Dec 03, 2018
Update from a Political Junkie
Election Post-Mortem – What Happened Locally, Statewide, and Nationally
Dec 03, 2018
By Greg Brockbank
LOCAL NONPARTISAN OFFICES
DISTRICT ATTORNEY. Winning just under 49% of the vote in the June primary to Anna Pletcher’s 30%, Lori Frugoli was a comfortable frontrunner as the November runoff kicked off. But when the polls closed election night and the advance mail-in ballots were counted, Frugoli’s lead was only about 10% and at the end of the night, after counting election-day voters, her lead had shrunk to 4%. With the later mail-in ballots still being counted as of Nov. 21, Frugoli’s lead shrank to less than half a percent and that's where it finally ended in late November—a shockingly close finish, and a crushing blow to progressives, who'd hoped for an upset, especially in the final weeks and days.
MARIN HEALTHCARE DISTRICT. As expected, long-time incumbents Jennifer Rienks and Larry Bedard were the highest vote-getters; the final spot was considered a race between two newcomer surgeons: Brian Su had the edge, having served on hospital committees, and took out filing papers early, but he inexcusably neglected to write and submit a ballot statement (arguably the most important part of any campaign). The other surgeon, Edward Alfrey, filed late, was less known and less favored, but I still thought he’d win because he had a ballot statement. I was apparently wrong, and while the final few votes are still being counted, Su has a narrow lead – did word get around that he was the “inside” candidate or was his campaign more convincing or visible?
WATER DISTRICTS. The two incumbents on the Marin Municipal Water District board easily won re-election (Jack Gibson 2-1 over well-known and well-financed school board member Greg Knell, and Cynthia Koehler over little-known Joby Tapia, in separate races), as did the two from the North Marin Water District (Rick Fraites and Jim Grossi, over Tina McMillan, in one at-large race).
SCHOOL BOARD RACES. There were eight school board races, but two were in tiny West Marin districts. All incumbents running won re-election, but nine incumbents had stepped down, a high number, making for more contests than usual and more new faces arriving on the boards. College of Marin incumbents Wanden Treanor and Diana Conti won, along with new candidate Suzanne Brown Crow. Kentfield had five good candidates; the winning three were incumbent Heather Sridharan and new candidates Sarah Killingsworth and Davina Goldwasser. Dixie incumbent Brad Honsberger won, along with new candidates Megan Hutchinson and Brooks Nguyen. Novato incumbents Derek Knell and Maria Aguila won, along with newcomer Diane Gasson. San Rafael incumbents Natu Tuatagaloa and Rachel Kertz won re-election. In the Tamalpais Union High district, no incumbents ran for re-election, and the three new candidates elected (although the third is now leading by only a hair) are Dan Oppenheim, Cynthia Roenisch, and Kevin Saavedra. The Sausalito-Marin City school board race featured slates of two and three candidates – the so-called “Willow Creek” slate (named after the charter school in the district, although they don’t like to be called that), featuring incumbent Josh Barrow and two slate-mates, and the other slate, featuring incumbent Ida Green and one slate-mate -- who were seen as being more supportive of the so-called “public” school, Bayside-MLK. Voters chose Green and Barrow, and the third seat was won by seven votes by Green slate-mate Bonnie Hough.
SANITARY AND FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT RACES. In the four contested sanitary district races, each featuring a lone challenger running against all that district’s incumbents, the incumbents prevailed in three of the four. However, challenger Crystal Yezman won in the Las Gallinas Valley District, along with two of the three incumbents, leaving long-time incumbent Russ Greenfield out in the cold. There were races in two fire protection districts: Novato had two seats open, which were won by incumbent Bill Davis and new candidate Bruce Goines. In Stinson Beach, neither of the two incumbents filed a ballot statement, perhaps because they hadn’t been challenged in many years. Enter a challenger with a ballot statement, Will Mitchell, who won one of the seats, leaving incumbent Peter Sandmann out of office.
LOCAL PARTISAN RACES
Congressman Jared Huffman, State Senator Mike McGuire, and Assemblyman Marc Levine all cruised easily to re-election. Their challengers (one Republican and two Democrats) were all woefully underfunded compared to the incumbents, who always collect hundreds of thousands of dollars (millions in high-profile close races) without breaking a sweat, or, in this case, needing to campaign much. They are well-known incumbents who are seemingly doing a good enough job that they are not attracting the caliber of opponent who can beat them.
