Voters cast their ballot at a polling station at the Sacramento County voter registration and elections office in Sacramento on Nov. 8, 2022. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters
After tens of millions of dollars in spending, thousands of door knocks and hundreds of attack ads, voting ended Nov. 8 in California — and the verdict of voters is now rolling in.
Among the seven ballot measures, Californians said yes to enshrining “reproductive freedom” in the state constitution, but rejected pricey campaigns that would have allowed sports betting online and at Native American casinos, as well as a tax on millionaires to combat climate change.
In the vote count thus far, no Republican was winning statewide office — something that last happened in 2006. Will Democrats keep their stranglehold on the Legislature with super-majorities? Did either party flip congressional seats, and will it matter for overall control of the U.S. House?
In blowouts, projected winners were called soon after the polls closed at 8 p.m. and early voting results were announced. But very close contests may not be decided for days, if not weeks. California now sends mail ballots to all registered voters, and any ballots postmarked by Election Day will still be counted through Nov. 15. That can delay final results, which will be certified in early December.
A roundup of key contests:
Governor: Smooth sailing for Newsom
Results (updated on 11/9):
Gavin Newsom, 58%
Brian Dahle, 42%
After months on the national stage playing the liberal warrior and tussling with his Republican counterparts, Gov. Gavin Newsom was looking toward reconciliation Tuesday night as he easily won re-election.
During brief remarks at a Sacramento victory party for the abortion rights initiative Proposition 1, Newsom suggested that he would aim in his second term to be a unifier in a cruel and highly polarized political landscape, where many leaders have prioritized bullying people and taking away their freedoms.
“The dream is predicated on all of us living and advancing together across every conceivable difference,” Newsom said. “We all have a responsibility to do a little bit more to meet people where they are.”
His race was called shortly after the polls closed in California at 8 p.m. Newsom appears headed toward another victory in line with his first campaign in 2018 and his defeat of a recall attempt last year, both of which the governor won by nearly 24 percentage points.
But you could be forgiven for forgetting that Newsom was on the ballot again this year.
After waltzing through the June primary, the Democratic incumbent barely acknowledged his campaign for a second and final term as California governor, outside of one low-wattage debate against Republican challenger Brian Dahle. With his focus turned to national fights — and perhaps higher office — Newsom spent more time and money helping supporters of Proposition 1.
Even in a year where the electorate is expected to tilt toward Republicans, Dahle struggled to gain traction in heavily Democratic California. The state senator from Bieber raised less than $1 million since the summer — a fraction of the nearly $6 million Newsom pulled in during the same time period — make it difficult to share his campaign message sharply criticizing Democratic policies that he argues have made California unaffordable for most residents.
Dahle conceded Wednesday, saying in a statement that his “grassroots campaign” was “an opportunity to give a voice to so many who have felt left behind.”
Results (updated on 11/9):
Rob Bonta, 57%
Nathan Hochman, 43%
Democrat Rob Bonta won his first election and will remain in the office he’s occupied since April 2021 as California’s appointed attorney general. He faced Republican Nathan Hochman, a former federal prosecutor, in a race that focused on California’s crime rate, which has risen relative to recent years, but remains well below the rates of the early 1990s.
“No Department of Justice in the nation is doing more to stand up for you,” Bonta said in prepared remarks released Tuesday night. “No Attorney General is doing more to stand up to the far-right attacks on your freedoms.”
Hochman’s focus on homelessness, fentanyl and the homicide rate in California’s largest cities played the foil to Bonta’s image as a progressive reformer who was unwinding the state’s punishment-heavy criminal justice policies of the 1980s and ’90s — first as a legislator and then as attorney general.
Hochman, who defeated a Republican and former Republican in the June primary, also seized on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s response to California’s rising crime rate and voters’ doubts about his ability to control it. The year began with an ugly push-and-pull over railroad crime. Television stations aired images nightly of railyards strewn with the remains of pilfered goods stolen from rail cars. Hochman played that up in early ads, describing Bonta and Newsom as the “Let ‘Em Go Guys.”
