With Tuesday’s elections headed to the rear view mirror, it’s clear that politics on the Central Coast have tilted toward the center and toward a more business-friendly agenda.
The comfortable “blue state” margins of years’ past are headed toward purple and maybe trending red. Voters clearly want a better climate for growth and economic opportunity.
In a key Ventura County race, Democrat Jacqui Irwin won a relatively close race to gain outgoing legislator Jeff Gorell’s 44th Assembly District seat. The longtime Thousand Oaks city councilwoman based her campaign on education and women’s issues, but what took her over the top is the fact that she is at heart a centrist who has serious credentials in the business community.
Julia Brownley and Jeff Gorell battled to a draw in Ventura County’s 26th Congressional District as the Democrats’ 4 to 6 percentage point advantage vanished and, at press time, Brownley was hanging on to a razor-thin lead of fewer than 600 votes at 50.2 percent. If Brownley, a Thousand Oaks Democrat, hangs on she will have to develop stronger ties to small business and the agriculture community, which got Gorell, a GOP favorite, to the precipice of an upset.
In a case of overreach, South Coast enviro-democrats pushed a ballot initiative banning fracking and other oil and gas operations, a move that angered unions and public employees who saw dwindling jobs and tax revenue.
Measure P lost by a stunning 62 percent and the blowback helped Republican Chris Mitchum come within 4,700 votes of unseating formerly safe incumbent Lois Capps, a Santa Barbara Democrat. She got just 51.6 percent of the vote.
What was missing in the Measure P calculus was the fact that the politics of no-growth have given North Santa Barbara County a bigger population and, thus, more say in Central Coast politics. Memo to environmentalists: Blaming
Measure P’s defeat on a flood of oil money ignores the impact of growing voter ranks in Santa Maria, a city where Capps has raised her profile this year. (Full disclosure: The Business Times endorsed No on P.)
Finally, Nipomo businesswoman Lynn Compton handily defeated incumbent Caren Ray for 4th District Supervisor in San Luis Obispo County. Her win overturned an appointment by Gov. Jerry Brown and the SLO Tribune’s ringing endorsement of her opponent. It puts the SLO County Board of Supervisors on track to hold a 3-2 vote pro-growth majority for the first time in years.
The bottom line on Nov. 4 on the Central Coast is that it was a great night for property rights, business interests and loosening the ultra-tight restrictions on growth and development that have prevailed for a very long time.
It is also worth noting that a broad coalition of businesses in San Luis Obispo succeeded in extending that city’s tourism business improvement district tax and that popular incumbents who had a broad appeal to voters had little trouble getting re-elected.
Simply running on women’s issues didn’t prove particularly decisive on the Central Coast or anyplace else in the nation, but women candidates ran strongly up and down the region.
Looking ahead, three issues really stand out.
First, the Hispanic vote, which proved crucial to safe margins for Capps and Brownley in 2012, now appears to be up for grabs. Even if President Obama and the GOP-controlled Congress can forge a compromise, it’s very hard to predict whether Latino votes will fall as decisively on the Democratic Party’s side as they have during the past eight years.
Second, if Brownley hangs on to win against Gorell, she will owe a big debt to the Clintons. Former President Bill Clinton’s appearance at a get-out-the-vote rally in Oxnard shortly before the election just might have given her that few hundred vote edge that looked to be holding in the unofficial count.
Finally, the person in the driver’s seat for California is Gov. Jerry Brown. He won re-election decisively, his ballot measures passed and his pragmatic agenda echoed far down the ticket.