June 5, 2012

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Primary’s Lesson: Every Vote Counts

Primary Voters in California

Flickr/Old Man Lee

Two weeks after the June 5 primary, county elections officers are still hard at work counting ballots. There are still more than 300,000 absentee and provisional ballots yet to be processed around California. And lots of races hinge on those votes.

For starters: the fate of Proposition 29, the state tobacco tax hike. Support for the measure still lags, but the gap is narrowing. As of late Tuesday afternoon, the “Yes” votes were 17,571 behind the “No” votes. That’s a tiny fraction of the five million votes cast. And the margin against Prop. 29 has been shrinking steadily.  On June 12, it was 28,000, down from 63,000 votes the day after the election. And 337,977 ballots are still to be counted.

In addition, five congressional races and ten state assembly races are too close to call… with margins of less than two percent between the second and third vote-getters (only the top two will advance to the Nov. 6 general election).

In Congressional District 2, which stretches from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border, Democrat Norman Solomon trails Republican Daniel Roberts by 1,241 votes. The winner will face off against Democrat Jared Huffman in November.

In Congressional District 8, in the sparsely populated region east of the Sierras, three Republicans and one Democrat are all within about 900 votes of each other. The candidate currently in third place is just 215 votes shy of second place.

In Congressional District 21 which runs from south of Fresno down to Bakersfield, Democrat Blong Xiong trails Democrat John Hernandez by 492 votes. The winner will face Republican David Valadao.

In Congressional District 38, in Los Angeles County, Republican Jorge Robles is 632 votes behind Republican Benjamin Campos in a fight to take on Democratic incumbent Linda Sanchez.

And in Congressional District 52, in San Diego County, Democrat Lori Saldana is just 713 votes behind Democrat Scott Peters in a race to take on incumbent Republican Brian Bilbray.

In all those races, there are still thousands, if not tens of thousands, of ballots still being tallied.

The moral of the story? Your vote COUNTS!

Two thirds of California’s registered voters didn’t make it to the polls on June 5. But just a few hundred more votes in any of these close races could have swung the outcome. By voting — or staying home — you’ve had an impact on the election.

Voter-Approved Pension Reform — First of Many?

San Diego and San Jose both passed measures Tuesday to reform pension benefits for public employees. Photo: Michel Boutefeu/Newsmakers

By Peter Jon Shuler

Overwhelming voter support for pension reform measures in San Diego and San Jose could open the floodgates for rollbacks to rising pension costs in other cities and counties. It could also give a boost to Governor Brown’s proposals for statewide pension reform.

Both city measures are designed to rein in pension costs for existing employees and create less generous retirement packages for new hires. Cities around California have been watching the measures closely.

“I have no question we’re going to be seeing lots of different agencies attempting to adjust benefits very similar to what San Diego and San Jose did,” said Marcia Fritz, president of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility. She calls the Tuesday elections a mandate.

San Jose and San Diego unions quickly sued to block the measures. But Fritz says voter sentiment may take the issue to the state level and force Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento to take up Brown’s proposals.

Listen to the radio version of the story:

Statewide Election Results

California voters said 'yes' to new term-limit laws. Photo: David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Prop. 28 Wins Big

California voters want their state lawmakers to spend more time in one legislative house or the other and less time in office overall.  Californians passed — in a big way — Prop. 28 — which tweaks the state’s term limits law.

Proposition 28 limits lawmakers to 12 years, two shorter than under the current system, but lets them spend all that time in one house or the other.

Lawmakers are now limited to eight years — two terms in the State Senate, and six years — three terms in the Assembly.

The good government groups that sponsored the measure argued the new system should give lawmakers more time to learn their jobs.

“What Prop. 28 lets legislators do is stop jumping immediately into a campaign for their next office, as soon as they’re elected. It lets them take time to gain the expertise to become proficient at both the issues and how to work in the legislature,” Trudy Schafer, Program Director with the League of Women Voters, said.
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Low Voter Turnout, But an Election Worth Watching

A stack of voter stickers.

