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Big day for California Democrats running statewide; bad day for big-money ballot measures

An electric vehicle 'refuels' at a charging station at a   Berkeley library branch in 2021.
An electric vehicle “refuels” at a charging station at a Berkeley library branch in 2021.
(Josh Edelson/For The Times)
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Even as ballots continue to be counted in two top races, California Democrats running for statewide office had an easy election night, while it was immediately clear the mega millions spent on several high-profile ballot measures turned out to be a poor investment.

Tallying all the ballots in California takes days, if not weeks, to finalize, so numbers are subject to change. But in a state where Republicans haven’t won statewide office since 2006 and Democrats dominate GOP voters by a near 2-1 ratio, the majority of the eight statewide races were quickly called after polls closed.

The Associated Press declared Gov. Gavin Newsom victorious in his reelection bid over state Sen. Brian Dahle (R-Bieber) shortly after 8 p.m. Dahle’s limited name identification and Newsom’s incumbency made the outcome all but certain before election day.

Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis similarly fended off her Republican challenger, as did Secretary of State Shirley Weber, a former state lawmaker appointed by Newsom in 2020.

Three Democrats who faced a tumultuous first term in office — Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, state Treasurer Fiona Ma and Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who was running in a nonpartisan contest — all cruised to reelection.

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Results come in the races for California governor, attorney general and controller.

Nov. 9, 2022

California’s races for attorney general and state controller are the last two still pending.

Democratic incumbent Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta maintained a significant lead over Republican defense attorney Nathan Hochman, who focused his campaign on mitigating an increase in certain crime rates and curtailing the state’s criminal justice reform movement.

The race for state controller was one of the more interesting contests on this year’s ballot. GOP policy advisor and public policy specialist Lanhee Chen ran against Democrat Malia Cohen, a top California tax official. Chen was considered to have the Republican Party’s strongest chance of breaking a longtime Democratic winning streak in statewide offices. But Cohen maintained a decent margin over Chen by Wednesday.

Voters also weighed in on seven ballot measures, all of which were quickly called by the Associated Press.

Proposition 1, perhaps the highest-profile of the initiatives, easily passed and will amend the California Constitution to explicitly protect the right to abortion in the state.

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Voters in Michigan have enshrined abortion rights in the state’s constitution, matching the success of similar measures in California and Vermont.

Nov. 9, 2022

California voters also overwhelmingly approved an initiative to bolster funding by an estimated $1 billion for arts and music education in K-12 schools. Proposition 28 will use funding from the state’s general fund to finance new programs and hire teachers.

Anti-tobacco advocates declared clear victory over the industry with Proposition 31, a proposal to uphold a 2020 law that banned the sale of most flavored tobacco products.

Two closely watched measures to legalize sports gaming, Propositions 26 and 27, went down in flames, despite a half-billion dollars spent during the campaign. The initiatives pitted some of California’s most powerful Native American tribes against sports gaming companies DraftKings and FanDuel.

Recent polling indicated the two measures lacked enthusiasm among voters, making Tuesday’s outcome unsurprising.

Californians also turned down a plan to raise taxes on wealthy residents to subsidize the purchase of electric cars and support wildfire prevention programs. Proposition 30 split Democrats, with Newsom in opposition and the California Democratic Party in support. Each side raised tens of millions of dollars for their campaigns.

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And for the third time in four years, this time with Proposition 29, California voters resoundingly rejected a statewide mandate to increase medical staffing at dialysis centers.

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