Autumntime, and the Counting Goes Slowly

November 12, 2008 · Filed Under Elections · Comments Off 

Eight days after Californians went to the polls in record numbers, there are still an awful lot of ballots left to count, and a few races that could theoretically flip in who we now think has come out on top.

As of this afternoon, a report from the Secretary of State's office showed that more than 1.8 million ballots remain uncounted across California. That includes more than 965,000 vote-by-mail ballots, almost 710,000 provisional ballots, and more than 156,000 ballots that for one reason or another weren't counted by machines on the first pass.

Not surprisingly, Los Angeles County has more uncounted ballots than anyone else -- an estimated 410,000. County elections officials are now in the post-election period where all of this final tabulation takes place, before they can send results to Sacramento for certification.

The question is whether any of these still unknown votes will sway either races for the Legislature, Congress, or for any statewide ballot measure.

The following is from the Secretary of State's official website:

In the 4th congressional district, former GOP state senator Tom McClintock leads Democrat Charlie Brown by 928 votes (though some claim McClintock's lead has grown).

In the 10th Assembly district, Republican Jack Sieglock leads Democrat Alyson Huber by 614 votes.

And in the 19th state Senate district, Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson leads Republican Tony Strickland by 1203 votes.

Meantime, supporters and opponents of Proposition 11, the redistricting measure, continue to watch the proposal cling to what looks like a narrow victory. There are almost 154,000 more yes votes on Prop 11 at this point, out of almost 10.3 million votes counted. Some analysts claimed this afternoon that the final outcome will stay the same.

All of this is just another reminder that while your part in an election may take a matter of minutes (or hours, with last week's long lines); but the work of elections officials begins much earlier... and ends much later.

The Governor's Prop 8 Problem

November 10, 2008 · Filed Under Ballot Measures, Elections, The Governor · Comments Off 

The one thing that seems clear in the wake of last week's approval of Proposition 8 is that the emotional issue isn't going away anytime soon. And to understand the murkiness of what should, or shouldn't, happen... look no further than Governor Schwarzenegger.

In an interview with CNN this weekend, the governor called the passage of Prop 8 "unfortunate" and predicted the proposal may ultimately fail in the courts. "We will maybe undo that," he said, "if the court is willing to do that... and then lead in that area."

A casual observer could be forgiven if left with the impression that Schwarzenegger is strongly pro-gay marriage. On the contrary, his position... at times confusing and perhaps symbolic of the conflicted feelings of many... has been hard to pin down over the years.

The only way to describe his stance may be this: a personal opposition to same sex unions, but a professional laissez faire approach.

Consider the careful line Schwarzenegger walked in the winter of 2004, when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom began issuing same-sex marriage licenses. In condemning the action, the governor focused on Newsom... not the issue itself.

But at the same time, he was using verbage that sounded much more like an endorsement of a legal ban. Consider his official statement in the wake of Newsom's action: "Californians spoke on the issue of same-sex-marriage [Proposition 22, the 2000 initiative defining the state's view of marriage]. I support that law and encourage San Francisco officials to obey that law."

Still, it was always unclear who Schwarzenegger thought should have the final say. Appearing on The Tonight Show in May 2004, the governor said, "Let the court decide." But he then quickly added: "Let the people decide."

That same month, he told the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle: "When the people vote, people are not legal experts, constitutional experts or any of that," he said. "I think that's why we have the courts."

A few months later, in an interview with me in his Capitol office, Schwarzenegger again seemed ambivalent. "It's a decision made by the people," he said. He then hesitated for a moment, adding: "And by the courts... I support whatever the law is."

Schwarzenegger would later veto multiple legislative attempts to legalize gay marriages, saying only the courts could overturn an initiative like Prop 22.

When Prop 8 made its way onto the ballot, the governor made headlines for telling a group of gay Republicans he not only opposed it... but "will always be there to fight against that."

Many took that as a sign Schwarzenegger would actively campaign against Prop 8. He furthered such speculation in an interview with KCRA-TV in Sacramento this past May. "I defnitely will be actively speaking out against it," he said.

But in the same interview, in response to the state Supreme Court's ruling legalizing gay marriages, the governor said this: "I never wanted to overturn the will of the people [in Prop 22]."

