In any normal election year, most public attention, newspaper headlines and television reportage centers on top-of-the-ticket jobs like president, governor and U.S. senator.
Not in 2014. There is no race for either president or U.S. senator in California this year, and with Republicans unable so far to find and recruit a major figure to oppose septuagenarian Jerry Brown’s re-election bid, there might as well not be a race for governor.
The only question in that so-called contest will be whether Democrat Brown wins a majority in the June primary, like Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein did in 2012. Even if he does, though, he would still have to face off against the No. 2 primary vote-getter in the general election.
That will leave most focus on so-called down-the-ticket state posts, where some Democrats will vie for an unofficial anointment as the likely successor to Brown.
While there is one interesting nonpartisan entrant, no significant Republicans have yet emerged to run for any secondary statewide office. The GOP holds no statewide offices today.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the onetime San Francisco mayor who opposed Brown for awhile in the 2010 Democratic primary — before voters adopted the top-two primary election system for all offices below president — will seek re-election with no major opposition within his party.
Attorney General Kamala Harris will look to increase the razor-thin margin by which she won election over former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley last time out. And the popular Dave Jones will seek another term as insurance commissioner, most likely opposed by conservative GOP state Sen. Ted Gaines of Rocklin.
State Controller John Chiang, about to be termed out, will try for treasurer, possibly opposed by former Central Coast Republican legislator Sam Blakeslee. And soon-to-be-termed-out Assembly Speaker John Pérez aims to replace Chiang as controller in this game of musical chairs, opposed by Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, a fellow Democrat. If he wins, Pérez would be the first openly gay person elected statewide in California.
There’s a four-way race to succeed termed-out Secretary of State Debra Bowen. This includes two state senators, Alex Padilla from the San Fernando Valley portion of Los Angeles and Leland Yee of San Francisco. A third entrant is Derek Cressman, head of state operations for the Common Cause good government lobby, with Dan Schnur, director of USC’s Unruh Institute for Politics, the fourth. Schnur, former spokesman for both for ex-Gov. Pete Wilson and one of Arizona Sen. John McCain’s Republican presidential runs, is no longer registered GOP, but now an independent.
Any of these folks who does spectacularly would be strongly positioned to run for governor four years from now. But any or all of them might do it anyway. Watching these races is like taking in a Triple A baseball game to check out which top minor leaguers might someday become big leaguers.
There also will be plenty of initiative and referendum action, all concentrated in November, timing dictated two years ago by the Legislature for popularly qualified measures.
Expect big fall spending on two referenda, one to roll back a law passed at midyear giving transgender students in public schools the choice of which bathroom to use and which gender’s sports programs to choose. Another referendum would cancel compacts allowing the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians to build a large off-reservation casino.
The state’s ongoing political battle over public employee pensions and their impact on local and state budgets also likely will make the ballot, as San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and officials of a few other cities propose to allow altering of future pension benefits while letting stand those already earned and vested. There’s also a measure letting the insurance commissioner veto or alteration all health insurance price increases.
Other possible ballot entrants include one to totally legalize marijuana and two aiming to ease teacher firings.
Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats both boast of wresting one or two seats from the other, but anything more than a small shift in the state’s current party balance in the House of Representatives is unlikely.
All of which means this won’t be the most spectacular of election years, but it still will pack plenty of action, voters as usual called upon to make the important public policy decisions.
— Reach syndicated columnist Tom Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org