For awhile there it looked like the race for the GOP presidential nomination was going to extend long enough to provide some real drama in the upcoming California primary. But it was not to be. Still, there's more at stake on June 5 than perhaps your one and only chance to vote for Orly Taitz against Dianne Feinstein for United Senator.
I asked Tyche Hendricks, KQED's 2012 election editor, to clue us in on some of the main storylines going into the election. Of primary importance (ha ha, get it?): Californians are being asked to vote on two ballot measures, Proposition 28 and Proposition 29.
"Prop 28 would tweak our term limits law," Hendricks says. "Currently somebody can serve in the State Legislature for 14 years, six in the Assembly and eight in the Senate. Under this new law, you would only be able to stay in the legislature for a maximum of 12 years, but with no limit to serving in either house."
Supporters - a large coalition of labor, business and good-government groups and the state Democratic Party - say the short limits in each house have created a system in which politicians are constantly running for the next office and do not have the time or encouragement to build relationships or to learn how to create good policy.
The measure mirrors recommendations made by two nonprofit, nonpartisan think tanks: the Public Policy Institute of California and the Center for Governmental Studies. Each determined that the 1990 law did not realize its goal of creating an independent, citizen legislature. Instead, the reports concluded, the law produced a weaker body of individuals even more dependent on lobbyists and obsessed with their next election.
"This is something that shortens the amount of time someone can spend in office but does help make legislators more accountable and prevents the merry-go-round effect we're seeing under the current term-limit law," said Gabriel Sanchez, the Yes on 28 spokesman...
Opponents, including the California Republican Party, call the measure a "scam." They charge that it would actually increase the amount of time most lawmakers spend in Sacramento, because it is far easier to get re-elected to a seat than to run in an entirely new district.
Listen to a debate on Prop 28 on KQED Public Radio's Forum show last week:
As for Prop 29, the proposed $1.00 per pack extra tax tacked on to a pack of cigarettes, Hendricks says, "twenty percent of the money would go to prevention and smoking cessation programs. The bulk would go to cancer research and research into other tobacco-related illnesses. Proponents argue that California's tobacco tax is now below the national average. They also say the higher the tax on cigarettes, the less likely people they are to take up smoking, especially teens. Tobacco industry funding against the measure has been quite heavy, but there are anti-tax Republican groups against it as well. California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro has been outspoken in opposing the measure on anti-tax grounds. Others say it's a regressive tax that hits poorer people hardest."
Two things are shaking up the congressional and legislative races for the primary. Number one: This is the first election in which California will use it's Top-Two primary system, created via Proposition 14 in 2010.
"For the first time, you'll be voting in one primary that has all the candidates lumped together from every party," says Tyche Hendricks. "The two candidates with the most votes will end up on the November ballot, regardless of whether they're in the same party or not."
The other thing affecting the dynamics of many races: The recent redistricting process, in which the new districts were drawn by a citizen's commission and not one of the political parties. "Ostensibly, they drew the lines without any political considerations," says Hendricks. "It's making a number of races more competitive than they otherwise would be. In some cases, incumbent districts were eliminated. In West Los Angeles, for instance, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman are both incumbent Democrats who have been forced to run in the same district."
Locally, there are two congressional races of particular interest. Longtime Democratic congressman Pete Stark of Alameda County is in trouble for a number of reasons. His district has moved further East and is now more conservative, for one. He's also getting a serious challenge from fellow Democrat Eric Swallwell, a Dublin councilman and Alameda County prosecutor.
"If we didn't have the top-two primary," says Hendricks, "they would go head to head in June and one would emerge to face a token Republican in November, since it's a Democratic district. But now Stark will probably have to face another Democrat in the general election."
The other local congressional race drawing attention is the battle for retiring congresswoman Lynn Woolsey's seat in a newly drawn district that runs from Marin all the way up to the Oregon border. Of the large field running to replace Woolsey, political analysts are predicting the top two vote-getters will both be Democrats. The four candidates considered to be at the front of the pack: State Assemblyman Jared Huffman, author and progressive activist Norman Solomon, Marin County supervisor Susan Adams, and co-founder of UC Berkeley's Center for Entrepeneurship & Technology Stacey Lawson. The leading Republican is Marine Corps veteran Dan Roberts.
More on that race from the Chronicle: Support for pot in 2nd District House race.
Many State Senate and Assembly races, plus local ballot measures and taxes are on the ballot. Find out what's on your local ballot below. Click on the main county link if you don't find what you're looking for in the bulleted lists...
- Voter information pamphlet
- District lookup -- find sample ballot by address
- Apply online to vote by mail - complete and submit this form online no later than 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 29, 2012
- Find your polling place
- Sample ballot
- Candidate roster
- School measures, countywide measures, special district measures - scroll down to bottom half of page
- Candidates on ballot
- Judicial candidates
- Local measures A through E
- List of polling sites with precincts