Picking Over the Carcass of Election 2014, Part 1: Federal and State Legislatures and State Judges and Props

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Political observers like nothing more than picking over the bones of a recently completed election. OK, you want to know what I think? Bon appetit.

Carcass eating

One could conceivably take this metaphor too far.

Nationally

This was, in some ways, the quintessential campaign — because it was about nothing but emotion.  The attacks on Democrats were largely incoherent, but like a guttural growl or a shrieking scream, you don’t need words to convey emotion.  To get a sense of what I mean, imagine what would have happened over the last month if gas prices were at $5/gallon.

Now THAT would be an issue!  (Blaming Obama for it would probably be unfair, but still — unlike “people in the Middle East are trying to kill us” and “Ebola is coming,” it would at least arguably have something to do with Obama’s policies.)  We’d hear a pounding refrain about how the high gas prices were killing people, how Obama was doing nothing about them, drill baby drill, and so on.  But instead, we had very little that was that specific and coherent.  We had a sense of unease and fear and resentment — largely anti-minority, anti-Muslim, and anti-gay.

But, you know what?  That usually happens.  Certain people are convinced by that sort of attack, and they will generally go to the polls.  What is different this year is that the people that are supposed to counter them — the non-ideological but also non-irrational voters — largely did NOT come to the polls.  We’re seeing, to a small degree, what would happen if voter participation dropped to .5%: you’d have the Scientologists, Westboro Baptists, Lubavitcher Jews, Neo-Nazis, and maybe the Nation of Islam fighting it out, because they’re going to vote no matter what. Irrationality and group solidarity are powerful things.

As a political psychologist, I recall various luminaries in the field assuring us that one of the standard questions in Political Science, addressing “Trust in Government,” was interesting because it didn’t predict anything.  Well, I think that we’ve found out what it predicts: craziness slopping over the rim of the tureen of national politics.

How did we get to this point?  Negative advertising, mostly.  It has always been there, but the amounts of money behind it thanks to the Supreme Court decisions in Citizens United, McCutcheon, and others has become overwhelming.  If a vast majority of the public has a sour taste about politics in general, they won’t vote, and then the people that always vote — the wealthy of Newport Beach, the retirees of Seal Beach, Rossmoor, and Laguna Woods — have a greater role in making these decisions.  It’s an emotional thing: all that money doesn’t have to persuade people that we want to ruin the environment or let the big banks prey on us without mercy or whatever else the Koch Brothers have in mind; it just has to convince us that there’s no point in political participation.  That’s what the ads do — turn us off to voting, raising the motivational hurdle to get people to the polls.

I’ll be writing about this in the Orange County context later today (or, perhaps, later in the week.)  It will not be pretty.

Statewide

I have some quite intelligent political activist friends with whom I have a serious conflict over triumphalism.  One of them has argued in the wake of the 2010 election that, due to its demographic changes, California will never elect another Republican Governor — or (some argued in the spirit of the moment) even another Republican Executive Officer.  This struck me as 180-proof bonkers, and I said so, to a rousing lack of agreement in left-wing forums.  Of course the pendulum swings back and forth; of course persuasive people can campaign on emotion to an extent that dwarfs ideology.  Does anyone here really think that Ronald Reagan, were he alive today, couldn’t beat Gray Davis in a gubernatorial race — even if people agreed more with Davis?  Most of these “CLAW” (“confident, loud, and wrong”) pundits are too young to remember Prop 13, but I was there, man, and I don’t have any doubt of the ability of emotional appeals to move the California electorate.

So this is my little love letter to my triumphalist friends: Alex Padilla got only 52.8% of the vote.  Easily could have lost.  Betty Yee, 53.1%.  Our presumed 2018 Governor candidates, Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris, scored only in the 56% range, as did Dave Jones.  John Chiang reached 58%; Jerry Brown made it to 59.1%.  Solid performances, once you pass 54% or so, but not dominating.  And the more alienated people get, the more the unenthusiastic voters that are supposed to swamp the enthusiastic but crazy ones continue to flake away — and then anything can happen, and probably, eventually, will.

Sharon Quirk-Silva’s loss didn’t determine the Assembly supermajority; Dems will have 52 seats to 28 for Republicans; two seats would have had to change hands to save it.  Jose Solorio’s loss did determine the State Senate supermajority; Dems will have 26 seats to 14 for the GOP.

