The Winners and Losers of 2012

This year's winners included positive campaigning, the environment, and taxing the rich. Among the losers were consumer awareness, medical cannabis, and children's health.

Winner: Good government. The results of the 2012 election could potentially usher in an era of good government in Oakland — or at least one that is not so dysfunctional. Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan and City Attorney Barbara Parker — who handily defeated Councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente and Jane Brunner, respectively — have both earned reputations for being consensus builders and problem solvers. The additions of three new councilmembers, especially Dan Kalb from North Oakland and Lynette Gibson-McElhaney from West Oakland-Downtown, also should help breathe new life into the council, which in recent years has been ineffective because of petty squabbling.

Loser: Dysfunctional government. De La Fuente was a primary source of divisiveness in City Hall in recent years and often appeared to be far more happy creating controversy and exacting revenge on political enemies than getting things done. As for Brunner, she seemed obsessed with the politics of running for city attorney (a job for which she lacked the proper qualifications) rather than governing and leading as a councilmember.

Winner: Positive campaigning. The victories by Kaplan and Parker also were convincing — and refreshing — wins for positive campaigning. Both candidates’ campaigns almost exclusively relied on advertising that informed voters who they were and what they would do in office. And neither went negative until the final days of the campaign — after they had been maliciously attacked by their opponents. Parker, in particular, ran an extremely impressive campaign, ultimately defeating Brunner by nearly 40 percentage points. Don’t be surprised if her campaign manager, Doug Linney, becomes one of the most sought-after political consultants in the years to come.

Loser: Negative and unethical campaigning. Both De La Fuente and Brunner ran relentlessly negative campaigns, and they were trounced at the polls. Same goes for the Oakland police union, which leveled nasty and misleading attacks against Kaplan and Parker as well. The Oakland Zoo also lost its bid for a countywide parcel tax after the organization violated numerous local and state election laws.

Winner: Tony Smith. Oakland’s superintendent of public schools wasn’t on the ballot, but his education reform efforts and policies were — at least indirectly. And they proved to be popular. The four school board candidates who won — incumbents Jody London and Jumoke Hinton Hodge and newcomers Rosie Torres and James Harris — all were supporters of Smith and his plans for the school district. And all four of the losing candidates opposed Smith’s proposals to varying degrees.

Loser: The Oakland teachers’ union. The union, which has been unhappy with Smith, backed all four of the losing candidates — incumbent Alice Spearman and newcomers Thearse Pecot, Mike Hutchinson, and Richard Fuentes.

Winner: The environment. In Berkeley, four incumbents — Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli, Darryl Moore, and Susan Wengraf, who all strongly support smart growth and believe Berkeley needs to add residents in order to discourage suburban sprawl and limit greenhouse gases — all won reelection. Then after the election, US Secretary Ken Salazar decided to close a controversial oyster farm in Point Reyes National Seashore in order to create the first marine wilderness on the West Coast. Plus, California regulators launched the state’s cap-and-trade system, which is designed to cap greenhouse-gas emissions and spur green-energy technology.

Loser: The environment. Unfortunately, Measure B1, an Alameda County tax measure that would have raised billions of dollars for mass transit, bike and pedestrian pathways, and transit-oriented development, lost by an extremely narrow margin: just 0.14 percent, or 721 votes. In addition, Measure T, which would have spurred housing development and urban density in West Berkeley, lost in a close race by 1 percentage point, or 512 votes.

Winner: Taxing the rich and unions. California voters made it clear that they believe the state’s wealthy residents are not paying their fare share of taxes, approving Proposition 30, the so-called Millionaire’s Tax, 55 percent to 45 percent. State voters also proved that they have no intention of jumping on the anti-union bandwagon that has swept part of the nation. Proposition 32, which would have devastated the political power of unions in California, lost 47 percent to 53 percent.

Loser: The Koch Brothers and Big Business. A shadowy group from Arizona that reportedly has ties to the Koch Brothers funneled $11 million into a campaign that sought to defeat Prop 30 and pass Prop 32, and lost both efforts. Large corporations also helped bankroll the same losing campaigns. And, of course, the Koch Brothers’ costly attempts to oust President Obama failed badly as well.

Winner: Monsanto. Big Business, particularly Monsanto, took solace in the fact that Proposition 37 went down in defeat in California. Prop 37 would have required food companies to inform consumers about whether their products contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and Monsanto spent millions defeating it. Some large food companies that make organic products joined Monsanto’s campaign, knowing that even though the labeling initiative likely would have boosted organic food sales, it also threatened to impact their non-organic food revenues.

Loser: Consumer awareness. Regardless of whether you were convinced that GMOs pose threats to the environment and human health, Prop 37 would have been a groundbreaking win for consumer transparency and the right to know what’s in our food. But Monsanto et al successfully frightened voters into believing that the labeling initiative would have increased food prices — despite no proof that it would have done so in a substantial way.

