How Dems Won A Hollow Victory

NOV. 17, 2010


The Democratic dominance at the voting booth on Nov. 2 in California is being called a “wipeout” of Republicans. But what happened in California on election night might be called a reverse Pyrrhic victory for Republicans.

A pyrrhic victory is a military victory that is offset by staggering numerical losses, which renders the winner of a battle unable to fight the next battle and thus ultimately lose the war. Nov. 2 was a reverse Pyrrhic victory for California Republicans because the Democrat incumbents won all the statewide and district seats up for grabs, picked up the Governor’s seat, but Republicans won the critical ballot initiatives on redistricting (Prop 20) and mandating a supermajority (two-thirds) vote for any new fees (Prop 26). It’s like being told you can have your political party cake but you now only can have one thin re-gerrymandered slice without frosting if you can get two-thirds of people who are completely broke to pay for it.

With the passage of Prop 20 for fair redistricting, and assuming California loses no Congressional seats due to the new U.S. Census count, Republicans could stand to gain up to two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, one seat in the state Senate, and four seats in the Assembly at the next election despite being unable to pick up one state or federal seat in the recent past election. This doesn’t sound like a big gain, but where Republicans need to hold at least 34 percent of the seats in the Legislature to block a vote on taxes or fees, even a small gain is critical.

This would not have been possible if Republicans had not won 39 percent of the Congressional vote in the November election. Meg Whitman has been widely pilloried in the media for trying to buy the governorship with $144 million. Likewise, the Tea Party failed to influence the pick up of even one seat in the Congress or State Legislature. But without Whitman’s and the Tea Party’s ability to get out the Republican voter base Props 20 and 26 may not have passed and they may not have held their one third vote blocking minority in the State Senate.

But if the new U.S. Census figures are not favorable for California, the Republican gain in seats under the new redistricting law may be marginal. California could lose two to three seats in the House due to the Census, with Florida and Texas likely picking them up. This means that California would likely redistrict 50 to 51 seats instead of the current 53 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Under Prop 20, the Democrats controlling the Legislature can no longer play games like taking the 29th and 30th districts and lumping them together and losing a Republican seat by default. It’s likely that Democrats will have to combine two Congressional districts in Los Angeles as one; and/or combine the tiny 8th Congressional District in San Francisco (Pelosi-D) with the equally tiny 9th District in Alameda (Barbara Lee-D), thus forcing a Pelosi-Lee catfight (click here for a District 8 map and here for a District 9 map).

Now, there have been mostly feeble attempts by the media to explain the fickleness of the California electorate that votes for a full slate of Democrats for all incumbent offices up for re-election but rejects ballot initiatives for new fees or taxes and votes for fair redistricting. To many it is nearly unexplainable and the California electorate has been described as “California flaky.” But a plausible explanation is to look at the crossover vote in California as due to the numerical advantage of gerrymandering versus the numerical advantage against taxes provided under Prop 13.

One of the reasons that taxes are not easily passed in California is that the two-thirds vote threshold of Prop 13 theoretically cancels out the typical two to one (or two-thirds) advantage for Democrats in gerrymandered districts.  Another way to look at it is that gerrymandering gives Democratic voters two votes for every one Republican vote but conversely Prop 13 provides for two anti-tax votes for every pro-tax vote.

But the sweep of Democrats for political offices can be explained by the fact that candidates only have to obtain a simple majority (50 percent plus one) and thus the advantage of gerrymandering is unchecked by Prop 13’s supermajority requirement. With the new redistricting Democrats are not to likely to lose their huge advantage in their district strongholds, but they are likely to have the number of Democratic gerrymandered districts reduced.

Thus, the Republican coalition was a bigger winner on Nov. 2 than has been acknowledged by the media. And it’s likely due to two actors on the California political stage that have been branded as losers: Meg Whitman and the 50 chapters of the Tea Party in California.

United States House of Representatives elections in California, 2010[2]
Party Votes Percentage Seats +/–
Democratic 3,475,558 56.1% 32 TBD
Republican 2,403,773 38.8% 19 TBD
Others 315,959 5.1% 0 TBD
Valid votes
Invalid or blank votes
Totals 6,195,292 100% 53 TBD
Voter turnout

Source: Wikipedia

CALIFORNIA DELEGATION – U.S. HOUSE – Republican 0 to 1 Seat Pick After Redistricting

Before Nov. 2, 2010 After Nov. 2, 2010 Est. After Redistricting

& Census Readjustment

Party Seats Percent Seats Percent Seats Percent
Democrat 34 64% 34 64% 32 61%
Republican 19 36% 19 36% 20-21 39%
Total 53 100% 53 100% 53 100%

CALIFORNIA STATE SENATE – Republican 1 Seat Pickup After Redistricting

Before Nov. 2, 2010 After Nov. 2, 2010 Est. After Redistricting
Party Seats Percent Seats Percent Seats Percent
Democrat 24 60% 24 60% 21 61%
Republican 14 35% 14 35% 15 39%
Vacant 2 5% 2** 5% 0 0%
Total 40 100% 40 100% 40 100%
** District 1 – Dave Cox vacated seat to run for U.S. Congress; Republican hold
** District 28 – Jennie Orpeza, vacated by death, Democrat hold

CALIFORNIA STATE ASSEMBLY – Republican 2 to 4 Seat Pickup After Redistricting

Before Nov. 2, 2010 After Nov. 2, 2010 Est. After Redistricting
Party Seats Percent Seats Percent Seats Percent
Democrat 50 62.5% 51 63.75% 48 59.75%
Republican 27 33.75% 29 36.25% 31 39.00%
Independent 1 1.25% 0 0% 1** 1.25%
Vacant 2 2.5% 0 0% 0 0%
Total 80 100% 80 100% 80 100%
**Independent Juan Arambula, District 31, votes liberal 78% of time

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