As we now know, Schwarzenegger was all but invisible on Prop 8 this fall, with only his image appearing in a final TV ad appeal by the opposition.

The governor's path through the political minefield over gay marriage doesn't offer much guidance for others. He will no doubt be asked to clarify his position in the days and weeks ahead, now that legal challenges to Prop 8 are underway, and opponents of the ban are taking to the streets in ever growing numbers. And the issue presents enormous political challenges for the moderate Republican governor. After all, the vote was very close. And the issue could bleed into other policy debates in 2009 with both parties... just consider his need to forge some kind of compromise with the conservative wing of the state GOP over California's ever worsening fiscal climate.

Le Deluge?

November 4, 2008 · Filed Under Elections · Comments Off 

With millions of voters across California now weighing in on the issues both national and local, and scores of journalists en route to election night locales (present company included), it seems fitting to lay out some of the things worth watching for as election results start to come in sometime after 8 p.m. this evening.

Please check back here later in the evening for more; blogging through the night is dependent on the wifi gods in Los Angeles. I'll be with California Democrats tonight, while my colleague from The California Report, Sasha Khohka, will be with the Republicans in Irvine. We'll both be on the air through the evening on most public radio stations across the state for updates twice an hour alongside national coverage from NPR.

Promos aside, here's what is in store:

Turnout: No issue is more important than which voters show up, and in what numbers. Predictions are for an historic showing of Californians, perhaps close to eight of every 10 registered voters. Anecdotal evidence already is coming in about long lines at the pollls, something I saw myself this morning in my suburban Sacramento polling place. There, precinct workers cheered whenever a first-time voter showed up to cast a ballot; and while I was there, more than half a dozen cheers could be heard ringing down the hallway where voters waited in line.

For the high-profile ballot measure campaigns, the kinds of voters showing up are the whole ballgame. Young vs. old, ubran vs. rural, liberal vs. conservative, rich vs. poor, religious vs. secular... and more.

Mailed In: A record number of voters are also expected to vote by mail, though those same ballots can be dropped off today at any polling place in the county where a voter is registered. Again, only an anecdote... but elections officials in numerous counties have been working at breakneck speed over the last few days to sort and count those ballots. What this really means is that it could be a long, long night waiting for complete returns.

East Coast Spoliers: There's a real possibility that the presidential race... if the pundits are right... could be called by the networks early, long before California's polls have closed. If, say, Barack Obama is declared the winner by 5:30 p.m. here in the Golden State, do Democrats decide enough is enough? Or... do Republicans throw up their hands and keep heading towards home, and not that after-work trip to the voting booth? It probably won't impact the top race that much (does anyone really believe Obama won't win California? Good, we can move on). But those statewide ballot measures, from the fight over gay marriage to parental notification and beyond, are no doubt going to be extremely dependent on die-hard partisans on both sides.

The Democratic Tide? For state Capitol watchers, the big unknown is how the expected Democratic surge affects the makeup of the Legislature. Will the surge be a good surfung wave... or a tsunami? And if it's the latter, can the Dems get to the magic 54 seats in the Assembly, the two-thirds that would allow them to pass a budget without negotiating with Republicans? Most reasonable watchers say that really would take a tsunami... but the fact it's being talked about at all, by partisans on both sides, is worth noting.

Nail Biters: There's a very good chance that we won't get the verdict on at least two ballot measures by night's end -- the two mentioned just above. There's also the chance that the losers in both contests will: (A) be very unhappy and (B) vow to fight on, contesting either the results or reigniting the debate in the future.

All in all, it should be quite a night.

Arnold on Obama: Too Few Muscles, Too Much Money?

October 31, 2008 · Filed Under Elections, The Governor, Uncategorized · Comments Off 

It was vintage Arnold Schwarzenegger today in Columbus Ohio, as the guv stumped for GOP presidential nominee John McCain. Two parts of his intro of McCain are worth noting, the first for its mocking humor.

"The next Arnold Classic [held in Columbus], I want to invite Senator Obama," said the governor, "because he needs to do something about those skinny legs."

The crowd roared. Schwarzenegger went on. "We're going to make him do some squats. And then we're going to go and give him some bicep curls to beef up those scrawny little arms."

Lest anyone think the guv didn't have a point about Barack Obama, he then said: "But if only we could do something about putting some meat on his ideas."