And … most people now seem to think that the supermajority is overrated — partly because it tends to go away as people move up in special elections over the course of the cycle (or get arrested and such) and partly because the things that it allows the body to do (raise taxes, override vetoes, etc.) aren’t all that common.  The big problem during the Schwarzneggar years was the 2/3 state requirement to pass a state budget — but that’s gone.

Still, bragging rights over the State Senate supermajority were so important that the State Party dumped so much into the race one Orange County seat that it almost lost another one.  As predicted here, the gobs and gobs of money spent on Jose Solorio’s campaign — which he lost by over 18 points — took money away from a serious challenge in the district that pushes into central Buena Park: what had been Ron Calderon’s district and will now be represented by Tony Mendoza.  However, that just barely came true.

SD-32 was viewed as a “Safe Democratic” district; it had gone over 64% for Obama in 2012.  That the sole Republican in the primary won it with 44.5% of the vote — with four Democrats splitting the rest — didn’t seem to bother people.  It should have.  Mendoza won with only 51.7% of the vote; he needed more party support — as I argued right after the primary and since — and he didn’t get it because the party was so set on funding Solorio.  That was almost a disastrous move.

Why did Mendoza underperform?  Part of it was his facing a strong opponent, but there’s another reason to consider.  Come with me to AD-57, with which it largely overlaps.  This district also gave about 64% to Obama in 2012.  It was also considered “Safe Democratic.”  And here, the incumbent won with only 51.3% of the vote.  The incumbent’s name: Ian Calderon, of the Calderon political family.  (You may know the name of his District Director, who is supposed to be focused on the race, at least in his off hours — a guy named Jordan Brandman.)

I got a lot of heat from the Democratic Party for taking on Ron Calderon at our meetings and trying to get the party to distance itself from him.  (At the start of the cycle, he was considered likely to take on Linda Sanchez for Congress.)  People seemed to understand that he was corrupt, but didn’t think that voters tend to be moved by corruption.  Well, I guess that they can surprised — somehow, both his nephew and his Democratic successor only won election this year by the skin of their teeth.  I wonder if there’s an explanation — other than that maybe Jordan Brandman was a bit distracted from his paying job, what with a (Republican) damsel in distress calling for his attention.

Congressional races

CA-38, which extends into OC solely to cover tiny La Palma, gave Linda Sanchez 58.6% of the vote over Benjamin Campos, up about 1% from her primary performance.  Her district largely overlaps Ron Calderon’s old district.  She should have done better here, but at least compared to the others on the ballot, she did.

CA-39, which extends from Cypress over the Puente Hills and into Chino Hills, gave Ed Royce 69.1% of the vote over Peter Anderson.  Jay Chen gave him a harder time in 2012 — and may do so again in 2016.

CA-45 gave Mimi Walters 65.3% of the vote over Drew Leavens.  This is actually a decent performance from Leavens, who did not get the level of party support that he had been led to believe would be forthcoming.

CA-46 gave Loretta Sanchez 58.0% of the vote over Adam Nick.  This should not have been even that close.  What it testifies to is not any real weakness from Loretta, but the continued problem of activating OC’s Latino vote.

CA-47 saw Alan Lowenthal get 54.8% of the vote for reelection — and actually lost the Orange County half of his district by 7% to unknown libertarian (running as a Republican) Andy Whallon.  I’ve said for quite a while that my biggest problem with Janet Nguyen winning in SD-34 was the prospect of her taking on Lowenthal; this result isn’t going to make that less likely.  What may stay her hand, though, is that Lowenthal will probably do better in a Presidential year than in a midterm.

CA-48 saw Dana Rohrabacher get 64.2% of the vote against Suzanne Savary.  I really wish that we could have seen what Wendy Leece  could have done against Dana by running a bipartisan fusion campaign — but the idea of supporting a relatively progressive and anti-corruption Republican against the incumbent buffoon is apparently too complicated for local Democrats.

CA-49 extends into the four southernmost cities in OC, and Darrel Issa took 60.7% of the vote against Dave Peiser, most of that being in San Diego.  (Issa got 68.9% in OC.)

State Senate

SD-32 is discussed above, Tony Mendoza over Mario Guerra.  This was much closer than it should have been, largely due to the Democratic Party ignoring it, devoting their resources to SD-34, while Republican IEs did not.  Democrats dodged a bullet there.  I don’t know if they did polling, but that primary result should have been a pretty broad hint to pay attention to it.

