Politi­cians spent $1 bil­lion on this elec­tion

The Modesto Bee - - Opinion - BY DAN WAL­TERS Dan Wal­ters writes on mat­ters of statewide sig­nif­i­cance for CAL­mat­ters, a pub­lic in­ter­est jour­nal­ism or­ga­ni­za­tion. Email: dan@cal­mat­ters.org.

Afew hours be­fore the polls closed Tues­day, the Cal­i­for­nia Tar­get Book – which tracks Cal­i­for­nia po­lit­i­cal trends – re­ported that more than $1 bil­lion had been spent on cam­paigns.

That fig­ure im­plied big things were hap­pen­ing. But Tues­day’s vote was, well, pre­dictable. Those who were ex­pected to win, Democrats mostly, did. But even though Democrats flipped at least two con­gres­sional seats – with the pos­si­bil­ity of two or three oth­ers when the votes are even­tu­ally counted – the state did not play a sig­nif­i­cant role, as once seemed likely, in de­ter­min­ing con­trol of the House.

Democrats eas­ily won enough seats in other states to re­take the House and re-el­e­vate San Fran­cisco’s Nancy Pelosi into the speak­er­ship.

The me­dia frenzy over con­gres­sional con­tests over­shad­owed ho-hum con­tests for the two bal­lot-top­ping of­fices of gover­nor and U.S. sen­a­tor.

Lt. Gov. Gavin New­som coasted into the gov­er­nor­ship, al­most pre-or­dained once he fended off pri­mary chal­lenger An­to­nio Vil­laraigosa; New­som faced only to­ken op­po­si­tion from Repub­li­can John Cox. He will be­come, judg­ing from his own words, the most lib­eral gover­nor of the past half-cen­tury and per­haps ever, but now must fig­ure out how to pay for his many prom­ises of new health­care, ed­u­ca­tion and so­cial wel­fare ben­e­fits – or how to side­step them.

Be­com­ing gover­nor of the na­tion’s rich­est and most pop­u­lous state el­e­vates New­som into the up­per ranks of na­tional pol­i­tics. Could – and would – he run for pres­i­dent two years hence, given that two other Cal­i­for­ni­ans – Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris and Los An­ge­les Mayor Eric Garcetti – are al­ready pu­ta­tive can­di­dates?

If he opts out of 2020, and Trump wins a sec­ond term, the pres­i­dency would be open in 2024 – neatly co­in­cid­ing with the mid-point of a New­som sec­ond term as gover­nor. But if Trump loses to a Demo­crat in 2020, it could thwart what­ever pres­i­den­tial am­bi­tions New­som might har­bor.

Dianne Fe­in­stein, first elected to the Se­nate in 1992, won an­other six-year term, but she’s 85 years old and it wouldn’t be sur­pris­ing if she stepped down be­fore 2024, al­low­ing New­som to ap­point her suc­ces­sor and per­haps even take the seat him­self as a path­way to the pres­i­dency.

Fe­in­stein’s chal­lenger, fel­low Demo­crat Kevin de León, hoped anti-Don­ald Trump fer­vor and the Democrats’ shift to the left would make Fe­in­stein vul­ner­a­ble. But his cam­paign never shifted out of first gear.

De León, for­mer pres­i­dent pro tem of the state Se­nate, could have claimed a down-bal­lot statewide of­fice and moved up the lad­der, but he grabbed for the brass ring and missed. Now he’ll be hunt­ing for a backup po­si­tion, per­haps on the Los An­ge­les City Coun­cil.

The most spec­tac­u­lar cam­paign spend­ing in Cal­i­for­nia this year was on 11 statewide bal­lot mea­sures. They ac­counted for a third of the $1 bil­lion with nearly $200 mil­lion of that spent against two mea­sures, Propo­si­tion 6, which would have re­pealed a pack­age of gas taxes and car fees passed by the Leg­is­la­ture, and Propo­si­tion 8, which pur­ported to cut costs of dial­y­sis treat­ments for those with kid­ney fail­ure.

While both mea­sures lost, the $366 mil­lion spent on bal­lot mea­sures made win­ners of cam­paign con­sul­tants and in­di­cated Cal­i­for­ni­ans can look for­ward, per­haps with dread, at de­cid­ing many more high-dol­lar is­sues at fu­ture elec­tions.

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