After then praising McCain for being "solid" and the man for the job, the governor of California took a jab at the Democratic nominee's fundraising prowess in the race for the White House.

"It is true that Senator Obama has raised massive amounts of campaign funds, more than anyone in history," he said. "If Senator Obama had taken all that money he spent on TV ads, he could've bailed out the banks, paid off everyone's mortgages, and saved taxpayers a ton of money. I think there will be a backlash against all of this lopsided spending."

The Ohioans roared... perhaps unaware that Schwarzenegger is no slouch himself when it comes to raising campaign cash. Lots of campaign cash.

In fact, it seems safe to say the incumbent governor will go down as the most prolific campaign fundraiser in California history.

A quick, but by no means exhaustive, analysis of state campaign records of his major campaign committees, from his 2002 afterschool initiative to today, concludes Schwarzenegger has raised more than $136.2 million as a political figure.

But that's a debate for back here at home... where given the state's fiscal problems, one might be able to use the same argument the governor did today -- that there's at least a worthy govenrment service ot two that could have benefitted from the money he's raised, too.

Speaking of Campaign Cash...

October 30, 2008 · Filed Under Ballot Measures, Elections, Money In Politics · Comments Off 

A quick look at some of the big bucks on the statewide ballot measure front... based on amounts in play.

The combined campaign cash raised this year for these five measures alone: $155.2 million.

Proposition 8: The battle to ban same-sex marriage is again drawing huge amounts. As of midday, the campaign in support of Prop 8 looks to have raised about $34 million, while the main opposition committee has reported a slight bit more, about $34.6 million. It will be interesting to see just how high this one goes, compared to previous records for ballot measure spending in California.

Proposition 7: Supporters of the renewable energy initiative report no new donations since the last comprehensive filing with contributions of $7.4 million; opponents of Prop 7 have raised about $29.8 million.

Proposition 10: The bond measure to provide rebates for alternative fuel vehicles is spending big bucks. The pro-10 campaign reports about $22.5 million as of today, with almost all of the money coming from sources that can be traced back to oilman T. Boone Pickens; the opponents have yet to get to $200,000 in campaign cash.

Proposition 2: The battle over the confinement of farm animals has drawn $7.9 million in the campaign to relax current confinement standards, while opponents to Prop 2 have raised about $8.33 million.

Proposition 4: The proposal requires parental notification before a teenager seeks an abortion. Supporters have raised about $2.1 million, only about a quarter of the amount -- a little more than $8.4 million -- raised by opponents. A notable contribution in support of Prop 4 came just today from San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.

9 Capitol Jobs = $37 Million and Counting

October 30, 2008 · Filed Under Elections, Money In Politics · Comments Off 

An examination of the latest campaign finance data shows a handful of contested legislative races are racking up some big bucks, through both candidate controlled committees and those operating independently of the campaigns.

These nine races -- seven in the Assembly, two in the Senate -- account for more than $37 million in campaign contributions through mid-week. Of that total, about $8.6 million has been raised through independent expenditure (IE) committees. All but one of these are open seats, which is probably the best explanation for why so much money is on the table.

The races are burning up the fundraising circuit in the Assembly (again, totals are from all sources):

AD 80 between Manuel Perez (D) and Garry Jeandron (R) has attracted contributions of more than $5.8 million.

AD 30 between Fran Florez (D) and Danny Gilmore (R) has brought in more than $5.1 million.

AD 78 between Marty Block (D) and John McCann (R) has attracted contributions of almost $4.9 million.

Just behind AD 78 in the cash contest is AD 15 between Joan Buchanan (D) and Abram Wilson (R) at almost $4.8 million.

And rounding out the top 5: AD 10, where the contest between Alyson Huber (D) and Jack Sieglock (R) has drawn a total of more than $3.4 million.

Two other races, which political junkies are watching in the lower house, are worth noting: the contest in AD 26 (Democrat John Eisenhut vs. Republican Bill Berryhill) at just under $1.4 million, and the AD 37 race (Democrat Feral Masry vs. incumbent GOP Assemblymember Audra Strickland) is just over the combined $700,000 mark but has seen increased campaign cash in the last few days.