SD-34 has been talked about to death, but here’s my take.  Jose Solorio made the strategic mistake of impersonating an oyster during the primary, allowing Janet Nguyen to beat him by 18.7% — and he got that all of the way down to 18.4% in the general election.  It might have been better for Dems to let Long Pham take Janet on with Democratic backng.  The problem here is that Latinos are not coming out to vote — despite that this district has 50% Democratic registration — and that may have something to do with the Latino leaders in the area: Loretta, Lou Correa, and Solorio.  Whatever they’ve been doing isn’t working to activate what ought to be their base, at least if they’re going to take on the Vietnamese vote in this district.

Two chismes of note here.  First, there are those who believe that Correa wanted Janet to win because it would allow him to run for the Supervisor’s seat — a bid that he announced after waiting maybe 20 seconds after the result was clear.  That’s awfully cynical — but I’m interested in hearing from people whether there are any actual reports of Correa’s people dampening enthusiasm for Solorio.  If not, they we just have to compare what Correa should have been expected to do versus what he did.  My sense is that he did less for Solorio than he did for Kris Murray in Anaheim.

Second, there are those who believe that this very SD-34 race is the reason that Jose Solorio recruited Tom Daly to run against Julio Perez in AD-69 — and then Michele Martinez as well, to split the Latino vote — because he wanted to ensure that Perez would be in no position to run against him for SD-34 this year.  If so, this is a very, very sad irony.  Had Perez won in AD-69 he surely could and would have brought out a lot more Latino votes, in Santa Ana and Anaheim and even Garden Grove.  Unless instructed otherwise, those would have been votes for Solorio.  This would have required Solorio to make nice with Perez and his friends — but that’s what political positioning is all about, right?  It was not until the run-up to that 2012 primary that Solorio’s relationship with them was permanently poisoned.  So: hoist on his own petard.

SD-36 is also mostly in San Diego.  Pat Bates got 66.2% of the vote against Gary Kephart, exceeding 70% in the OC part of her district, but not quite reaching 60% in San Diego.

State Assembly

AD-55 saw horrible fibber Ling-Ling Chang get 64.2% of the vote against Gregg Fritchle.  She was held down to 55.2% in Los Angeles County portion of her district, which is still a lot better than Curt Hagman did.

AD-65 was, of course, a premier race in the state, in which bigoted lightweight Young Kim did, as promised, kick the butt of incumbent Sharon Quirk-Silva, receiving 55.7% of the vote.  Like many Democrats in the county, I’ve been trying to puzzle through the result — and ultimately, I think that what it does is point to how extraordinary Sharon’s 2012 victory in AD-65 really was.  This may or may not become a competitive district in presidential years in which there is no Republican wave, but under the circumstances of 2014 there was just no way.  We didn’t really know that before the election; now we do.  The 2012 result, in retrospect, is attributable to factors such as Obama’s and Brown’s coattails, to Norby’s weaknesses as a candidate (stemming largely from contempt for him among more traditional and institutional members of his own party aligned with Royce and Bob Huff), as well as to Sharon having run a really good campaign.  The natural state of the district is somewhere in between a 4% Democratic win and an 11.5% loss; exactly where it falls is unclear.  At any rate, it doesn’t seem likely that there’s much of anything that Quirk-Silva could have done better to change this result this year — except maybe make Young Kim debate her and force Dave Gilliard to ingest some “Liar, Liar” style truth serum.

AD-68 simply went as expected, with Don Wagner getting 68.8% against Anne Cameron.  The interesting question will be who replaces Wagner when he takes Mimi Walters’s State Senate seat.  It was supposed to be Jeff Lalloway — but will it still?

AD-69 featured Tom Daly taking on Sherry Walker, who was an unknown — literally, to everyone, as she had just adopted that name shortly before the election.  He received 66.0% of the vote — and yet tallied fewer votes than Anne Cameron got in AD-68.

AD-72 saw Travis Allen get 65.9% against Joel Block, who received a lot of compliments on his campaign.  In another year, Block may have broken 40%.

AD-73 is the most Republican district in the state — and that proved too much for Wendy Gabriella, against whom Bill Brough received 68.0% of the vote.  She worked as hard as anyone else in the county — and whether she wants to leverage that into a City Council or School Board office, plenty of supporters want to vote for her again.

