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DECISION '98

Davis, Boxer Win; Prop. 5 OKd : Democrats Make Key Gains in State, Nation

Election: Decisive victory, led by onetime longshot candidate, ends Republicans' rule of California Capitol after 16 years. Incumbent returns to U.S. Senate after being on GOP hit list.

November 04, 1998|MARK Z. BARABAK | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Putting a definitive end to 16 years of GOP rule in Sacramento, Democrat Gray Davis won a decisive victory Tuesday over Republican Dan Lungren in the race for California governor, while Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer unexpectedly romped to reelection.

Davis, once considered a longshot at best, made history as only the fourth Democratic governor elected in California this century--and only the second without the last name Brown. And he powered a strong showing by Democrats farther down the ballot.

A beaming Lt. Gov. Davis declared his victory "a clear indication the voters want to take a moderate path for California."

"That is who I am, that is how I ran, and that is how I will govern," Davis told cheering supporters at a victory rally in downtown Los Angeles. "I will be a governor for all the people in this state, not just the people who voted for me."

A gracious Lungren conceded defeat soon after Davis spoke.

"I want to wish him well and wish the state well over the next four years," said Atty. Gen. Lungren, surrounded by disconsolate family members at a gloomy GOP election night gathering in Newport Beach. "As partisan as politics may be, it's important to work together and make the state as good as can be."

Running away after a nip-and-tuck race for U.S. Senate, Boxer easily defeated Republican state Treasurer Matt Fong, en route to a new six-year term--after spending her first six years in office atop the GOP's target list.

Flanked by her family and pumping her fists in the air, a triumphant Boxer thanked her supporters late Tuesday at a raucous San Francisco rally.

"They said we couldn't do it, that I was a fluke of history," she laughed. "They said that I was too progressive, they said I was too supportive of our president. They said I was too feisty. . . . But they all missed something. They missed the deep support I have in this, the greatest state in the union."

Addressing supporters in Newport Beach, Fong sent his regards to Boxer and Davis while serving notice that he plans to stay in politics. "Tomorrow in America is another day," Fong said. "Watch out. We're coming back."

Proposition 5, the Indian gaming initiative and the subject of the most expensive ballot fight in U.S. history, was approved by voters and headed toward a legal challenge as early as this week.

Proposition 9, which would affect utility regulation, was handily defeated. Proposition 10, an attempt to slap a 50-cents-a-pack tax on cigarettes to finance early childhood development programs, was trailing by a small margin.

With strong momentum for Davis in the final days of the campaign and an unprecedented effort to get out the vote, Democrats were hoping for the best party showing in 30 years--since Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Sr. won a landslide victory in 1958 and Democrats captured five of six statewide races.

Democrats managed a clean sweep of the three open constitutional offices.

Democrat Cruz Bustamante handily defeated Republican Tim Leslie in the race for lieutenant governor. His win creates the first Democratic tandem of governor and lieutenant governor in California in nearly 20 years. Also, it makes Assemblyman Bustamante (D-Fresno) the first Latino elected to a statewide office in a century.

In the race for state treasurer, Democrat Phil Angelides defeated Republican Assemblyman Curt Pringle. In the race for attorney general, Democratic state Sen. Bill Lockyer of Hayward defeated Republican Deputy Atty. Gen. Dave Stirling.

Incumbents Lead in Statewide Races

Among incumbents, Democratic Controller Kathleen Connell defeated Republican Ruben Barrales; and Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush beat Democrat Diane Martinez. Republican Secretary of State Bill Jones was narrowly ahead of Democrat Michela Alioto.

In the nonpartisan race for superintendent of public instruction, incumbent Democrat Delaine Eastin declared victory over Republican Gloria Matta Tuchman.

But most important was the outcome at the top of the ticket. With Democrats controlling the governorship and both legislative houses in Sacramento, the party will enjoy an upper hand in state politics well into the early 21st century, thanks to unfettered control of the decennial reapportionment process.

Republican Gov. Pete Wilson must step down in January after serving the limit of two terms.

Half a dozen or more seats in California's House delegation, the nation's largest, could change hands as a result of how the state's political boundaries are redrawn. (After the 2000 census, California's contingent could increase from 54 to 56 or more members of the House, more than one-eighth the nation's total.)

That, in turn, could affect the national balance of congressional power. For that reason, the race for California governor was widely considered the single most important electoral contest in America.

The results provided a dramatic flourish to the most expensive state elections in U.S. history, a series of contests whose tab ran well over a quarter of a billion dollars.

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