It was a hint of what was to come. Throughout the summer and fall, Hochman continued to play up the crime rate while Bonta remained relatively quiet, highlighting the work he’s doing on housing oversight, environmental justice and reproductive rights, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion.
The candidates did not debate, though Hochman demanded one. The closest they came was a joint interview with McClatchy’s California newspapers’ editorial boards.
Controller: Will Chen break GOP winless streak?
Malia Cohen appears headed to victory in what was one of the most-watched races this year. With just more than a third of precincts reporting, Cohen declared victory Tuesday night — when she was leading 57% to 43% for Republican Lanhee Chen.
Chen said it is “way too early to concede.” “There are still millions of votes left to count,” he said. “Rather than measuring the drapes, let the process unfold.”
Hopes were riding high on Chen to break the California Republican Party’s 16-year losing streak for statewide offices: He led the primary by nearly 15 percentage points, outraised his Democratic opponent by $2 million and landed endorsements from the largest California newspapers.
But his apparent loss didn’t come as a shock. A poll released last week by USC’s Schwarzenegger Institute showed Cohen leading 58% to 42% in the race to be the state’s top accountant and bookkeeper.
Chen ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility, trying to sell voters on the need for someone outside the dominant party to oversee its finances. He also tried to connect the controller’s role with high gas prices and inflation.
But in line with historical trends and voter registration, Californians apparently elected another Democrat. Cohen, chairperson of the state Board of Equalization and a former San Francisco supervisor, ran on the message of the moment: protecting the right to abortion, as well as addressing inequities, particularly among people of color.
In her early declaration of victory, Cohen committed to making sure Californians’ tax dollars address homelessness in the state and protect the environment, along with access to health care and reproductive freedom.
“Let’s build a California where everyone thrives,” she said.
Schools superintendent: Thurmond survives parental fury
While parents and local school leaders criticized Tony Thurmond for what they saw as his complicity in keeping school closed too long during the pandemic, enduring support from teachers’ unions seems to have been enough to secure him another four years in office.
Thurmond’s fight for a second term came after a rocky couple years for the former legislator and social worker. He played a secondary role to Gov. Gavin Newsom in announcing school closures at the onset of the pandemic. Most of his work was done behind the scenes.
But his management of the Education Department entered the spotlight in 2021. Reports from Politico exposed a toxic workplace and a deputy superintendent living out of state. In recent months, he has been accused of trying to withhold standardized test scores until after the election.
HIs opponent, Lance Christensen, was in many ways a pandemic-era candidate, running a campaign based on parental rights. He said education officials and teachers’ unions have excluded parents from decisions on school closures and reopenings and now from conversations about how federal and state relief money will be used to help students recover from learning loss.
In the June primary, Thurmond fell just short of winning outright, with 46% of the vote to only 12% for Christensen. Fundraising numbers were a constant omen for Christensen. The challenger raised $159,000, compared to the $4.9 million raised by Thurmond.
Treasurer, insurance commissioner: Democrats prevail despite scandal
In down-ballot races for statewide offices, voters appeared to make it a clean sweep by incumbent Democrats.
That includes the positions of treasurer and insurance commissioner, despite controversies for the incumbents.
Treasurer Fiona Ma is being sued by a former employee for alleged sexual harassment and discrimination, while Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara has come under fire for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from insurance companies, though he pledged not to do so.
Ma defeated Republican Jack Guerrero, a Cudahy City Councilmember and CPA, while Lara won handily against Robert Howell, a small business owner, for insurance commissioner.
Lieutenant governor, secretary of state: No strong GOP challenge
The Democratic dominance in statewide offices continued for lieutenant governor and secretary of state as well.
Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis cruised to a second-term victory over Angela Underwood Jacobs, a city councilmember from Lancaster.
Secretary of State Shirley Weber won easily over Robert Bernosky, a Republican Party executive.
Neither Republican ran very active campaigns nor raised big sums of cash to mount major efforts.
