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Five Takeaways From Election Day in California

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Jerry Brown won an unprecedented fourth term as California governor. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

It was, as one political observer called it, the "meh election" in California -- a mismatch in the state's marquee race, a nasty and largely confusing fight over health care initiatives, and an electorate both a little gloomy about the future ... but mostly unwilling to cast a vote for change.

Still, there was history made on Tuesday night. Voters put Edmund G. Brown Jr. in the history books as the only person to ever be elected governor of California four times. The 76-year-old Brown handily beat his newcomer GOP challenger almost four decades to the day after he first won the office in 1974. And Democrats, even in a year when Republicans were more energized, managed to largely dominate all the important contests.

A look at the big takeaways -- five in all -- from a California election that, well, may not be that memorable in the years to come.

Everything's Coming Up Jerry: The state's unconventional governor has had his ups and downs, but it's hard to see a downside as the final votes are counted in this election. A thumping of Republican Neel Kashkari, a resounding victory for the two ballot measures -- Proposition 1 and Proposition 2 -- that he urged voters to approve, and at least a gentle breeze of a good economy at his back.

"I take the opportunity and the responsibility very seriously," Brown told reporters in his brief Q&A Tuesday night in Sacramento. This, after a very low-key private dinner (takeout, natch) inside the historic governor's mansion.


The governor has a pretty good take on the California electorate, and so how he envisions this final term as chief executive will be the biggest story in state government in 2015 ... and perhaps beyond. Tax reform? More changes to public employee pensions? Expanded improvements to the state's infrastructure? Or just more of what he's already done on water, public safety realignment and education changes?

Second Straight Shutout: If this were Jeopardy! the answer would be, "Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steve Poizner." The question, of course: Who were the last two Republicans elected statewide in California?

Unofficial election returns suggest 2006 will remain the last time a Republican won statewide office. Tuesday night's buzz of possible wins in the races for state controller and secretary of state faded by the stroke of midnight -- races where Republicans seemed to have a real shot at some statewide visibility.

"We have a numerical disadvantage," state GOP Vice Chair Harmeet Dhillon said on KQED Tuesday night.

True, but Republican leaders -- and big donors -- focused more of their energies in the fall election on legislative and congressional races, seeing those contests as the best way to refocus a party that's widely seen as having lost its way.

First Loss For Indian Gaming: The defeat of Proposition 48 -- a shellacking, in non-technical terms -- was the first time California voters have rejected a ballot measure in support of either new tribal gaming or expanded tribal gaming.

Prop. 48, a referendum on the state's approval of a Madera County casino project, was portrayed as a potential precedent for other tribes seeking new land for gaming. In elections in 1998, 2000 and 2008, voters backed Indian casino propositions. Not this time, though.

Prop. 48 even appeared to have lost in Madera County, where the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians had believed it had strong local support for its casino project. And then, an issue left somewhat unanswered: Can federal officials -- who have already signed off on the tribal gaming plan -- simply ignore Tuesday's vote and allow the project to move forward? If that sounds like it has the potential for a lawsuit, you're probably right.

Johnny T. Makes It Three: We had expected two tight races for incumbent California congressional Democrats, but Johnny Tacherra wasn't on the radar. On Tuesday, the Fresno County dairy farmer looked like a potential winner in an upset of Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno) -- a race where virtually no money was spent by Republicans, and in a district where Democrats hold more than a 16-point registration advantage.

And the man who calls himself "Johnny T" in his one campaign video wasn't alone. Republicans also either took Democratic incumbent congressmen to the wire ... or beat them ... in Sacramento County and in San Diego.

And Finally, These Tidbits: So what else was there to ponder about this statewide general election? How about the passage of the nation's first soda tax in Berkeley (one some observers said may be dismissed by the Big Soda industry as "Well, it's Berkeley, of course") or the headaches in Santa Clara County, whose elections officials struggled to fix some technical glitches and thus sparked some chuckles about this happening in the heart of Silicon Valley, or the warm and fuzzy tweets between Gavin Newsom and Ron Nehring after Newsom won a second term as lieutenant governor -- even though the two had traded nasty barbs for weeks. All's fair in love, war, and politics. Right?

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