Gov. Jerry Brown’s $6-billion-a-year tax initiative to rescue California schools and the state's finances appeared to squeak by with a victory early Wednesday, and Democrats' grip on Sacramento tightened as the party crept toward winning a super-majority in both houses of the Legislature.
Tuesday's election also brought an end to the three-decade-long congressional career of Rep. Howard Berman, who early Wednesday morning conceded defeat in his political slugfest against fellow Democrat Brad Sherman in the San Fernando Valley.
The bitter contest between Sherman and Berman, awash in more than $13 million in campaign spending by the candidates and independent political groups, was triggered when California's newly drawn political boundaries put the two incumbents in the same district.
"I congratulate Brad. ... I will do whatever I can to ensure a cooperative and orderly transition," Berman said in a concise concession statement early Wednesday.
In a similar high-profile mash-up between Democrats, Rep. Janice Hahn of San Pedro was cruising to an easy win against Rep. Laura Richardson of Long Beach in a newly drawn district that includes many minority, working-class communities, election results showed.
Among other closely watched races for California House seats, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Oak Park) narrowly defeated state Sen. Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark) in Ventura County, and Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) bested former Republican Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, according to results with all voter precincts reporting in those districts.
California's senior U.S. senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, won an easy reelection victory over nonprofit executive Elizabeth Emken, her underfunded, little-known Republican challenger.
The governor woke up Wednesday as one of the biggest apparent victors in Tuesday’s election, however.
Facing well-funded opposition, Brown campaigned heavily for Proposition 30 as a way to restore fiscal sanity to Sacramento and to stave off deep cuts to public schools and universities. The initiative calls for a quarter-cent increase to sales taxes for four years and a seven-year tax hike on California’s highest earners.
Californians have not approved a statewide tax increase since 2004.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected a competing measure bankrolled by millionaire civil rights lawyer Molly Munger -- Proposition 38 – which would have increased income taxes for most Californians to raise funds primarily for schools and early childhood education.
In one of the highest-profile state ballot measures, labor unions appeared to defeat Proposition 32, which would have reduced their political influence by barring unions from using paycheck deductions for political purposes.
Californians also soured on a measure to abolish the death penalty -– Proposition 34 -- which was trailing badly with most of the voter precincts reporting Wednesday morning.
Other law-and-order measures were greeting more warmly. Voters favored Proposition 36, which would change the three-strikes sentencing law so offenders whose third strikes were minor, nonviolent crimes could no longer be given 25 years to life in prison.
Voters also supported Proposition 35, which promoted increased punishment for sex trafficking of a minor. Both led by wide margins with most ballots counted.
With most ballots tallied across California, initiatives to label genetically engineered foods and change state law to create a new car insurance discount appeared headed for defeat.
One of the biggest surprises of the election was the Democrats' strong showing in legislative races. Democrats appear on the verge of winning a two-thirds majority in the state Senate and Assembly, enough to approve tax measures without Republican support.
In Los Angeles County, veteran prosecutor Jackie Lacey became the county's first female and first African American district attorney after defeating Deputy Dist. Atty. Alan Jackson. Jackson conceded early Wednesday morning.
Lacey, 55, touted herself as the only candidate with the experience to run the office. She had the support of her boss, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who is retiring after three terms.
Los Angeles County voters also approved a local measure requiring adult film actors to wear condoms. With most precincts reporting, a measure to fund transportation projects by extending a countywide sales-tax increase for an additional 30 years remained just shy of the two-thirds vote required for approval.
Some races remained too close to call, including the San Diego congressional race between Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-Carlsbad) and Democrat Scott Peters, a San Diego environmental attorney. In the Coachella Valley, Democratic emergency room doctor Raul Ruiz was leading Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Palm Springs) with just under two-thirds of precincts reporting early Wednesday morning.