Voter turnout was low, but this was an election of firsts in California. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

While some may call this primary election a snoozer, this is actually a rather fascinating, if not historic, election. A new top-two primary system is being tested statewide for the first time, redistricting has pitted longtime colleagues against one another, and a cigarette tax and term limit propositions are on the ballot.

The California Report hosted a live primary night special.

We recommend having a listen, but if you can’t spare an hour, here are some highlights:

Redistricting:

“In some ways we we’re redistricting about 20 years worth because the last couple of redistrictings had really been incumbent protection districts.”

“That was a problematic district from the previous redistricting…Congressman Berman’s district, when his brother, who did the line drawing, drew those districts, they very specifically set out to carve, to basically pick voters for the congressman and the district did really not make sense.”

– Maria Blanco, former member of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission and vice president of civic engagement for the California Community Foundation on the ‘Battle of Ermans’ in the San Fernando Valley.

More on Berman v. Sherman:

“It’s just gonna wear everybody out. Because we know they’re going to face each other again in November. Essentially what they’re doing today, is trying to tell donors that they are pretty likely to win”

“It essentially brings the Republicans alive a little bit in a Democratic district [because] they’re potentially the balance of power in there.”

“Berman especially has been trying to get endorsements from Republicans…. Sherman could turn around in November and say ‘I’m a little bit more independent. Look, they haven’t all endorsed me so if you want someone to be a pain in the neck for the big party people, I’m your guy.’”

– Raphe Sonenshein, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles

Top-Two Primary:

“The top two shakes up everybody’s way of thinking of running for office in California.”

“It’s the end of third parties in California.”

“This really strikes me as the world as designed by Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

“If you look at the redistricting commission, the top two, all of these things were meant to create more moderate candidates who are not tied to the two parties. Now, poor Arnold, didn’t do much on the budget, but his legacy may end up being some quirky rules that allow quirky people to get in who don’t necessarily have to follow the pledges of either party.”

– Raphe Sonenshein

“There are two sets of dynamics you are seeing in the top-two primary, one is the safe party district where you have this slug fest within the party and the other is this phenomena where you have essentially a three-person race — its sorts out as a Democrat, a Republican and some version of a moderate –either a moderate Democrat, a moderate Republican, decline-to-state voter or some version of that.”

– Corey Cook, director of the Leo McCarthy Center at the University of San Francisco

“You’re really looking at the refurbishing of the Republican party against its will.”

– Raphe Sonenshein

Around the State:

“This is an example where we may possibly have an Independent versus a Republican and no Democrat on the November ballot, and that would be a first.

– Sasha Khokha, KQED Central Valley Bureau Chief on Stanislaus County’s District 10 race between Chad Condit v. Jose Hernandez v. Congressman Jeff Denham

“If you’re anti-war and pro-marijuana you probably represent the views of a lot of voters.”

– Mina Kim, on the 12 candidates vying to win Lynn Woolsey’s seat in the liberal Northbay  District 2.

 

 

Live Blog: June Primary Election Night

11:00 pm: Calling It a Night

Well folks, with 28.4% of the precincts reporting in, we’re calling it a night. We need our sleep so we can bring you final results and analysis bright and early on The California Report and KQED News. Until then, enjoy some of the choice quotes from the evening.

10:40 pm: Incumbents Advance in Low Turnout Calif. Primary

(AP) — U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein easily advanced to the November ballot in California’s statewide primary Tuesday and voters overwhelmingly approved a change to the state’s 22-year-old legislative term limits law. Early returns showed voters split on adding a $1-a-pack tax on cigarettes to fund cancer research in an election that tested sweeping new political reforms.

The primary was the first statewide use of a top-two voting system and newly redrawn legislative and congressional districts. Voters also weighed two ballot initiatives: one to alter legislative term limits and the tobacco tax.

Proposition 28, which would cut the total time lawmakers could serve in the state Legislature, passed easily, with 65 percent of the vote in early returns Tuesday night.

Feinstein, the 78-year-old incumbent Democrat, easily advanced to the general election, where she will face the next highest vote-getter. Elizabeth Emken, an autism activist who won the GOP’s endorsement, had a healthy lead in a crowded field of 23 challengers, 14 of them Republicans.

