Yesterday, I touched on some initial thoughts on the June 7 California Primary.  Caveats aside that there are still more VBM and provisional ballots yet to be counted, I’d like to examine some local election results.  Local elections often don’t get the coverage they deserve, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important.

Ballot Measures – Lots of Yes’s

Statewide ballot measures (thanks to well-funded Yes and No campaigns) get a lot of attention, but you’ll be lucky if you receive a mailer for the local measures. This is unfortunate.  As with statewide measures, unless legislative bodies are given the authority within the measure’s language (very rare) they can only be amended or repealed via another ballot measure.  This requires another expensive ballot measure campaign to fix poorly written measures or repeal just plain bad public policy.

And it isn’t like localities only had a few ballot measures to consider this year.  On June 7, Californians had to make decisions on 150 different local measures, including 89 revenue related ones (i.e. school bonds and city/county/special district taxes).   These totaled billions in new taxes or bond authorization – the 46 school bonds alone totaled over $6 billion.

With little information beyond what the ballot statements say (typically promising that the funds will go toward sympathetic services like school facilities, roads, and police), based on preliminary Election Night results, 79% of these revenue-related measures passed. In fact, it didn’t really matter much if the passage threshold was a simple majority, 55% majority, or two-thirds majority. They generally all were successful.

Arguably the most consequential of these measures was the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority’s Measure AA. Requiring a two-thirds majority among the aggregate vote across nine Bay Area counties (Santa Clara, San Mateo, San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Solano, Napa, and Sonoma), this measure – which imposes a 20 year $12 parcel tax – was the first test of a regional government agency using the ballot box to fund their operations. And with a 69% Yes vote, it appears to be successful, despite four of the five counties (Contra Costa, Solano, Napa, and Sonoma) all falling below the two-thirds threshold. Obviously there are regional impacts and considerations – one being why a parcel tax was necessary when the nine counties could have funded the Authority with only a 0.1% to 0.3% of annual expenditures annual appropriation.

But Measure AA’s passage now can serve as a blueprint to funding regional government agencies outside of county budgets or the state’s. 1) The Restoration Authority was born out of the state no longer wanting to be financially responsible for Bay restoration activities.  Now that it can stand on its own feet, Sacramento may be more willing to unload spending responsibilities to existing or new regional entities.  2) The multi-county tax measure serves as an example for how other agencies can self-fund rather than be dependent on inconsistent state or county funding.

County Board of Supervisors – A Landing Spot for Electeds

The County Board of Supervisors is probably the most powerful elected body you know little or nothing about.  They control large budgets and oversee substantial policy areas.  And yet, the average voter would be hard pressed to name their county supervisor. They have also become an important part of California’s political musical chairs (thanks to the state’s term limits).

This year alone, seven current or former state legislators or U.S. Representatives ran for county supervisor: Assemblymembers Kristin Olsen (Stanislaus County), Das Williams (Santa Barbara), Luis Alejo (Monterey), Beth Gaines (El Dorado), Senator Bob Huff (Los Angeles), former Senator Noreen Evans (Sonoma), and Congresswoman Janice Hahn (Los Angeles).

Olsen and Williams have both won their races without the need of a November run-off.  Alejo (48%) and Hahn (47%) came very close to the 50% plus 1 threshold to win outright.  Meanwhile Gaines (25.6%) and Evans (37.9%) both garnered enough support to move forward to the run-off.   Meanwhile, Huff is locked in a tight battle to advance to November (he is down just 417 votes).

While most of these races won’t dramatically change the composition of their Boards, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (also known as the 5 Little Kings) is undergoing a seismic shift. Prior to the 2014 election of Hilda Solis (who resigned as U.S. Department of Labor Secretary to run for the Board) and Sheila Kuehl (a former State Senator and State Assemblymember), the Board had a cumulative tenure of almost 90 years.  On January 1, 2017, the cumulative tenure will be just 12 years with four of the five members having been elected within the last two cycles. And while the partisan composition has been 3 Democrats to 2 Republicans since 1993, it’s likely to have just 1 Republican (if that) after November. This new face of the Board will alter Los Angeles politics for years to come.

Mayoral Elections – Status Quo Continues?

Two of California’s most prominent cities – San Diego (2nd largest) and Fresno (5th largest) – held mayoral elections on Tuesday. For the most part, they were an embrace of the status quo.

Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s re-election wasn’t in much doubt (he scared off all prominent potential challengers). It was really just a question of whether he’d win outright in June or be forced to a run-off in November. Currently flirting with 60%, Faulconer not only wins without the need of a run-off, but also has a strong political mandate for his final term as Mayor.

In the Central Valley’s “capital,” the mayoral election to succeed termed out Republican Mayor Ashley Swearengin will continue to November.  Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea leads the field with 44% followed by Fresno City Councilmember Lee Brand.  While Swearengin is termed-out, both Perea and Brand are long time, prominent figures in Fresno politics. Hence, the outsider fervency seen across the country hasn’t hit America’s agriculture hub. The real battle here is whether Perea can break over two decades of Republican control of the Mayor’s Office. Even though Democrats have a strong registration advantage in Fresno and with the Clinton vs. Sanders-inspired Democratic voting swell, the total Republican share of the vote in this race was 54%, suggesting Brand starts out, at least for now, as the slight favorite in November.

Finally, former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg easily won election outright in the Sacramento mayoral election. He has been a prominent force in Sacramento politics since joining the City Council in 1992.  The real question with his election is whether he actually wants to be mayor or if it’s just a landing spot for him until he runs for Attorney General or another statewide office.

A Final Note on Turnout

Overall, June 7 was not a good night for Republicans.  And it likely stems from the competitive Democratic Presidential contest and the lack of reasons for Republicans to turn out: 1) their Presidential race was over, 2) no U.S. Senate candidate had the resources to drive turnout, 3) no controversial ballot measures, and 4) a presumptive nominee who has, thus far, failed to inspire and unite the party.

If the June-to-November historical pattern of greater Democratic turnout persists into this November, Republican gains from 2014 will be wiped clean (plus some). But there is evidence that this may have been a unique June Primary.  Currently, the Democrat-to-Republican Presidential vote ratio is 2.22 (i.e. for every Republican vote cast in the Presidential Primary, 2.22 votes were cast in the Democratic Primary).  This is 181% higher than the 2000-to-2012 average.  In fact, it is almost 130% higher than 2008, the last time both parties had contested Presidential primaries. Therefore, while Republicans still have an uphill battle in November, the June-to-November Democratic swell may not be as pronounced as it has been in the past.

Maybe even more so in local elections (where a 50% plus 1 gives a candidate an outright victory) than state or federal races, primaries matter a lot. Therefore, even though your news station or newspapers may not be covering them heavily, you should be paying attention to these contests.