Calif. closely divided on hot-button initiatives
LOS ANGELES (AP) — California voters delivered a victory Tuesday for Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed $6 billion-a-year tax increase, while they weighed whether to set aside the state's death penalty and refused to require manufacturers to label genetically modified food.
The state's congressional and legislative landscape was poised for transformation. The longest-serving congressman in the state, 80-year-old Democrat Pete Stark, was ousted by a rival from his own party, Dublin City Councilman Eric Swalwell. And in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, a bitter fight between Democratic Reps. Brad Sherman and Howard Berman ended with Sherman winning.
They were among a number of closely contested House seats, a product of California's new independent redistricting process.
In the state Legislature, Democrats in the Senate were aiming at winning enough seats — a two-thirds majority — to give the party a virtual lock on power in the chamber.
President Barack Obama and Sen. Dianne Feinstein secured easy victories in the state, reaffirming California's prominent Democratic tilt and helping launch the president back to a second term.
Mitt Romney bypassed California, a graveyard for Republican presidential candidates for a generation where GOP registration has fallen below 30 percent. Obama won California and its 55 electoral votes by a double-digit margin, according to early returns.
Pamela Caton, 42, a Green Party member from Berkeley, said she voted for the Democratic president to preserve his health care overhaul, which she said was critical for Americans marooned without costly coverage.
"It would be a big step backward to have Romney in office and dismantle that," she said. Obama "has done a very good job the past four years, given the political climate."
No state politician had more at stake on the ballot than Brown, who was elected after promising to lift the state from its long-running budget crisis. He personally championed the tax boost — Proposition 30 — that he said would restore California's luster, especially for its schoolchildren. He promised to enact automatic spending cuts that would hit public schools hardest if it failed.
The initiative — the first statewide tax increase since 2004 — would boost the sales tax by a quarter cent for four years, and income taxes for people who make more than $250,000 a year would be raised for seven years. Earlier Tuesday, the governor was greeted by more than two dozen supporters as he cast his ballot near his home in the Oakland Hills.
"I think that's a proposition that speaks for itself, and I wouldn't be surprised if the outcome is more positive than most of you are probably expecting," Brown said.
Voters turned away a competing plan, Proposition 38, sponsored by wealthy attorney Molly Munger, which would have increased income taxes to inject schools with billions of dollars in new spending. Munger told supporters gathered at a trendy Los Angeles restaurant that the vote was not the end of the fight for increased school funding.
"Obviously this is not the outcome we all hoped for, but transformational change can take a long time and we all know that," Munger said.