State Supreme Court: A quiet, but historic campaign
California voters apparently helped the state make history again. Voters were overwhelmingly approving the nomination of Associate Justice Patricia Guerrero to serve as the state’s first Latina chief justice on the California Supreme Court.
Guerrero made her debut on the high court earlier this year, making her the first Latina to serve on the state’s highest court. Months later, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye announced her retirement and Newsom nominated Guerrero to lead the court. Guerrero will start her new position in January.
Associate Justices Joshua Groban, Martin Jenkins and Goodwin Liu also were winning retention votes, which is not unusual. State Supreme Court elections have been uneventful since the mid-1980s when voters ousted a chief justice and a couple of associate justices. It’s a far different story from the days when Supreme Court justices were polarizing figures. Read all about it here.
State Assembly: Which kind of Democrats win?
This being California, there’s not much question about which party will hold onto a majority of the seats in the state Assembly after this election. Currently, Democrats hold 60 out of 80. Even with 21 open seats, there’s little chance the party will lose its supermajority, which gives them the power to pass any law they like, so long as they can all agree.
But Democrats rarely all agree.
On taxation, environmental regulations, policing and housing, the split within the majority party’s caucus is the most important division in the chamber. That split is likely to yawn open as soon as the legislative session starts next month. Gov. Gavin Newsom has called for a special session to consider a new tax on the profits of oil and gas producers. In both purple seats and Democratic strongholds with two Democrats competing against one another, interest groups have been racing to help elect legislators of their choice. It’s certain to be a Democrat — but which kind? That’s the $40 million question.
And this year, there’s an added fissure to consider. Over the summer, Salinas Democrat Robert Rivas announced his intentions to become the next Assembly speaker. The current speaker, Anthony Rendon of Los Angeles, declined to go along with that plan, and so the two camps and their respective allies have been locked into a Cold War ever since, lobbying incumbents and wooing Democratic candidates with campaign cash.
The coming speakership contest could be a quiet behind-the-scenes negotiation, as in the past. But with intraparty tempers flaring, it could also spill out into the open.
State Senate: A big change in membership
Like the Assembly, Democrats occupy three-fourths of the seats in the state Senate. After the election, the party will still hold a commanding majority. It doesn’t help the GOP’s dim prospects that two Democrats managed to claim the two spots on the general election ballot in a conservative central Sierra district that, barring that fluke, likely would have gone Republican.
But even if the Senate’s partisan balance remains roughly the same, the membership is in for a big change. Of the 40 members, seven longtime incumbents hit their term limits this year and three more called it quits early. That opened up a series of fiercely competitive races that will define the Senate’s ideological bent and demographic composition. In Sacramento and the East Bay, there are the typical standoffs between moderate and progressive Democrats. In the San Fernando Valley, it’s a race between an outgoing senator’s son and newcomer crying nepotism. And east of Sacramento and north of San Diego, there are some old-fashioned battles between Democrat and Republican.
Congress: California helps decide which party is in charge
Which party will control the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate next year? Will President Biden have two more years to enact his agenda, or will his administration be condemned to relentless investigations and lame duck-itude?
Voters in California will help give us the answer.
Democrats have a mere eight-seat majority in the House, and there are more than 60 competitive races across the country. Many of those nail-biters are in California. They include seven mostly suburban districts that Democrats flipped from Republicans in the 2018 “blue wave,” but a few that the GOP clawed back in 2020. They also include a handful of new ones, competitive because of the state redistricting commission’s new lines, demographic change and current political concerns.
Democrats had reason to be optimistic earlier this year. Even before the U.S. Supreme Court rescinded the constitutional right to an abortion in June, Democratic activists seized on the issue as a way to keep moderate and independents in their camp. In the late summer, polls and a blowout win for abortion rights in conservative Kansas, suggested that strategy might work.
