Election Day is Tuesday, and for many weary voters, it can’t come soon enough.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton have sucked all the air out of the nation’s political room in a brutal campaign that has featured WikiLeaks, crass talk about women, FBI investigations, threats of arrests, taunting and old-fashioned, bare-knuckle brawling.
California and its 55 electoral votes, however, are all but certain to go to Clinton, who is widely predicted to win the state by a comfortable margin. Even though that makes the Golden State irrelevant at the top of the ticket, Tuesday’s ballot is still voluminous and packed with important issues.
This has got to be one of the most consequential ballots I’ve seen.
Fresno State political science professor Tom Holyoke
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“This has got to be one of the most consequential ballots I’ve seen,” Fresno State political science professor Tom Holyoke said.
It’s also the longest ballot in the nation this year. The state’s voter information guide is 181,539 words – not quite Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” though reading through the state voter guide might feel like it to a dutiful voter.
There are meaty statewide issues to be decided: Proposition 64 would legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Proposition 57 would revamp state prison parole rules. Proposition 62 would repeal the death penalty. Proposition 55 would extend personal income tax increases on incomes over $250,000, which was first approved in 2012. Proposition 51 would authorize $9 billion in school-construction spending, $7 billion of that for K-12 schools, and $2 billion for community colleges.
That’s the state stuff, and the total is 17 ballot measures.
Big decisions await local voters
There are big issues on the local ballot as well, starting with the marquee matchup between Fresno City Councilman Lee Brand and Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea to decide who will succeed Ashley Swearengin as Fresno’s next mayor. Only Fresno city residents can vote, but leading the state’s fifth-largest city – and the unofficial capital of the Central San Joaquin Valley – will have effects far beyond the city borders.
Perea is trying to make history as the city’s first Latino mayor. Brand is trying to continue the winning streak of north Fresno Republicans, who have held the post ever since the city went to the strong-mayor form of government two decades ago.
As of Friday, 48,077 city voters already had cast mail ballots. That means Tuesday’s turnout already is at 20.7 percent.
A big question also will be answered: Is the 21st Congressional District – which covers all of Kings and parts of Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties – competitive?
David Valadao, the incumbent Hanford Republican, has easily dispatched two challengers since first being elected in 2012, even though Democrats hold what is now a 17-percentage point registration edge. This year, Bakersfield Democrat Emilio Huerta – son of United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, is running. Until about two weeks ago, the race was ignored by both parties, and it seemed Valadao was on his way to another win.
Suddenly, independent money started pouring in. As of Friday, independent groups have spent more than $2 million in support of Huerta, and Republican-leaning organizations have spent almost $500,000 backing Perea and almost $600,000 hitting Huerta. In total, more than $3 million in outside money has now been spent in the 21st District, and Huerta and Valadao have joined in themselves, producing vicious ads hitting each other.
Across the Central San Joaquin Valley, voters will decide school bond issues and school board races, public safety taxes, irrigation district members, mayors and city council members.
Coalinga has two marijuana-related ballot measures, one that would allow a single marijuana dispensary within the city, and tax it, and a second to impose a tax on commercial marijuana facilities.
School districts in Sanger, Central, Fowler, Kerman, Coalinga-Huron, and Caruthers, as well as Fresno Unified, have bond issues for school improvements. Fresno Unified’s controversial bond is for $225 million.
Showing just how big the local ballot is, Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth said there will be 230 different versions this year. For instance, a voter may live in the city of Fresno but be in the Clovis Unified School District, or the city and Fresno Unified. Or in a county island and Fresno Unified. Households in each of these areas need different ballots.
“Since 2012, when I returned to the department as county clerk, this is the largest amount of individual ballot types for me,” Orth said.
What feels different this year are surprisingly heated races in the Clovis Unified School District and for the State Center Community College District.
Clovis Unified, for example, has for the most part exuded election harmony for years. Part of this year’s epic clash – in which all four districts up for election have competitive races, 10 candidates in all – might be chalked up to growing pains. The district has a staff of close to 5,000 employees and a student population that has crossed the 40,000 mark.
Since 2012, when I returned to the department as county clerk, this is the largest amount of individual ballot types for me.
Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth
It also looks like the year for special taxes.
Kerman is seeking a three-quarter-cent sales tax for public facilities and Parlier has a parcel tax question for public safety. Sanger wants to extend for a decade an existing three-quarter-cent public safety sales tax. All three measures require a two-thirds majority to win approval.
To the north, in Madera County, the city of Madera seeks a half-cent sales tax hike to fund public safety services. The city says the tax increase would generate around $3.5 million annually.
South Valley issues
In the meantime, Kings County has Measure K, a quarter-cent sales tax for public safety that requires two-thirds voter approval. A similar measure earlier this year fell short by 72 votes.
Visalia’s Measure N is a half-cent sales tax that the city said would be spent on police, fire, streets and parks. It’s a general tax that requires a simple majority. The Tulare County Taxpayers Association is opposed.
In other South Valley races, the runoff election for the open Distict 1 Tulare County supervisor seat, covering Exeter, Lindsay, Farmersville and east Visalia, pits homebuilding industry businessman Dennis Smith, 64, of Exeter, against farmer and utility energy adviser Kuyler Crocker, 29, of Strathmore. Both candidates say water for farmers is a key issue.
In Visalia, two people are seeking election to the open District 1 City Council seat, representing north central Visalia and part of central Visalia: Adam Peck, 46, a member of the Visalia Planning Commission, and Phil Cox, 59, a Tulare County supervisor who was unseated in June and who is a former Visalia council member.
In District 2, which covers southeast Visalia, incumbent Bob Link, 79, a retired downtown businessman, is being challenged by Adam “AA” Arakelian, 58, a retired city firefighter, and Susanne Gundy, 74, a retired county employee. Link said he brings four terms of experience to the position, Arakelian said he would bring a new vision to the council, and Gundy said the city needs shaking up.
What worries Holyoke is that even with so much at stake on Tuesday, turnout might be down.
Because the state-by-state Electoral College, and not the nationwide popular vote, determines the president, the Clinton-Trump showdown is basically a dud in California because Clinton is almost a sure winner. And the U.S. Senate battle to replace retiring Barbara Boxer features two Democrats, state Attorney General Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez – but no Republican. Taken together, it makes for a boring top of the ticket that could keep certain voting segments home on Tuesday, Holyoke said.
“There’s no big sense of urgency,” Holyoke said. “I’d be surprised if turnout is high. A small number of people might decide a lot of things that could lead to big changes in their lives. They will allow a minority of voters in California and locally to make some pretty huge decisions for us.”