California election takeaways: Big money ruled amid low turnout

Money didn’t talk in the California primary. it screamed

In Tuesday’s two most closely watched contests, exorbitant sums were spent to oust the San Francisco District Attorney and push billionaire developer Rick Caruso into a runoff with Rep. Karen Bass to become Los Angeles’ next mayor.

Californians are unsettled, fearful, and in some cases angry about homelessness, rising gas prices, obscene housing costs, crime, and all manner of insults that undermine California’s golden promise — not to mention their daily lives.

Residents, however, weren’t excited enough to show up in decent numbers or to humiliate the governor of California, the US senator, or most of the incumbent Democrats in Sacramento and Washington, who are heading for easy re-election in November.

This wasn’t a vote that indicated a big change; California isn’t going to be a Republican anytime soon. Lack of interest or much voter engagement, cash was king.

Here are five more takeaways from a lackluster election fueled by an odd mix of anger and apathy.

November in mind

As a businessman, Caruso must be pretty happy with the return on his $40 million investment. It apparently earned him a first-place finish against Democrat Bass, who started the LA mayor’s race as the front-runner.

In the sort of Hollywood that loves sequels, we seem to have seen this script before: a city in turmoil abandons its left-wing leanings to elect a wealthy businessman who has promised to restore a sense of order and stability.

We won’t know until November if Caruso — a Democratic Party convert — is the second coming of former Republican Mayor Richard Riordan, or just another in California’s long line of wealthy people who used their wallets to throw themselves into the fray , but once came up short voters got a longer look.

Dubious repetition

The Fall of San Francisco Dist. atty The Chesa Boudin appears to be a setback to the criminal justice reform movement that intensified after the May 2020 killing of George Floyd.

It’s also part of a dubious political trend — the same drive behind Gov. Gavin Newsom’s attempted recall and President Trump’s “big lie” — in which losers refuse to recognize the outcome of elections they don’t like.

Boudin was a political maverick who was elected in 2019 after pledging to reform what he and other progressive prosecutors have called an overly punitive justice system that disproportionately jails blacks and browns.

The results of his tenure have been mixed. Homicides, shoplifting and auto theft are on the rise, but most violent crime remains near historic lows.

While the statistics are inconclusive, it is evident that money-financed real estate and technology interests have poured a fortune into short-circuiting San Francisco’s election process. Misleading voters, proponents labeled the recall a “Democratically-led effort” and smeared significant involvement from Conservatives and other outside interest groups bent on discrediting the liberal stronghold.

That’s not to dismiss the anger that led to Boudin’s recall, or the issues underlying that outrage. San Francisco is a beautiful place with a lot of ugly, deep-seated problems.

But to the extent that the district attorney was at fault, his role could have – and should – have been prosecuted when Boudin ran for re-election in next year’s regular election.

Why hold elections when the results are not respected and can be overturned at the whim of the wealthy?

The Big Sleep

There was plenty of time to vote and lots of places to do it.

To make things even easier, each eligible California voter was mailed a ballot along with a postage-paid return envelope.

Still, it seems like most people viewed Tuesday’s election as more of a sedative than a call for civic duty. According to preliminary results, less than 2 out of 10 voters cast their ballots.

Which is disappointing but not surprising.

Last September, California blew more than $200 million so voters could effectively say yes, we really want Newsom for governor.

The Democrat repelled the recall attempt by nearly the same landslide margin that elected him in November 2018.

Soon after, I wrote that Newsom’s re-election seemed all but certain unless he returned to the posh French Laundry restaurant and signed legislation opening up the California coast to oil drilling.

With gas prices now pushing $7 a gallon, that might actually work in Newsom’s favor.

In the absence of a competitive gubernatorial race and with Democratic US Senator Alex Padilla also running for re-election, this was the sleepiest election California has seen in a long time.

Also, for the first time in 58 years, there was not a single national electoral action at the ballot to grab voters’ attention and encourage them to vote.

Maybe next time the state can try foot massages and free candy.

Battlefield California

For years, elections in California’s Congress were pretty much decided before voters got involved. Politicians drew their district boundaries in a way that maximized their chances of re-election and left the decision largely for those they represented.

That all changed, however, when a citizens’ commission took over the redistribution process after the 2010 census.

In 2018, California was at the center of the battle for control of the US House of Representatives, with Democrats winning seven seats en route to capturing the majority.

With up to 10 contests in the state this November, Democrats are trying to offset expected losses elsewhere to maintain their weak hold.

Republicans are hoping Tuesday’s early returns will continue, and two of their vulnerable incumbents, Central Valley’s David Valadao and Orange County’s Young Kim, are hitting back at Trumpy challengers who could give Democrats an advantage.

The Democrats, for their part, cannot be happy about the miserable turnout. If abortion and the Jan. 6 uprising are meant to charge the party’s grass roots, there was no sign of it in Tuesday’s election.

party of one

Each of us is a deep thinker and a person of great discernment. (At least that’s what we tell ourselves.)

Thus, many find it fashionable to swear off party labels and insist on voting “for the man” or “for the woman” regardless of partisan considerations.

And yet, in most elections, the overwhelming majority of people vote for either the Democrats or the Republicans, the two parties that have dominated American politics for well over a century.

The last to know the limits of free agency is Anne Marie Schubert, which flared up in her candidacy for Attorney General.

The Sacramento County district attorney renounced her Republican affiliation a few years ago, an apparent requirement in California, where “GOP” has meant “DOA” in statewide elections for well over a decade.

Schubert had excellent crime-fighting credentials and helped solve the case of the Golden State Killer, among other accomplishments throughout his 30-year career as a law enforcement officer.

Still, with just under half of the votes counted, Schubert had only 8% support, landing well behind attorneys Nathan Hochman and Eric Early.

The two Republicans fought for the race in November against — and most likely lost to — Democratic incumbent Rob Bonta. California election takeaways: Big money ruled amid low turnout

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