But the pendulum has swung back. Driven by frustration with inflation and a predictable midterm dissatisfaction with the party in power, voters are increasingly turning to the GOP. Election predictors now forecast likely Republican wins in Orange County, Bakersfield, Santa Clarita and Palm Springs.
If those trends hold, the fate of California’s swing seats may only determine the size of the GOP’s majority, not if there is one. The next House speaker will likely be a Californian regardless of the results — either Bakersfield Republican Kevin McCarthy, the current minority leader who has long had his eye on the gavel, or the current Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco.
As for the 50-50 U.S. Senate, the majority is up for grabs, too. But in California, Alex Padilla, appointed to the position by Newsom in 2021, was quickly declared the victor over his Republican challenger Mark Meuser.
Prop. 1: After approval, court fight next on abortion laws?
California joined a wave of states affirming their support for abortion rights Tuesday night as voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 1, an initiative to add “reproductive freedom” to the state constitution.
“Abortion is and forever will be protected in California,” Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat who led the effort to put the measure on the ballot, said at a victory party at a downtown Sacramento hotel. “This is a historic moment and we have met it with a historic response.”
The approval of Proposition 1 won’t fundamentally change abortion access in California. State law and court rulings already ensure that the procedure is available here until fetal viability, at about 24 weeks of pregnancy, and after that, if necessary for the life or health of the mother.
But following the U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer overturning the constitutional right to abortion nationwide, Democratic leaders in California wanted a stronger guarantee that the procedure wouldn’t be threatened by future lawmakers and judges. They put Proposition 1 on the ballot to explicitly protect in the state constitution the right to have an abortion and the right to choose or refuse contraceptives — and also maybe to boost interest in a sleepy election among liberal voters.
Opponents, led by religious organizations such as the Catholic Church, raised concerns that the sweeping language of the measure, which does not mention the viability framework, would overturn all restrictions on abortion in California.
“Prop. 1 has opened the door to unregulated, late-term abortions, all at taxpayer expense, redirecting state funding away from solutions for the greatest needs of California families,” the California Catholic Conference said in a statement Tuesday night. “Time and truth go hand in hand. The reckless language and realities of Prop. 1 will be realized in due time.”
Legal scholars say that is a highly unlikely outcome, since supporters of Proposition 1 have made clear elsewhere that their intent was to safeguard the current system rather than extend abortion access into the final months of pregnancy. Nevertheless, this measure appears headed for a court battle.
“Leaders in California will be prepared to do what we have to do to defend this right,” Atkins said, noting that Attorney General Rob Bonta has already promised to back the law in court.
The Vote No campaign tweeted Wednesday: “Our coalition will fight all attempts to conform state law to what is now the nation’s most extreme abortion amendment. We are organized, energized, and committed to the work ahead.”
On the same night, voters in Vermont and Michigan also passed ballot measures to enshrine reproductive rights in their state constitutions, while Kentucky voters rejected an effort to eliminate constitutional protections for abortion in the state. Supporters of Proposition 1 supporters said they are talking with advocates in other states who are exploring their own efforts to protect abortion rights at the ballot box.
Props. 26 and 27: A bad bet on sports gambling
Californians were asked – in two different ways – if they wanted to legalize sports betting. Their resounding answer was “No.”
Proposition 26, bankrolled by about a dozen Native American tribes, would have allowed in-person sports betting at tribal casinos and at the state’s four private horse race tracks. It would also would have allowed tribal casinos to add roulette and dice games, and allowed private citizens and lawyers to bring lawsuits to enforce gaming laws.
Proposition 27 was paid for by a handful of large online gaming companies, including FanDuel and DraftKings. It would have allowed gaming companies and tribes to offer online sports betting.
The defeat is remarkable given the firehose of cash that flowed into the battle. The campaign committees for and against the two measures raised more than $450 million combined. That’s nearly double the previous record of $226 million raised to support and oppose Proposition 22, which exempted gig companies like Uber and Lyft from a new state law requiring them to treat workers as employees.