But tops in legislative campaign cash this season... drum roll, please... is the battle royale in the open 19th Senate district between Democrat Hannah Beth Jackson and Republican Tony Strickland. Campaign fundriasing plus IE cash here totals almost $8.5 million.

The runner-up in the upper house: SD 5, between Lois Wolk (D) and Greg Aghazarian (R), at $2.6 million.

[update: The danger in a posting like this so close to the election is that the numbers are almost immediately out of date. Add some more cash to the above totals, including many more big IE moves -- more than $520,000 in legislative races -- just yesterday.]

Understanding the Goals of Redistricting

October 29, 2008 · Filed Under Ballot Measures, Elections · Comments Off 

The Hapsburg Dynasty... Michael Phelps... and California legislators?

If you're confused, then you haven't been paying attention to Governor Schwarzenegger, the pitch man for Proposition 11 -- this fall's attempt to change the once-a-decade process of redistricting. This is Schwarzenegger's second political campaign to wrest control of political map drawing from the hands of the Legislature.

And maybe this time, the stars are aligned just right; after all, this summer's budget fiasco has only helped drive the Legislature's approval ratings towards their true nadir. It would seem simple enough to say that legislators can't trusted to draw political districts, given the 2001 redistricting deal that let numerous incumbents pick and choose the squiggly outlines of their home turf.

The government watchdog groups that wrote Prop 11 say the problem is that legislators have a conflict of interest in mapping out their own districts.

"Drawing super safe districts for legislators to run in is a very big problem," says Kathay Feng of Common Cause California, one of the authors of Prop 11. "We now have a state government that is no longer responsive to the voters."

But the pitch from the governor is different, with promises from Prop 11 that several redistricting experts say won't happen.

First, the issue of competitive districts. Schwarzenegger has long said that lack of competition between the two parties has helped create gridlock (hence the two references earlier, his joke about monarchy turnover and September's quip about what led swimmer Phelps to all those gold medals).

"There's a lack of competition there between Democrats and Republicans," said Schwarzenegger at an event in San Diego last week. "And we all know that if there is a lack of competition there is also a lack of performance."

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On Tuesday morning's edition of The California Report (listen above), we took a look at a district that's competitive on paper... but so uncompetitive in reality that the Democratic candidate isn't even mentioned in a promotional booklet published by his party. We also checked in with a researcher who's recent report concluded that there's no strong correlation between competitively drawn districts and whether a legislator is actually a moderate open to compromise.

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This morning on the program (listen above), the second part of our examination of redistricting focused on the specifics in Prop 11 -- the way the independent citizens commission would be picked, the concerns about whether it will truly be diverse and accountable, and the very real possibility that California might still end up with legislative districts that are squiggly, contorted shapes... because every criteria given to the new commission can only be applied after rules mandated by the United States Constitution.

"The problem with redistricting is you cannot meet everybody's goal," said Karin McDonald, director of the statewide redistricting database at UC Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies. "You cannot make everybody happy."

All of this means the voters can undoubtedly shake things up by approving Prop 11 on next week's ballot, but expectations must be realistic. The governor is a great salesman; but if the kinds of cooperation and esprit de corps he's promising will come from redistricting reform doesn't happen when new districts are drawn in 2011... will the voters who approved the new plan feel cheated?

Your Schwarzenegger Voting Guide

October 29, 2008 · Filed Under Elections, The Governor · Comments Off 

Governor Schwarzenegger has finally weighed in on the 12 measures appearing on next week's statewide balance, and what might be most interesting are the ones on which he's decided to not take a position.

The list, courtesy of his political advisers, is as follows:

Prop 1A High Speed Rail Bonds: Yes
Prop 2 Farm Animal Confinement Standards: No
Prop 3 Children's Hospital Bond: Yes
Prop 4 Parental Notification of Abortion: Yes
Prop 5 Nonviolent Drug Offenses, Sentencing & Parole: No
Prop 6 Law Enforcement Funding, Gang Penalties: Neutral
Prop 7 Renewable Energy Standards: No
Prop 8 Same-Sex Marriage Ban: No
Prop 9 Victims' Rights & Parole: Neutral
Prop 10 Alternative Fuel Bonds: No
Prop 11 Redistricting: Yes
Prop 12 Veterans Bond Act: Yes

Many of these were already out there; others seem to conform to either Schwarzenegger's long track record on various issues or his known philosophy.

