permanent mail ballot registration, California appears to have set a new record for low turnout. All I can say is that last night at the bar where my wife and I watched some of the returns with work friends of hers, the joint was packed, and I don’t think anyone but us was paying the least attention to the political stuff playing on multiple screens. It was just another Calfiornia evening.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.