Though the big win of the night was President Barack Obama claiming another four-year term and defeating Republican rival Gov. Mitt Romney, a swath of state propositions, local measures and congressional and state races evoked almost just as much political fervor during this year’s General Election on Tuesday.
More than 18 million people registered to vote in California, which was a record for the state, while more than 66 percent of registered voters in Los Angeles County turned out, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s Office.
The election culminated several months of campaigning by candidates and groups from both Democratic and Republican parties that sparred against each other in hard-fought battles, brandishing political ads and arguments to persuade voters. Some races for state and congressional offices primarily came out of redistricting following the 2010 Census.
With 100 percent of precincts partially reporting as of about 5:30am on Nov. 7, five out of 11 state propositions passed. Registered voters elected to: temporarily raise sales and income taxes to fund public education; increase human-trafficking criminal penalties; weaken the state’s three-strikes law; change the way multistate businesses pay for income taxes to fund clean-energy jobs; and approve state-senate redistricting maps.
Locally, in Los Angeles County, a measure to extend tax increases to pay for infrastructure projects and an initiative to mandate that porn actors wear condoms both succeeded while a city ballot measure to mandate higher wages for hotel workers in Long Beach also passed.
47th Congressional District
Arguably the most hotly contested and closely watched political contest in the local area was the race between Democratic Sen. Alan Lowenthal and Republican Long Beach City Councilmember Gary DeLong, who both fought for the newly drawn 47th Congressional District seat. The district spans both Orange and Los Angeles county cities, including parts of Long Beach, Signal Hill, Lakewood, Cypress, Rossmoor, Los Alamitos, Stanton, Garden Grove and Westminster.
Although agreeable on certain issues, the two candidates extensively debated their positions on various federal matters. At one point, tensions mounted when DeLong grabbed a cell phone from a political tracker of the California Democratic Party who was seen several times video-recording his every move, an incident that turned into a scuffle and was widely reported.
At Lowenthal’s election party at a restaurant in downtown, the mood was that of elation after it was announced that Obama had been re-elected. Lowenthal, a local professor and community activist, said it was the “outpouring” of volunteers and constituents who “believed” in his campaign that helped him win the seat in the US House of Representatives. He added that, while DeLong, who has campaigned as a moderate Republican who is pro-gay marriage, pro-choice and doesn’t support entirely repealing Obama’s healthcare law, was a “formidable” opponent, Lowenthal said it was primarily his “record” as a local politician for so many years that helped him pull away with the victory. “I have a special relationship with my community,” Lowenthal said. “Nothing against [DeLong], but I think people just believed in me more.”
DeLong, who said he was “cautiously optimistic” while watching the returns come in during his election party at the Long Beach Yacht Club, could not be reached for final comment before press time.
44th Congressional District
Another race formed out of redistricting was between Janice Hahn and Laura Richardson, two incumbent Democratic candidates who ran for one seat to represent the newly shaped 44th Congressional District that now includes cities in the South Bay area, including Carson, Compton, Lynwood, parts of Long Beach, San Pedro, South Gate, Watts, Walnut Park and Wilmington.
Hahn, who was endorsed by the California Democratic Party and the California Labor Federation, won with 60 percent of the vote (75,678 votes) over Richardson, who earned 40 percent (50,393 votes) after being endorsed by current and former Long Beach city council members and a faction of African-American politicians.
Richardson, who trailed behind Hahn by the same 20-percent margin in the June primary election, was dealt a blow mid-race when the House Ethics Committee reprimanded and fined the congresswomen $10,000 after determining in August that she violated House rules by pressuring her congressional staff to work on her re-election campaign. Richardson also had a hard time financing her campaign. Campaign finance reports showed she was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt just weeks before Election Day.
Before serving as a member of Congress for five years, Richardson was elected to the state assembly for the 55th district and the Long Beach city council. Hahn, who is a member of the US House of Representatives as well, previously was a Los Angeles city councilmember.
33rd State Senate District
A race for the newly drawn State Senate office of the 33rd District, which includes a strip of Los Angeles County cities, spanning from Maywood to Long Beach, came between Ricardo Lara, state assemblymember who currently serves the 50th district, and Lee Harrison Chauser, a member of the Peace and Freedom Party.
Lara, who was endorsed by the California Democratic Party and several fellow Democratic state legislators, pulled off with an easy win, earning 80.5 percent of the vote (115,951 votes) over Chauser’s 19.5 percent (28,031 votes). The Peace and Freedom Central Committee had endorsed Chauser, a teacher and educator.
Also up for grabs was a seat to represent the newly drawn 70th District of the California State Assembly. The district encompasses cities primarily surrounding the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, including Long Beach, Signal Hill, San Pedro and Catalina Island. Bonnie Lowenthal, the ex-wife of Sen. Alan Lowenthal and a current assemblymember, handily won a second term with 65.2 percent of the vote (70,508 votes), defeating Republican candidate Martha Flores-Gibson, a teacher and business owner who had no previous political experience. Flores-Gibson received 34.8 percent of the vote (37,561). Bonnie Lowenthal, who attended her ex-husband’s election party, said her victory shows that constituents believe she represented her district well. “They want me back for two more years,” she said. “…and I’m honored by that.” In a prepared statement, Flores-Gibson thanked her supporters. “We will come together as one voice and united to make our neighborhoods prosperous again,” she said. “I will do my part and do my best so that we can all dwell together with the opportunities for all.”
