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One strange truism about California politics was driven home once again this week: The state keeps electing Democrats overwhelmingly, but that doesn’t mean actual policies are getting more progressive.

The state Senate, for example, is poised to become even more heavily Democratic. Josh Newman, a state senator who was ousted in a recall led by San Diego radio host Carl DeMaio, re-claimed the seat by beating Republican Ling Ling Chang. Dems picked up as many as three other seats across the state.

Yet over the past year, those Democratic lawmakers failed to pass several measures championed by progressives, and with the election, voters overturned some of the recent work that did pass.

Here are some takeaways from the election results so far.

It was a very bad night for the California Legislature.

Many legislators might have kept their jobs, but voters undid some of the Legislature’s most high-profile recent work, and rejected an effort led by some of its most high-profile leaders.

The most notable example, of course, is the passage of Prop. 22, the measure to exempt app-based drivers from AB 5, which limits when employers can classify workers as independent contractors. Before Prop. 22, courts consistently found that apps like Uber, Lyft and Instacart were bound by AB 5 and therefore must treat drivers as employees, with all the benefits and protections that come with that classification.

“Our system is so broken. More money for the millionaires & billionaires, the investors and WallStreet. Fewer protections and money for those actually doing the work. We must and will keep fighting,” San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who wrote AB 5 and who campaigned against Prop. 22, wrote on Twitter.

Gig companies including Uber, Lyft and Doordash poured more than $200 million into the campaign for Prop. 22.

I asked the San Diego city attorney’s office whether Prop. 22 meant their lawsuits against Instacart, Uber and Lyft, in which they allege the companies have been improperly classifying workers, are now moot.

“Our office remains committed to vigorously enforcing the law and obtaining relief for workers who have been exploited by companies like Instacart, Uber, and Lyft. Proposition 22’s ultimate impact on labor practices is still very much an open question, but it certainly does not make up for past harms,” spokeswoman Hilary Nemchik wrote in an email.

Nemchick said the office will continue to vigorously press forward with the lawsuits “since nothing about Prop 22 is retroactive.”

But Prop. 22 wasn’t the only measure that dealt a blow to the Legislature. Prop. 25, which would have upheld the cash bail reform system the Legislature passed in 2018, was rejected by voters after the bail bond industry sent the law to a referendum vote.

And Prop. 16, which would reinstate affirmative action in public college admissions and government hiring and contracting decisions, was a major priority for some of the Legislature’s heaviest hitters, including San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, who led the push for the measure, as well as Gonzalez, Assemblyman Todd Gloria and Senate Leader Pro Tem Toni Atkins. Voters rejected it, too.

Anti-AB 5 candidates, however, also had a very bad night.

Despite the success of Prop. 22, many of the candidates who made their hatred of AB 5 central to their campaigns did not end up winning.

San Diego City Councilwoman Barbara Bry attacked AB 5 throughout her campaign for mayor, and said Gloria’s vote in favor of the measure should be treated as a reason to vote against him. Gloria appears to have won that race decisively.

In Assembly District 77, Republican June Cutter Yang, an employment attorney, made her opposition to AB 5 central to her campaign. Assemblyman Brian Maienschein won his re-election bid in that district.

And then there’s Gonzalez, the author of AB 5. John Vogel, her Republican challenger, campaigned solely on the basis of overturning the law. Gonzalez won 71 percent of the vote, according to the most recent totals.

It was a mixed bag for state lawmakers looking to get back into local politics.

Gloria appears headed back into local government as the mayor of San Diego.

But other current and former state lawmakers didn’t fare so well.

Sen. Ben Hueso looks to have lost his bid for seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. Former state Sen. Joel Anderson is also gunning for a seat on the board. The outcome of that race isn’t clear yet: Anderson trails Poway Mayor Steve Vaus by fewer than 1,000 votes.

And former Assemblyman Rocky Chavez was one of a whopping 12 candidates vying to become the mayor of Oceanside. The only woman in the race, Esther Sanchez, won that one.

Elsewhere in the state, Sen. Holly Mitchell won a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors – helping to secure a historic outcome there: For the first time in history, that body will be made up entirely of women lawmakers.

Golden State News

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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