Some voters were hopeful that the new top-two system will deliver more competitive contests and more moderate candidates even as they were confronted with a longer, more complicated ballot. In some cases, candidates of the same party are vying to meet again in November, but early returns showed independent candidates not faring well.

“I think it helps to level the playing field,” said attorney Susan Hyman after casting her Democratic ballot at a skilled nursing facility in Long Beach. “The districts have been too entrenched by party.”

Two long-serving Democrats, Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, advanced to a November showdown in a bitterly contested San Fernando Valley area House district that was a marquee matchup among California’s congressional races.

Two Democrats also appeared headed for a same-party showdown in the Central Coast’s 13th Senate District, where Assemblyman Jerry Hill of San Mateo faced former Assemblywoman Sally Lieber of Redwood.

Election officials reported few problems at the polls and traffic was slow throughout the day, with some pundits predicting voter turnout could be as low as 25 percent, which would be a record low for a presidential primary.

“It looks abysmal,” Contra Costa Registrar of Voters Steve Weir. “It looks like this could be an almost all mail-in ballot elections. It’s seemingly that bad.”

Weir estimated that about 20 percent of ballots might not be processed Tuesday, which could mean candidates could wait to find out if they make the November runoff.

In San Diego, four well-known candidates were running for a spot in the fall runoff which will feature the top two finishers.

Republicans Carl DeMaio, a city councilman, and Bonnie Dumanis, a three-term San Diego County district attorney, ran against U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, the lone Democrat, and state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, who switched his affiliation from GOP to independent.

DeMaio led with 33 percent of the vote in early returns, with Filner in second place.

The top-two primary has triggered a new phenomenon where some of the hottest contests are those in which candidates of the same party are likely to meet again in November.

Democrats hope to pick up as many as six seats in California’s 53 congressional districts and have been working to register more voters in traditionally Republican-leaning areas of the Central Valley and the Inland Empire region of Southern California.

9:36 pm: Photo Dispatch: Huffman Campaign Party Sticks to Enviro Roots

Good eye, Mina Kim.

9:20 pm: City Pension Reform on Path to Approval in San Jose, San Diego

(AP) — Early returns show voters overwhelmingly approving measures to cut benefits for government workers in two major California cities.

In San Diego, 69 percent are in favor of Proposition B while 31 percent are opposed. Nearly 16 percent of precincts are reporting.

The margin in San Jose is even wider, with 71 percent in favor of Measure B and 29 percent opposed. More than 13 percent of precincts are reporting.

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed issued a statement thanking voters for commitment to fiscal reform.

9:06 pm: Early Returns Show Prop. 28 Leaning Toward Passage, 29 in Dead Heat

With 10% of the precincts counted, Yes on Proposition 28, a measure that would revise California legislator term limits, is earning 65% of the vote.

Proposition 29, the proposed cigarette tax, is coming in at 51% Yes, 49% No. What do you think about these kinds of taxes? Tell us in our little “quiz.”

8:04 pm: Polls Close, Results Trickle In

You can find statewide results at the Secretary of State’s site.

Local returns can be tracked by going to individual county sites.

8:00 pm: Live Election Special, Tweets From the Studio

Listen live to the program now.

7:12pm: Recall Effort Falls Short As Walker Survives In Wisconsin

via NPR and AP:

Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has survived his recall election, the AP projects.

The AP adds: “Walker becomes the first governor in American history to stay in
office after a recall challenge. The Republican governor rose to national prominence last year after taking on public-sector unions shortly after being sworn in. That fight also triggered the recall and set up a rematch with Tom Barrett, who was defeated by Walker in 2010.”

Read the full article at NPR.org

6:00pm: Races to Watch Tonight

The statewide ballot

Prop. 28 – The term-limit measure. “Prop 28 would tweak our term limits law,” Hendricks explains. “Currently somebody can serve in the State Legislature for 14 years, six in the Assembly and eight in the Senate. Under this new law, you would only be able to stay in the legislature for a maximum of 12 years, but with no limit to serving in either house.”