Winner: Marijuana legalization. The decision by voters in Colorado and Washington to legalize pot for recreational use appears to have sparked a historic shift in people’s attitudes nationwide. After the landmark election outcomes in those two states, a series of polls showed that a majority of Americans now support legalizing cannabis, and even larger majorities think the federal government should leave the issue up to the states.

Loser: Medical marijuana in California. Yet even with the changing voter attitudes and the results in Colorado and Washington, it remains unclear as to whether the federal government will end its fourteen-month-long crackdown on medical pot in the Golden State. As far as 2012 goes, it was a miserable year for dispensaries, growers, and patients, especially in Oakland and Berkeley. The feds shut down industry stalwarts such as Oaksterdam University and Coffeeshop Blue Sky in downtown Oakland, and drove their owner and founder, Richard Lee, out of business. US Attorney Melinda Haag also forced the respected Berkeley Patients Group dispensary to close, and she’s working overtime to shutter Harborside Health Center in Oakland, the largest medical cannabis club on the West Coast.

Winner: Gay marriage. Attitudes about same-sex marriage are evolving throughout the country as well, as evidenced by the fact that three states — Maine, Maryland, and Washington — legalized gay nuptials on Election Day. In addition, Minnesota voters rejected a Proposition 8-like measure that would have amended the state’s constitution to ban gay weddings. And in California, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge’s ruling that overturned Prop 8. The issue is now before the US Supreme Court, alongside a challenge to the federal anti-gay marriage law, known as the Defense of Marriage Act.

Loser: Homophobia. Bigotry against gays and lesbians remains strong nationwide, but it’s not nearly as bad as it was just a few years ago. A nationwide survey released earlier this month from Quinnipiac University, a respected pollster, showed that 48 percent of Americans now support gay marriage compared to 46 percent who oppose it. In 2008, the same polling outfit reported that only 36 percent of Americans backed same-sex marriage compared to 55 percent who opposed it. That’s a seventeen-point swing in just four years.

Winner: Chevron. The oil giant spent at least $1.2 million in Richmond trying to elect three city council candidates and defeat candidates backed by the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) — and it worked. Two of the Chevron candidates, Councilman Nat Bates and former Councilman Gary Bell, were victorious. And having a friendly council in Richmond could prove to be pivotal for Chevron as it continues to struggle with the fallout from its massive refinery explosion and fire in August.

Loser: Richmond progressives. No RPA candidate won election in Richmond in November — the first time in several years that the group has been shut out in city elections after posting a series of impressive victories. The RPA also lost a seat on the council, and now only has two members on the seven-person panel, although Councilmen Tom Butt and Jim Rogers often vote with the RPA on major issues.

Winner: The soda industry. The American Beverage Association spent a whopping $2.7 million in Richmond, defeating Measure N, a local ballot initiative that would have taxed sugary drinks. As such, the beverage association made 2012 the most costly election in Richmond history, and the amount of money it spent easily dwarfed the total campaign spending in every other East Bay city this year. The beverage association also spent more money defeating Measure N than the initiative would have raised in tax revenue.

Loser: Childhood health. The funds generated by Measure N were to be spent on anti-obesity and children’s health programs in Richmond. But the beverage industry successfully scared city voters into believing that the measure was going to do more harm than good for low-income residents, despite the fact that health programs were designed to help those residents the most.

Winner: Jerry Brown. Brown’s pet ballot measure Prop 30 won easily, as we noted above, enabling the governor to emerge as a sort of savior of public education in California. If Prop 30 had lost, education funding would have been slashed dramatically — by several billion dollars. The measure, along with an improving economy, also should allow Brown’s administration to avoid further deep cuts in 2013.

Loser: Cities and redevelopment. Although the passage of Prop 30 should provide a bit of financial relief for California cities, Brown’s decision to kill redevelopment was a major blow for cities like Oakland. Throughout the past several decades, Oakland and other cities have used redevelopment funds to revitalize blighted areas and build affordable housing. But now it’s unclear what cities will do to make up for the lost money that Brown took for the state budget.

Winner: Democrats. Not only did Obama win handily, but Democrats also captured super-majorities in both houses of the state legislature. The only question now is whether Dems will use their newfound powers to enact a liberal agenda and reform Prop 13, or will they remain fearful of conservatives and push for more budget cuts and other austerity measures?

Loser: Republicans: The GOP proved decisively this year that it’s just too conservative for California, especially when it comes to issues like taxing the rich, abortion, equal rights, and gun control. And the question is: Will the California Republican Party turn toward the center and successfully break from the even more conservative national party, or will it remain beholden to the Religious Right, the Tea Party, and the Koch Brothers?


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