The Results: Newsom Wins, Democrats Dominate in California

California Government Update

On Tuesday, California voters turned out in record numbers, the highest percentage in a mid-term election in more than three decades. Voters decided all the statewide constitutional offices, 100 legislative seats, 53 congressional seats and 11 statewide ballot measures, along with hundreds of local city, school board, municipal bonds and tax measures. With over 4.8 million ballots still to be counted, here is where things stand.

Democrats continue to dominate state elections. The party added to already powerful majorities in the state legislature, flipped at least two seats in the House and ran the table again for all statewide constitutional offices. It will be Friday, and potentially weeks later in some races, before all the ballots are counted. Some statewide and district elections are still too close to call, but the overall outcome is clear and represents another big victory for California Democrats and a further tilt to the political left-of-center in the state.   

While President Donald Trump was not on the ballot, numerous candidates, including Governor-elect Gavin Newsom, encouraged California’s “Resistance Voters” to treat the election as an opportunity to send a clear and convincing message to Trump that his policies and rhetoric are antithetical to California values—and with few exceptions, voters appear to have emphatically delivered that message.

Democrats once again swept all statewide constitutional offices, with Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom leading the way, beating businessman John Cox by a wide margin—59% to Cox’s 40%—in the governor’s race. In his victory speech, Newsom restated his pride in the “California dream,” asserting, “There’s a reason why California’s dream is America’s leading brand. Because California’s dream has always been and always will be too big to fail and too powerful to bully.” 

In addition to holding all the statewide constitutional offices, Democrats will also continue to control both houses of the state legislature. Prior to November, Democrats held 55 seats in the 80-seat state assembly and 26 seats in the 40-seat senate. Although ballots in several close races are still being counted, legislative Democrats will increase their numbers, likely resulting in supermajorities in both houses. Consequently, Democrats will control the fate of most major pieces of legislation, including the state budget, the ability to increase taxes and fees, and the ability to override a governor’s veto.

Republicans banked on the “Gas Tax” repeal initiative (Proposition 6) as well as high-profile congressional campaigns to fuel voter anger and energy in hopes of avoiding the “Blue Wave.” Tuesday’s results illustrate that Californians are willing to pay more at the pump to repair roads, and still prefer Democrats to run nearly every aspect of state government for the next few years.

What Does This Mean for Now?

In the near term, there will be a transition of leadership between outgoing Governor Jerry Brown—who espoused fiscal responsibility, championed environmental protections and sought to restrain immoderate social policy inclinations of the Democratic majority during his eight years in office—and the considerably younger, arguably bolder and modestly more liberal Governor-elect Gavin Newsom. Newsom is expected to announce the first members of his new administration in the coming days, along with his transition team.

Newsom defeated his Republican challenger by nearly 20 percentage points, with 4.2 million votes as of November 8. This large margin gives Newsom the necessary “mandate” from voters to press his agenda in the strongly Democrat-controlled legislature. Newsom recently stated that he will try to apply the same level of fiscal caution as his predecessor. However, Newsom will likely be challenged by the heavily Democratic legislature to spend on programs Brown resisted in some instances—including those that address early-childhood education, mental health improvements, affordable housing, homelessness, the cost of college education and access to healthcare. Californians will get a first look at how Newsom’s team will sort through all the competing interests and compelling needs to produce coherent policy as he and his transition team complete work on their first state budget—a document that generally sets out the governor-elect’s major policy and fiscal priorities for the state.  

The next big political and practical question Newsom will face is the 2020 presidential election. As the leader of the largest state, the new governor will be able to influence national policy proposals from candidates with the ability to deliver electoral college votes, drive a progressive policy agenda and be a major fundraising force. The cocktail talk in Sacramento is whether Governor-elect Newsom will successfully navigate his first year in office and avoid the siren call to higher office, or will he feel obliged to pivot quickly to a national run for higher office? Many claim to have informed opinions, but our view is that those not named Gavin Newsom are guessing.

On the legislative front, Democrats solidified their hold on both houses, with Republicans losing seats in traditionally conservative areas such as the Central Valley, with Sen. Vidak losing, and in Orange County, where long-term Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is losing and a long-held Republican Assembly seat still hangs in the balance. These losses strike at the heart of Republican districts. Republicans will no doubt undertake a self-evaluation to try to appeal to voters going forward, be effective in impacting the legislative process as a minority, and reverse dwindling voter registrations. 

Highlight Election Results
**As of 11/8/2018**
 
Governor Gavin Newsom (D) – 59.3% John Cox (R) – 40.7%
Lieutenant Governor Ed Hernandez (D) – 44.3% Eleni Kounalakis (D) – 55.7%
Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) – 61.7% Mark Meuser (R) – 38.3%
Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara (D) – 50.8% Steve Poizner (I) – 49.2%
Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) – 60.7% Steve Bailey (R) – 39.3%
Treasurer Fiona Ma (D) – 61.1% Greg Conlon (R) – 38.9%
Controller Betty Yee (D) – 62.8% Konstantinos Roditis (R) – 37.2%
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond (D) – 49.3% Marshall Tuck (D) – 50.7%
 

California State Senate

 

California State Assembly

 

Ballot Measures

*California Secretary of State Website


Governor-elect Newsom and Sacramento Legislative and Regulatory Advisor, Delilah Clay, at Manatt’s dinner, co-sponsored by AltaMed Health Services at the City Club in Los Angeles.
 

Governor-elect Newsom and Manatt partners, Tom McMorrow, Kathleen Brown, Steve Coony and Richard Costigan at Manatt’s dinner at the San Francisco Bar Pilots’ headquarters in San Francisco.