Pre-Analyzing Today's Special Election
Well, this is it. After three months of argument, threats, projections, facts and figures, the special election on the budget has finally arrived. Voters now get to decide the fate of six ballot measures that will impact the near-term budget deficit and the long-term manner of budgeting in the state. Well, a FEW of the voters get to decide. I popped by my local polling place just to see the crowd size - I already voted absentee - and let's just say that the traffic was, er, light.
So here are a few lessons as we watch the results tonight:
• Money Isn't Everything - This race may finally put to rest that axiom of California politics about cash being king. The No side - and mind you, groups only raised money opposing for certain ballot measures - raised about $4.5 million dollars, all told. The Yes side raised over $26 million. Despite this 6.5:1 advantage, most polls show the first five measures on the ballot, the ones that actually affect the budget, going down to defeat. Prop. 1C, which had NO money against it and the state Democratic Party along with millions from G Tech (the makers of lottery machines) behind it, has consistently polled the worst among all measures. The No on 1A folks used a strategy that conserved dollars but did get out the message, in particular through Web and Google ads. But they were obliterated on the air and through mailers, and based on the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger skipped town and Budget Reform Now doesn't even have a headquarters tonight, it appeared not to matter.
• No Credible Messengers - The main reason these ballot measures are poised to fail is that, in general terms, absolutely no politician in this state has the trust of the people. Nobody could sell the message on the Yes side because nobody could even sell themselves. I've heard about internal polls with the legislature in single digits and the Governor below 30%. We have a crisis of confidence in California, and that stands to reason, considering the extent to which process has overwhelmed personality, making the state largely ungovernable without major revisions to that process.
• Take The Message You Want - The Yacht Party will certainly try to paint this as a victory for their anti-tax jihad, and it's highly likely that the dwindling state political media, and even possibly the Democratic leadership, will believe them. However, regardless of conservatives being "emboldened," the fact is that progressives opposed the special election for very specific reasons, and Democratic leaders must reconcile with that as well. The constraints on governance here in California are undeniable. And yet the time has come to stop finding ways around the mountain of structural problems and pick up the shovel and start digging through the mountain. It won't take overnight, and in the meantime there are solutions - some painful, some creative - that the leadership will have to take. But the message from the electorate, including those that sat this race out in anger or frustration, is that people don't want gimmicks and spending caps and service cuts. They want a functioning government and they don't see one, and they will continue to punish these people who call themselves leaders until they start acting like it.
• Musical Chairs - Curren Price will win election to SD-26 today, shrinking the need for Republican votes to reach the 2/3 threshold in the Senate to 2. At the same time, this will increase the need for Republican votes to reach the 2/3 threshold in the Assembly to 4. There are more targeted seats in the Assembly, so in the short term this is a slight net win. But it's obviously not optimal, and that Assembly seat may not get filled, if the SD-26 odyssey is any guide, until late fall.