AD-74 saw OC’s sole Republican-on-Republican race — and turnout did not suffer for it.  It’s instructive to remember that Matt Harper made the runoff only because Karina Onofre chose to run as a Democrat against the party’s endorsed candidate Anila Ali, splitting the Democratic vote and allowing Harper to squeeze into the runoff against Newport Beach’s Keith Curry.  That was supposed to be Harper’s high-water mark, but someone Harper got 59.1% of the vote.  Was it the fire pits?  Was it the 405 Toll Road?  Can some Republican explain this one to us?

State Judicial

If there is an organized effort to remove a sitting Supreme Court Justice or Appellate Court Judge, someone will let you know and you can evaluate its merits.  Until then, you can either vote for them or leave it blank, because they’re not going anywhere either way.

State Ballot Propositions

With the legislature pressing its thumbs so hard on the scale in favor of two of Gov. Brown’s three priorities — a huge honking water bond and a rainy day fund, with the third being high-speed rail — that it renamed them Props 1 and 2 to make sure no one missed them, it’s no surprise that both of them won with more than 2/3 of the vote.  Almond farmers are happy; school districts are not.  (By the way, if Neel “Drowning Child” Kashkari wanted to help out public education so badly, why didn’t he campaign against Prop 2?  Answer: because he didn’t really want to so badly.)

Prop 47 — which lowered criminal penalties for misdemeanors while emphasizing that it did not show the slightest lenience towards either sex offenders or “sex offenders” — was the only one of the remaining four measures that passed.  The lack of strident opposition to it by public safety and prison guard interests — who mostly seemed to trot out a muted Dianne Feinstein against it — is probably the most telling “dog that didn’t bark” in this election.  I take it that these reforms were grudgingly ok with them — in which case credit goes to Judge Stephen Reinhardt and his pals on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for holding firm on the principle that you can’t incarcerate more people than you can provide medical care.  Some people had to not be in prison anymore; Prop 47 tilted that towards violent criminals.  It got 58.8% — much more than I would have expected when it first made the ballot.  Justice is done.

Prop 45 receiving only 40.5% of the vote was the biggest tragedy of this election.  This was the initiative that Dave Jones tried to get onto the ballot for the 2012 Presidential election, completing the signature drive a little too slowly, meaning that it was first in line for what turned out to be a terrible election in 2014.  Prop 45 is an obviously good reform — it let’s “one politician” make insurance companies justify their rate increases, rather than making him czar of all health policy — that was buried in an avalanche of lies paid for by health insurers.  Let us remember that the only reason why this was necessary at all is because a small number of State Senators, including Lou Correa, refused to pass legislation that they had previously supported when they know that Gov. Schwarzenegger wouldn’t sign it that would have given the Insurance Commissioner this power without the need for a ballot measure.  Well, last Statement of the Votes that I reviewed had the 1st Supervisorial District opposing Prop 45 by only 23,701 to 28,000.  I don’t know where Chris Phan stood on Prop 45, but if he opposed it then you have at least two candidates (and probably more, when Correa has another Vietnamese candidate run against Phan) trying to split up that 28,000, while that 23,701 is just sitting there waiting for some OC Labor Fed type to make a symbolic issue of it.  Correa’s perfidy on this issue was well-aired on this site at the time; I’ll have to go dig all of that up.

Prop 46 was the very reasonable attempt to raise the cap on malpractice awards — seriously, an obstetrician drops your baby on its head, giving it cerebral palsy, and all you can collect is $100,000, of which you see about half after attorney fees and costs are subtracted? — that was for many people ruined by linking it to the egregious civil liberties offense of requiring drug testing for doctors.  I decided to vote for it despite that provision only when it became clear that it wouldn’t pass; I didn’t want it to lose as badly as it did, receiving only 32.7% of the vote.  I hope that trial lawyers do come back and try this again — without the extraneous bullshit.  Here’s something that might pass: boost the cap to $250,000 and cap attorney fees for any amount awarded between $100,000 and $250,000 at 25%.  Trial lawyers would still come out ahead.  If they’re outraged with the state messing with their fee structure like this — well, now they understand how doctors felt about mandatory drug testing.

Prop 48 was as confusing and perplexing as any ballot measure I’ve seen in the past five years.  Confusion earns you 39.0% of the vote.

Coming up in Part 2 — local results!


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)