GOVERNOR. To no one’s surprise, Gavin Newsom won by just over 20 points. No surprise because he is extremely well known, going from the SF Board of Supervisors to seven years as SF Mayor and on to eight years as Lt. Governor. His Republican opponent was a wealthy businessman who’d run for high office several times before (from Chicago) and only became a California resident relatively recently. Newsom is more progressive than the somewhat moderate Jerry Brown, so we may see some exciting initiatives from him, especially since yet another multi-billion-dollar budget surplus (this time $15B) is looming next year. (Jerry Brown put most of the recent ones away in the relatively new rainy-day fund.)
LT. GOVERNOR. Despite the fact that State Senator Ed Hernandez had the “usual” qualifications (primarily, being termed out of the Legislature), he was beaten by fellow Democrat Eleni Kounalakis, whose path was unusual. She is a long-time Democratic activist and fundraiser and under Obama was Ambassador to Hungary. She’s a hard worker and a hard campaigner and convincing and progressive, and people (including me) just liked her (unlike, e.g., Hernandez). And oh yes, she had plenty of money because her father, who went from being a penniless Greek immigrant to being an extremely rich real estate magnate in the Sacramento area, was a big Democratic donor. In fact, he was the primary funder of Kounalakis’ campaign (although she’s earned money herself working for Dad). What a loving present from a loving father to a loving daughter.
STATE INSURANCE COMMISSIONER. This promised to be a close one, and it was (Lara won by 3%), as Democratic candidate State Senator Ricardo Lara was little known (although he was the author of the single-payer bill this session, SB 562), and at the end of election night was trailing Steve Poizner, who held the office for a four-year term starting 12 years ago. Poizner was a Republican then and ran this time as an “independent” (technically, “No Party Preference”). But Poizner, at the end of his one term eight years ago, ran for governor to the right of Meg Whitman, saying horribly right-wing things, and lost. So his claims to being a moderate, re-argued in this campaign, were damaged by that gubernatorial campaign eight years ago.
STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION. This was the other one that we knew would be close, and it was. Richmond State Assemblyman Tony Thurmond was behind on election night but took a narrow lead as the vote count continued after election day, and he finally won by under 1%, besting fellow Democrat Marshall Tuck -- who ran four years ago against now-termed-out incumbent Tom Torlakson. Tuck was funded by billionaires and known as a champion of charter schools. Candidates don’t often go from the State Assembly (especially after only a short time there), to statewide office, but Thurmond was knowledgeable and charismatic, if little known, and he was overwhelmingly endorsed over Tuck by the State Democratic Party.
SECRETARY OF STATE, CONTROLLER, ATTORNEY GENERAL, AND TREASURER. The Democrats easily won these four constitutional statewide offices, all with over 60% of the vote. The Republicans generally were unknown and underfunded, and California is a very blue state. Winners were Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Controller Betty Yee, (appointed) Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and current Board of Equalization member and now Treasurer-Elect Fiona Ma.
U.S. SENATE. The Senate seat is extremely important, but the race was always sort of a snoozer. Many across the political spectrum said Dianne Feinstein was too old at age 85 and should have stepped down, and in fact her approval numbers were shockingly low for such a long-time incumbent. Plus, the State Democratic Party endorsed her Democratic opponent, former State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon (he narrowly missed getting that endorsement at the state convention in the spring but got it overwhelmingly at the Executive Board meeting in the summer. Remember that the state delegates at the convention are more progressive than rank-and-file Democratic voters, and the Executive Board members are even more progressive). But the unknown and underfunded De Leon, progressive as he is, didn’t have much of a chance with the voters against the universally known and generally liked (if not always approved of) incumbent, who is even respected across the aisle. And oh yes, she had $10M in campaign funds – 20 times what de Leon had – which she didn’t really need, because she always led handily in the polls and glided easily in to another six-year term.