As for Prop. 29, the proposed $1.00 per pack extra tax tacked onto a pack of cigarettes, Hendricks says:

Twenty percent of the money would go to prevention and smoking cessation programs. The bulk would go to cancer research and research into other tobacco-related illnesses. Proponents argue that California’s tobacco tax is now below the national average. They also say the higher the tax on cigarettes, the less likely people they are to take up smoking, especially teens. Tobacco industry funding against the measure has been quite heavy, but there are anti-tax Republican groups against it as well. California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro has been outspoken in opposing the measure on anti-tax grounds. Others say it’s a regressive tax that hits poorer people hardest.”

Local elections and measures

Locally, there are two congressional races of particular interest. Longtime Democratic congressman Pete Stark of Alameda County is in trouble for a number of reasons. His district has moved further East and is now more conservative, for one. He’s also getting a serious challenge from fellow Democrat Eric Swallwell, a Dublin councilman and Alameda County prosecutor.

“If we didn’t have the top-two primary,” says Hendricks, “they would go head to head in June and one would emerge to face a token Republican in November, since it’s a Democratic district. But now Stark will probably have to face another Democrat in the general election.”

The 80-year-old Stark has also suffered a string of self-inflicted embarrassments, though he did recently land an endorsement from President Obama.

The other House race drawing attention locally is the battle for retiring congresswoman Lynn Woolsey’s seat in a newly drawn district that runs from Marin all the way up to the Oregon border. Of the large field running to replace Woolsey, political analysts are predicting the top two vote-getters will both be Democrats. The four candidates considered to be at the front of the pack: State Assemblyman Jared Huffman, author and progressive activist Norman Solomon, Marin County supervisor Susan Adams, and co-founder of UC Berkeley’s Center for Entrepeneurship & Technology Stacey Lawson. The leading Republican is Marine Corps veteran Dan Roberts.

Pension reform

In San Jose, Measure B is drawing a lot of attention as a belwether of voters’ willingness to allow municipalities to cope with shortfalls in pension funding by cutting benefits for public employees. KQED’s Peter Jon Shuler reports:

Measure B would require employees to make additional contributions to their plans — up to 16 percent of their pay — to help cover projected shortfalls.

The measure allows employees to avoid the extra fees by opting into a less generous plan with smaller payouts and later retirement ages [and] would provide new employees with a stripped-down retirement plan, but leaves the details for the city council to decide later. Councilman Pete Constant, who supports the measure, notes that it would leave existing pension commitments intact.

Public workers say it’s unfair to expect them to bear the brunt of a problem they didn’t create. And they say most retirement pensions are not luxurious. The average for San Jose is about $40,000 a year with a cost of living allowance of three percent…

Even opponents of Measure B agree the city needs to overhaul the terms of employee retirement benefits. But they say putting it on the ballot has turned the conversation over pension costs in San Jose into an ugly feud. Read full article

Around the country:

It’s Wisconsin, Wisconsin, Wisconsin. We’re no strangers to a recall election here in California, and this one is a doozy. Will controversial Governor Scott Walker hold on to his seat? Our colleagues at NPR are all over this one. (As of this update, the race in a dead heat.)

4:30pm: Election Night Coverage Begins … Now

Greetings. We’re gearing up for an evening of live coverage, including a one-hour California Report special broadcast at 7pm.

We’ll hear from reporters across the state, and talk to guests about what’s at stake, and what the results might mean for California.

If you haven’t already, you’ve got just over three hours left to get to your polling place. Don’t know where it is? Smart Voter has you covered.

Everything You Need to Know for Tuesday’s Primary

Will you get your "I Voted" sticker? Photo: Denise Cross/Flickr

Let me guess, you’re planning on voting but you lost the mailer that tells you where your polling place is (who can blame you, what with all the campaign mail and J. Crew catalogs you’ve received in recent weeks). Or perhaps you meant to spend the weekend learning about the state propositions, but the weather was nice and your friend invited you out to Dolores Park, yadda yadda. Well fret not. Here’s a list of resources that should get you through Tuesday’s primary, and back to the park in no time.