But the spending wasn’t split equally between the two measures. “The reality is, we didn’t undertake any meaningful advertising for Yes on 26,” said Jacob Mejia, vice president of public affairs for Pechanga Band of Indians, a tribe that supported the in-person betting measure and opposed the online measure. “Our focus was purely on defeating Proposition 27 after that measure came to fruition,” Mejia said.
Gaming companies saw Prop. 27 as a massive business opportunity, unlocking potentially millions of new customers. Research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming estimated that if the proposition passed, California’s new online gaming industry would bring in $3 billion per year annually in gross gaming revenue (all bets, minus the amount paid out in winnings).
The stakes were high for tribes as well. Prop. 26 put a major expansion of their gaming rights on the table, while Prop. 27 represented a threat to their longstanding exclusivity over some forms of gambling.
But just because neither measure was approved doesn’t necessarily mean the battle over sports betting in California is over.
“This campaign has underscored our resolve to see California follow more than half the country in legalizing safe and responsible online sports betting,” said Nathan Click, a spokesperson for the Yes on 27 campaign, in a statement.
Tribal leaders are also keeping the door open to future sports betting legalization campaigns.
“It’s clear voters don’t want a massive expansion of online sports betting, and they trust Indian tribes when it comes to responsible gaming,” said Mark Macarro, tribal chairman of the Pechanga Band of Indians. “As tribes, we will analyze these results, and collectively have discussions about what the future of sports wagering might look like in California.”
Prop. 28: More money for arts and music education
Proposition 28 may have been the least controversial measure on the ballot, and it passed easily: No official opposition was filed against the initiative to require the state to spend more money — likely around $1 billion annually — on arts and music education in public schools.
Former Los Angeles Unified Schools Superintendent Austin Beutner, who spearheaded the campaign to place the measure on the ballot, said it will ensure arts and music programs — crucial to helping students recover from the pandemic — aren’t slashed during economic downturns.
Some newspaper editorial boards, however, questioned the wisdom of determining state spending at the ballot box and warned allocating more funds to education could mean cuts elsewhere.
Prop. 30: No on taxing millionaires for electric vehicles
Proposition 30 was rejected by voters and was one of the most confusing and contentious measures on this year’s ballot — and one of the clearest recent examples showing how politics makes strange bedfellows.
The rideshare company Lyft and a coalition of environmentalists, public health organizations and labor groups pumped millions into backing Proposition 30, which would have imposed a 1.75% personal income tax increase on California’s top earners — on income above $2 million per year — to fund a slew of climate initiatives to clean up the state’s dirty air.
California recently enacted swift and ambitious deadlines to phase in new sales of electric cars. The expected increase in electric vehicle ownership over the next two decades has brought into focus the growing need for public charging stations and subsidies to make zero-emission cars more affordable. But the state, which prides itself on setting aggressive climate policies, now finds itself facing an uphill battle when it comes to achieving those goals.
The measure would have raised as much as $5 billion annually, with most of that money going towards those electric vehicle incentives and half set aside for low-income communities. The remainder would have gone to wildfire prevention efforts.
California already dedicated $10 billion towards these incentives, but supporters said those investments alone wouldn’t be enough to meet the state’s goals. They argued the tax would generate a much-needed revenue stream to accelerate the transition and reduce the disproportionate burden of air pollution in disadvantaged communities.
“With Prop. 30, we had a chance to create a healthier, safer future for our state and our families,” said a statement from the Yes on 30 campaign. “The burden is now on the governor to work with legislative leaders to find other ways to fund the transition to a cleaner equitable transportation system and to prevent and control catastrophic wildfires.”
But opponents argued the measure would slam the wealthy with yet another tax hike and contended that it was a corporate carve-out for Lyft, which faces a 2030 deadline to log 90% of its miles in electric cars. The driving forces behind the opposition included billionaires, business groups and most notably Gov. Newsom, who turned on Democrats to join forces with the Republican Party.
“Today, California voters decisively rejected this poorly crafted and unnecessary tax hike,” said Amelia Matier, a spokesperson for the No on 30 campaign. “The fact is Proposition 30 was a solution to an issue that the state is already addressing.”