THE STATE BALLOT MEASURES
PROP 1 – AUTHORIZES BONDS TO FUND HOUSING ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS
NIMBYism is worse in Marin than most or all of the rest of the state, but still, I was surprised and pleased that most of the voters recognized our state housing crisis and voted for this crucial funding measure by over 55%.
PROP 2 – AUTHORIZES BONDS TO FUND EXISTING HOUSING PROGRAM FOR INDIVIDUALS WITH MENTAL ILLNESS
Similarly, this “authorization” to previously approved bond funds for the mentally ill (“the millionaire’s tax”), can now include housing for veterans, passing with nearly 63%.
PROP 3 – THE WATER BOND
This close loss (48.5%) was a pleasant surprise to me, because the bond had no formal (funded) opposition (although significant informal opposition from important groups such as the League of Women Voters and the Sierra Club). Although water bond measures usually win, and are in fact usually are put on the ballot by the Legislature, this one was written by an individual (Gerald Meral of Inverness), and was a typical “Christmas Tree” (ornaments for every special interest group), and had a bunch of bad things in it.
PROP 4 – THE CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL BOND
Although I had concerns about too much of the funding being distributed to a “private” (nonprofit) group of children’s hospitals, I wasn’t surprised that most people (62%) would be sympathetic to and vote for more funding for children’s medical care.
PROP 5 – PROPERTY TAX TRANSFER
Usually “fixes” to the original 40-year-old Prop 13 pass easily because more and more people want to save more and more money, even at the expense of local government funding. But miraculously, many people apparently realized that this “fix,” (read, “expansion”), by allowing seniors to keep their low property tax bases under almost any kind of move, would inflict too much economic loss on local governments. Only about 40.5% voted yes.
PROP 6 – THE GAS TAX REPEAL
This was originally meant to be a get-out-the-vote measure for Republicans (repealing a tax, especially a gas tax, is very popular among them), but it failed to gain sufficient traction and as it was losing in the polls before the election, it was abandoned by the state GOP (although not by the GOP gubernatorial candidate). In the end, about 43% of people voted for it, as the majority realized that it would halt crucial funding to road and bridge fixes, some already under way.
PROP 7 – PERMANENT DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME
Many people thought “who cares” and “this shouldn’t be on the ballot,” and perhaps both those groups are correct. Perhaps it was just a referendum on whether people like daylight savings time (and apparently they do, by about 60%), but that doesn’t mean Congress will allow the permanent change, or that the legislature (to whom this was an advisory measure) will pass it even if Congress allows it.
PROP 8 – LIMITS ON DIALYSIS CLINICS’ REVENUE & REQUIRED REFUNDS
This one came before our Marin Democratic Party governing board about a year ago (and we supported it), as an appropriate limitation on profits of (primarily ) two greedy dialysis chains that have been overcharging certain patients – a cost we all pay for. I was horrified (although not surprised) to see a record $111M from the dialysis chains to beat it (61%-49%); if they could spend that kind for money to protect their profits, those profits probably are in fact too high, and should be regulated, as in Obamacare. I also resented the corporate chains making the race about how important dialysis is, instead of patient safety, gouging, and excess profits, which is what the measure was really about.
PROP 10 – THE AFFORDABLE HOUSING ACT (REPEALS THE COSTA-HAWKINS ACT)
A few decades ago, a few brave California cities (mostly large and old) risked being called socialists and interfered with free market rental rates by enacting limited rent control in their cities. The Legislature limited such rent control shortly thereafter, applying those limitations to all California cities, and it was those legislative limitations that the Prop. 10 proponents were trying to repeal, but failed, by about 60-40%. This is the start, not the end, of the housing (“tenants’ rights”) wars.
PROP 11 – AMBULANCE EMPLOYEES PAID ON-CALL BREAKS, TRAINING AND MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
This one, like Prop. 8 (dialysis regulation), distressed me. Both involved obviously excessive corporate profits used against an attempt to curb their excessive profits. It shouldn’t have passed, because in it the proponents were carving out an exception to labor law. The ambulance dispatching companies made it about the importance of ambulances, when the issue was the dispatching company’s profits.
