It’s been the cornerstone of Jerry Brown’s agenda since the day he returned to the California governor’s office: win voter approval of a tax measure to bring an end to the state’s years of never-ending budget deficits. After a campaign full of twists and turns, voters approved the governor’s sales and income tax measure, Proposition 30, by 54 percent to 46 percent – but not without a suspenseful Election Night.
Californians usually don’t go for statewide tax measures. They’ve rejected them the last seven times they’ve seen them on the ballot. And late into Election Night, Prop 30’s fate was far from certain. Early returns showed the measure trailing, then pulling even. Then, just as it took a narrow lead after 11pm, Governor Brown took the stage at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Sacramento.
“Well, here we are. We have a vote of the people – I think the only place in America where a state actually said, let’s raise our taxes for our kids, for our schools, for our California dream.”
It sounded like a victory speech. “We had to overcome a lot of obstacles – we overcame ’em. Yes on 30, yes on our kids, yes on California! We’re all in it together. Thank you very much!.”
Yet at that moment, less than half of the votes had actually been counted. And opponents like Aaron McLear with the “No on 30” campaign held out hope a while longer.
“I thin it’s too early to tell. It’s just after midnight on Election Night. We have a lot of counties to go.”
It wasn’t until after 3:00 a.m. that the Associated Press officially declared Prop 30’s passage.
That passage was in doubt for much of the campaign. Polls showed support for the measure dropping below 50 percent amid attacks from the “No” campaign and a rival tax measure. Six billion dollars of automatic budget cuts loomed. But a few weeks ago, Prop 30 started to rebound – and the governor himself was a big reason why. After staying below the radar well into October, the 74-year-old Brown began a relentless string of campaign events and recorded TV ads. “Yes on 30” strategist Dan Newman:
“Clearly, there’s nobody like the governor out there talking to the people. People understand he’s been around the mulberry bush a few times. They trust him. He came into office, made a clear promise that he would fix the budget, wouldn’t raise revenue without a vote of the people. And now he’s walking the walk.”
Even then, Democrats and their union allies had to pull out all the stops to push Prop 30 across the finish line.
Ali Cooper with the Sacramento Central Labor Council spent the afternoon turning out voters with his wife and two young kids. Cooper worked from a list of people already identified as supporters – but who precinct records showed had not yet voted.
“Most these people have been identified as supporting our issues. And now it’s just a matter of encouraging them and making certain they understand the race will be close and that what makes the difference in winning or losing is them pulling away for 10 min and going to the polls.”
Aaron McLear with the “No on 30” campaign said that get-out-the-vote effort was one of three key advantages that led Prop 30 to victory.
“One is the 5-to-1 money advantage, that’s tough to overcome. Two, the bully pulpit of Jerry Brown, which he used very effectively these last three weeks. And third, the infrastructure. We don’t have a political party on our side like they do with the Democrats as effective at winning elections and turning out the vote. You couple that with a union operation – they had a get-out-the-vote operation that we just couldn’t match.”
There were also two other tax measures on the ballot. Voters rejected the initiative pushed by education advocate Molly Munger. Despite Munger’s $44 million, Prop 38 barely picked up a quarter of the vote. Meanwhile, Prop 39 passed with 60 percent of the vote. That measure will end a tax break that favors out-of-state businesses, which could bring the state an extra billion dollars a year. But Prop 30 was always the headliner – and the headlines for Jerry Brown this morning are good ones.