Polling Place Look Up

Smartvoter.org‘s polling place finder is the easiest to use that I’ve seen. Simply enter your address and it will not only tell you where to go, but will also show you the races that will appear on your ballot.

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Field Poll: Voters Support Props 28, 29

By Ben Adler

Supporters of Proposition 29 say additional cigarette taxes help people quit. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The big battle in the June 5 primary is Proposition 29, which would raise the tobacco tax to pay for cancer research. Ads are all over the airwaves, particularly from the measure’s opponents. And the Field Poll suggests they may be having some effect: the measure holds a 50-42 percent lead among likely voters. But among Californians who plan to vote at their polling place on Election Day, it only has a five-point lead. Those are voters who have not cast their ballots yet, and the advertising could be leading to the drop in support.

The other measure is Proposition 28, which would reduce the overall number of years state lawmakers can serve, but would let them spend the entire time in either the Senate or the Assembly. That initiative holds a much wider lead, 50 percent favoring to 28 percent opposed. Nearly a quarter of those polled say they’re undecided.

San Francisco’s Measure A: Who Get’s SF’s Mess?

KQED’s Cy Musiker spoke to USF’s Corey Cook about San Francisco’s Measure A, which seeks to change San Francisco’s waste collection from a regulated monopoly with Recology to a competitive bidding process. He also checked in with folks on both sides of the measure. At stake is San Francisco’s current eco-friendly waste collection system and potentially $40 million in savings. The piece lasts about 4 minutes. Click here to have a listen.

 

 

Prop. 28 Explained

The following is a transcript of a story that originally aired on The California Report.

California's capitol

A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that support for Prop. 28 is high among voters. Photo: David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Host, Paul Lancour: Proposition 28 on the June 5th primary ballot would modify California’s legislative term limits. At last poll, more than 60 percent of likely voters – from both sides of the aisle – said they were likely to vote for it. Roughly 30 percent of those the Public Policy Institute of California surveyed oppose the measure. The California Report’s Rachael Myrow spoke with John Myers, political editor at KXTV in Sacramento and former KQED Sacramento Bureau Chief about the proposition and what it would do.

John Myers: What Prop. 28 would do is, it would modify the existing term limits law for members of the state Legislature. Now we’ll remember that term limits were put in place by voters back in 1990. They limit a lawmaker to no more than six years in the State Assembly and no more than eight years in the State Senate. That could be 14 years if they could serve in both Houses but it would limit them to those amounts and it has for 20 years.

Prop. 28 would change that, it would allow a lawmaker to serve 12 years instead of those limits, but all in one House. So the backers of Prop. 28 say, “Well look it, this is a reduction in time in office for a lot of people from 14 years to 12 and they say you can also serve it in one House and therefore have a little bit more experience, a little bit more seniority to understand how the state works.’”

And opponents of Prop. 28 say this whole idea of just making it a more efficient government is really just another way of kind of hiding the fact that this would let people be in office for longer. And this really does, I think, come down to the question of incumbency and for voters, what do they think the value of incumbency is. Is there a value to being in office longer, learning the job or do they want people to serve less time and go back home and do whatever they do? That’s really the question they have to figure out on Prop. 28.
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San Diego One of Many Cities in ‘Pension War’

The San Diego skyline.

The pension debate in San Diego is complicated by the fact that city workers do not participate in Social Security. Photo: Tomcio77/Flickr

By Katie Orr

Franklin Lamberth took a break from his garbage route and stood in the sun next to the truck he drives for ten hours a day, four days a week. Lamberth has been a San Diego sanitation worker for nearly 20 years. He says he wouldn’t want to do anything else. But still, morale in his department is low, and he says his coworkers keep turning to him for reassurance.

“And they come to me because they think I have the answers,” said Lamberth. “And all I can tell them is, through life I roll with it. I’ve had a nice run. I don’t see any promise.”

Lamberth will get his pension when he retires, about $24,000 a year. But that’s all he can count on. Like all current city employees, Lamberth won’t receive Social Security because the city isn’t enrolled in the system.
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