However, it's worth noting that Schwarzenegger is taking a pass on endorsing Propositions 6 and 9. The governor's been on board with almost every other "get tough on crime" measure in recent years, and many of these measures' supporters are ones he has stood with on those past issues.

So what's changed? Perhaps it's the fact that both of these measures come with a collective price tag to state government that could be in the billions of dollars... an issue for the governor to ponder given the news that the budget shortfall may now be approaching $10 billion. There's also the uncomfortable alliance with Henry Nicholas, the billionaire financial backer of both proposals who was indicted this past summer on drug, fraud, and conspiracy charges. Schwarzenegger stood alongside Nicholas in 2004 to defeat Proposition 66, amending the state's three strikes law, but perhaps isn't as keen to do so now.

The ballot positions of the governor didn't come with an explanation, so make of them what you will. But given the lack of a "neutral" box to check on the ballot next to these measures, it's safe to say next Tuesday, in the privacy of the voting booth, the governor will have to choose sides.

Mortgages, Entrepreneurs, & Idiots

October 22, 2008 · Filed Under Elections, The Governor · Comments Off 

The leadoff event at today's Women's Conference hosted by California's first lady, featuring Governor Schwarzenegger and investor Warren Buffett, was an amusing chat sprinkled with only the slightest dusting of news.

The governor and Buffett, longtime friends forever linked in political history by an awkward few moments in the early days of the 2003 recall campaign, sat on stage in Long Beach to talk money, business savvy, and the power of women.

The annual event, in its current incarnation, is the brainchild of First Lady Maria Shriver and features a long list of VIPs speaking to a sellout crowd.

This morning's kickoff conversation between the Austrian Oak and the Oracle of Omaha was moderated by MSNBC political provocateur Chris Matthews, whose participation might have something to do with mending fences with women.

As said before, there was only a faint hint of news... and here it is: Schwarzenegger effectively aligned himself with the guy he's not supporting for president on the subject of the government buying back troubled mortgages.

The governor's pick in the race, Republican John McCain, has proposed using some of the $700 billion bailout package to buy up troubled mortgages. But his opponent, Democrat Barack Obama, has criticized the plan because it appears to call for buying those mortgages at face value, rather than the true market value -- thus costing the federal government more money than it ought to pay.

Today, Schwarzenegger parted ways with the GOP nominee on the issue, saying that the feds should buy the mortgages, but only at the "adjusted value."

Of course, the governor also made remarks more friendly to the McCain campaign, including a subtle dig discussions of "redistribution of wealth," a topic being hotly debated by the candidates.

But the best line of the morning came from Buffett, the iconic billionaire who's backing Obama.

In talking about his advice for building strong companies, Buffett said that a company should be "so good that an idiot can run it, because sooner or later, one will."

Without missing a beat, he then said: "We have a country like that."

Arnold: Ohio Redux?

October 20, 2008 · Filed Under Elections, The Governor · Comments Off 

It appears that Governor Schwarzenegger is heading back to Ohio, ground zero for presidential elections.

At a campaign event this morning in San Diego in support of Proposition 11, Schwarzenegger said that a trip to the Buckeye State is on the horizon in support of the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin.

The governor, answering a question from a reporter, said he plans to travel to Columbus, Ohio to campaign for McCain late next week. And he made it clear that he thinks the trip isn't that big of a deal.

"I've done this in 1988, and in 1992, and on," said the governor according to an audio recording provided by his political team. Schwarzenegger's eponymous bodybuilding event is held every year in Columbus, which explains why he feels at home there.

Of course, Schwarzenegger's answer left out the Columbus campaign trip that's most remembered: the October 29, 2004 event in support of President George W. Bush. At that event, the governor told a local crowd estimated at some 20,000 that he was there to "pump [them] up." A few days later, Bush eked out a narrow win in Ohio.

Some pundits went so far as to say that Schwarzenegger may have helped seal the deal, especially in a media market like Columbus that was seen as crucial in the contest between Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry.

Schwarzenegger has a much closer relationship with McCain than he did Bush; still, given the strong sense in his home state that Barack Obama is the better choice on November 4, it will be interesting to see how Californians react to their governor's new extracurricular activities.

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