Although propositions to repeal the death penalty, ban unions from using payroll deduction funds for political campaign contributions and require that genetically engineered foods be labeled failed to pass, registered voters did, however, approve of five state propositions.
Prop. 30, brought forward by Gov. Jerry Brown, which prevents a $6-billion cut to K-12 schools, community colleges, universities and other state-funded programs by temporarily increasing sales and income taxes, passed with 53.9 percent of voters voting in favor over 46.1 percent of voters who voted no.
The one fourth of a cent rise in the sales-tax rate, which currently averages in the state at 8 percent, is expected to now go into effect Jan. 1 and will last for four years. The proposition also increases personal income tax on taxpayers with annual earnings over $250,000 for seven years.
Locally, Long Beach Unified School District, Cal State Long Beach and Long Beach City College education leaders said the measure allows the institutions to prevent a collective $72-million budget cut that they otherwise would have had to make. Prop. 38, a separate tax initiative that tried to override Prop. 30 by coming up with its own way to pay for public education, failed 72.3 percent over 27.7 percent.
Prop. 35, which increases human-trafficking criminal penalties to sentences up to 15-years-to-life and fines of up to $1.5 million, passed by 81.1 percent over 18.9 percent. Prop. 36, which revises the three-strikes rule so that a life sentence would only be imposed when a third felony conviction is serious or violent, won, receiving 68.3-percent yes votes over 31.4-percent no votes. Prop. 39, which requires that all multistate businesses in California calculate their state income-tax liabilities based on the percentage of their sales in California, passed with 60 percent of voters voting yes over 40 percent voting no. This measure annually dedicates $550 million of anticipated revenue increases for five years to fund projects that would create clean-energy jobs in the state. Lastly, Prop. 40, which approves redrawn state-senate district lines, passed 71.4 percent to 28.6 percent.
Los Angeles County measures
Measure A, an “advisory” measure seeking public opinion on putting forth a future ballot measure on whether to make the Los Angeles County office of the assessor an appointed position rather than elected, was shot down with 64.72 percent of voters voting no and more than 35 percent of voters in favor.
Two other measures, however, did receive approval. Measure J, which extends a previous voter-approved sales-tax measure, known as Measure R, for an additional 30 years in order to pay for various transportation-related projects, passed with more than 64 percent of voters in favor and more than 35 percent of voters against. The measure, proposed by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, maintains the current .5-percent sales-tax increase in the county until 2069.
Measure B, which requires that those in the county’s adult entertainment industry use condoms, passed with 55.85 percent of voters in favor and 44.15 percent opposed. The initiative requires that producers of adult films obtain a public health permit from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health in order to engage in the production of adult films for commercial purposes and to pay a permit fee set by the department to offset the cost of enforcement.
Long Beach measures
Measure O, a proposal to move the city’s election schedule so that municipal elections would coincide with state and federal races, failed to pass with 45.04 percent of voters in favor and 54.96 percent voting against.
However, Measure N, which requires that hotels with 100 rooms or more pay their workers at least $13 per hour or enter collective bargaining, passed with 63.22 percent of voters in favor and 36.78 against. Measure N, referred to as the “living wage” initiative, applies to all employees, such as maids, bellhops, cooks and bartenders, at 17 hotels in the city and was added to the ballot after receiving 30,000 signatures.
The measure, which also requires that such workers be given at least a two-percent annual pay raise and a minimum five paid sick days per year, becomes law 10 days after certification by the Long Beach City Council, which can happen as soon as 28 days after the election.
Christine Petit, a leading member of the measure’s sponsor, the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community, said via email that the election results show that a majority of Long Beach residents support higher pay for hotel workers.
“It’s clear that Long Beach voters feel good about raising the minimum wage and improving working conditions for our city’s hotel workers,” she said. “Measure N means a lot to hotel workers and their families who will hopefully see this increase in time for the holidays. In addition to being the right thing to do for workers, we know that this will be good for Long Beach and our economy as a whole.”
According to a statement released from the campaign supporting the measure, economists anticipate that Measure N will add about $7 million annually into the local economy, creating and sustaining 85 jobs and generating an estimated $800,000 in tax revenues.
Randy Gordon, president and CEO of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, which is one of the most vocal opponents to the measure, however, said via email that the measure’s victory shows an increasing “pro-labor” voting base in Long Beach. Measure N is heavily supported by hotel labor unions, specifically UNITE HERE Local 11, which has failed to unionize downtown hotels the Hyatt and Hilton, since workers there refused to sign labor agreements. A clause in the measure states that, if any of the hotels enter collective-bargaining agreements with employees, the wage mandates would be void. Gordon said the measure is a “backdoor way to force collective bargaining” and unionize hotels in Long Beach. “I don’t think many voters understood the entire measure,” he said. “Measure N was passed off as a minimum wage for housekeeping, and not a lot of voters looked beyond that to see the myriad of requirements that it actually held.”
As a result of the measure passing, Gordon said Long Beach will become less competitive in the tourism market, costs will go up and “hotels won’t be able to offer the same competitive packages to convention businesses, which means less visitors and less revenue.” He added, “It could also cause layoffs for the hotels that refuse to collective-bargain. They will merely cut staff and run leaner to make up for the financial loss. Small businesses that rely on tourism will be hurt from fewer visitors to the city.”