Newsom bombarded Californians with a torrent of television ads in recent weeks — perhaps one reason why the measure’s support had fallen well below the threshold that it needed to pass. The measure lost voter support between a September survey and a poll from early October.
Props. 29, 31: No on dialysis clinic regs, yes to flavored tobacco ban
The third time was not the charm for Proposition 29, an initiative to tighten regulation of kidney dialysis clinics. Similar versions of the measure — championed by the powerful labor union Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West — were rejected by a large margin in both 2018 and 2020.
But DaVita Inc. and Fresenius Medical Care, two private companies that own or operate three-fourths of California’s 650 dialysis clinics serving about 80,000 patients, didn’t want to take any chances: They raised more than $86 million to oppose the measure.
“Again and again, voters have sent a clear message that they will stand up for dialysis patients and reject these special interest attacks,” DeWayne Cox, a dialysis patient from Van Nuys, said in a statement. “Enough is enough. SEIU-UHW needs to stop this continued harassment of dialysis patients.”
Even though Proposition 31 passed, the mere fact that it was on the ballot represents a win for the tobacco industry. By gathering enough signatures to qualify a referendum on a 2020 law banning the sale of certain flavored tobacco products, the industry blocked it from taking effect until voters could decide whether to uphold or overturn it. That allowed tobacco companies to continue selling the products in question for another two years — likely earning them at least $1 billion in profits. Still, the tobacco industry was outspent on the ballot measure campaign: It raised about $24 million in opposition to the law, compared to nearly $36 million from those in support — much of which came from the pocket of Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and anti-tobacco crusader.
“In California’s battle against Big Tobacco, voters have overwhelmingly decided to protect kids from being lured into a lifetime of addiction to nicotine,” Lindsey Freitas, regional advocacy director of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement. “By stopping tobacco companies from using candy flavors to hook another generation of kids, Proposition 31 will save countless lives in the years to come. And it sets a powerful example for other states and cities, as well as the FDA, which has proposed nationwide regulations prohibiting menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.”
“This is a disappointment to the millions of adults over the age of 21 who are now prohibited from purchasing these products as well as other FDA-authorized harm-reduction alternatives,” the No on 31 campaign said in a statement.
Local races: L.A. chooses a new mayor
Results (updated on 11/9):
Rick Caruso, 51%
Karen Bass, 49%
Can more than $100 million make the difference? That’s the unprecedented sum that billionaire developer Rick Caruso spent on his campaign for Los Angeles mayor as he tries to overcome a 7-percentage-point deficit from the primary and beat U.S. Rep. Karen Bass for the top job in California’s biggest city. The race — which focused heavily on homelessness, policing and whether residents want an outsider or longtime civic leader in charge — was upended in recent weeks by the leak of a secret recording of several City Council members making racist comments. Voters in Los Angeles County will also decide whether to give a second term to controversial Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
Six years after California legalized recreational marijuana, cannabis businesses are still fighting for access in most cities and counties across the state, due to a provision that left the decision to local governments. A series of local initiatives, including several in the South Bay region of Los Angeles County, will test whether voters who supported legalization want weed sales in their own communities. The campaigns got contentious in Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and El Segundo, where a profane and combative cannabis entrepreneur spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to qualify measures that would force the cities to license dispensaries and encountered tremendous resistance from elected officials. His strategy already failed last month in Redondo Beach, when the city put it before voters in a low-turnout special election — though it did increase pressure on the council to adopt its own ordinance.
Republicans hope that parent frustrations over school closures during the coronavirus pandemic and lessons on race and sexuality in the classroom can be their ticket back to power in California. With about 2,500 local school board seats up for grabs in this election, the GOP put major organizing power into a candidate recruitment and training program that is also a long-term investment on re-engaging its base of support. The party aims to use heated education debates to motivate Republican voters, attract independents and disaffected Democrats, and ultimately make itself competitive for more legislative and congressional seats.