PROP 12 – FARM ANIMAL CONFINEMENT STANDARDS
Some people say we give too much money (public and private) to animal causes and protection organizations and agencies, beyond all reason and proportion to human children, for example. I am not one of those, and sympathize greatly with animals both wild and domesticated, including and especially factory farm animals, who lead miserable lives. Fortunately, 61% of voters agreed that we should try to alleviate a little bit of that misery a little tiny bit, at least for now.
CONTROL OF CONGRESS
SENATE. As predicted, the Republicans not only maintained their control of the Senate, but increased their majority by what looks like two seats (if the Republican beats the Democrat in Mississippi in a November 28 runoff), making it a likely 53-47, instead of the current 51-49. What happened to the party out of power in the White House gaining seats in both houses of Congress during mid-term elections, especially when the incumbent president is unpopular (as Trump is)? At any rate, the “moderate blue wave” saved most of the seats of the ten endangered Democratic Senate incumbents running for re-election in states Trump won two years ago. However, Republicans beat Democratic incumbents in North Dakota (Heidi Heitkamp), Indiana (Joe Donnelly), Missouri (Claire McCaskill), and Florida (Bill Nelson), making four flipped states for the GOP, to only two for the Dems (Nevada, an expected squeaker) and Arizona (in a surprise squeaker), which meant the Democrats could have done worse.
Looking ahead to 2020, usually Democrats do better in presidential years (when their turnout increases more than that of Republicans), and the senators up for re-election will be mostly Republican (instead of Democratic, as they were this year). However, there are not many bluish or purple states with Republican incumbents who can easily be knocked off -- maybe Colorado, Iowa, Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, and Maine? Still, if strong Democrats run and the Republican brand continues to fade with the ever-more-scandal-ridden Trump leading the way, the Dems conceivably could take the Senate. The big long-term Democratic problem is that there are far more (usually small) Republican states than there are (often larger) blue states, but each of them get exactly two senators.
HOUSE. Also as predicted, Democrats took back majority control of the House, which will change things dramatically for the Trump Administration (and feature dozens of investigations of Trump and his administration, and perhaps impeachment, but only if the Republicans join in), as will the soon-expected Mueller report. Post-election ballot counting brought the total number of flipped seats up to nearly 40 -- well in excess of the 23 needed to form a majority in the biggest number of Democratic seats flipped since ’74 (but not as big as some Republican waves as recently as 2010). Republican gerrymandering over the past decade has made it harder. In the House, the Kavanaugh confirmation helped the Dems, even as it hurt them in some Senate races, because a realignment is occurring, involving college-educated suburban women moving in larger than expected numbers to the Dems, just as a smaller movement of Midwest non-college-degree blue-collar men have moved to the GOP. And a very large number of swing House districts are in the suburbs (the cities remain firmly Democratic, and the rural areas and small towns Republican), and thus a good number flipped to the Dems this year. Maybe nearly all of them will stay Democratic in 2020, and the Dems could well even flip a few more Republican seats they came close to this time, but didn’t quite win.
Looking ahead to 2020 and beyond, I predict a Democratic President (I plan on writing an article listing the leading dozen (?) candidates’ brief pros and cons, and their odds of winning in betting parlors where that is legal), a slightly increased Democratic margin in the House, and just maybe picking up two to three Senate seats (“surprises,” like Arizona was this year). And then watch out for the usual backlash in 2022, when the Democrats will be doubly hurt by the usual midterm election low-Democratic turnout; plus we should have a Democrat in the White House, so the Republicans could do well for that reason as well. However, in this year’s election (and hopefully 2020’s as well), the Dems had many significant gains in gubernatorial elections and also gained control of some states’ legislative chambers, making partisan gerrymanders in 2021 impossible in many previously all-red states. So there is the possibility that in 2022, the Democrats will pick up even more seats in the House, or at least offset the otherwise expected losses.
Note: The views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and are not intended to reflect those of MCBA nor is this column an endorsement of any candidate.
Greg Brockbank is a 30+ year attorney and civic and political activist, having served for 22 years on the College of Marin Board of Trustees and then on the San Rafael City Council. He is the senior member and immediate past chair of the Marin Democratic Party governing board and has attended 30+ state Democratic conventions. For over 20 years, he has provided numerous groups with detailed lists of the contact info for all candidates for Marin’s local offices, and appears as a commentator and election-night co-host on public access television.