Democrats sweep California statewide contests

Ashley Swearengin, right, thanks her supporters in Fresno as they wait for precincts to report results Tuesday night.
Ashley Swearengin, right, thanks her supporters in Fresno as they wait for precincts to report results Tuesday night. The Fresno Bee

State Sen. Alex Padilla and Board of Equalization member Betty Yee held off Republican rivals in the races for secretary of state and controller, according to unofficial results Wednesday, completing a Democratic sweep of statewide offices for the third time in a dozen years.

And in the contest for California’s only nonpartisan statewide post, schools executive Marshall Tuck conceded defeat in the race for state superintendent of public instruction. Incumbent Tom Torlakson won re-election following an expensive campaign in which teacher unions, wealthy executives and others spent nearly $16 million in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s election. Both candidates are Democrats.

“Sixteen months ago we set out on this journey to do one thing: put children first and ensure that every child has equal access to a quality education. And despite yesterday’s loss, I couldn’t be prouder of the unique coalition of parents, community leaders, teachers, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents we built along the way,” Tuck said in a statement that did not mention Torlakson.

Padilla, D-Los Angeles, defeated Republican Pete Peterson, director of the Davenport Institute at Pepperdine University. Yee, a Democrat who has served on the state Board of Equalization since 2006, bested Republican Ashley Swearengin, the mayor of Fresno. Both Republicans lost by about 5 percentage points, far better than the GOP top of the ticket, Neel Kashkari, who trails Gov. Jerry Brown by more than 17 percentage points.

In other contests, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and Attorney General Kamala Harris cruised to re-election. Controller John Chiang will move down Capitol Mall to the treasurer’s office after easily winning his race to succeed veteran politician Bill Lockyer.

Unlike the rest of the Republican statewide slate, campaign prognosticators gave Peterson and Swearengin an outside chance of pulling off an upset. Peterson had years of experience with technology and civic engagement. Swearengin touted her efforts to restore Fresno’s finances from the recession.

Yet they still confronted Democrats’ 15-percentage-point registration advantage and a major fundraising gap, with little money from party committees and none from pro-Republican outside spending groups that were active in legislative contests.

Padilla outspent Peterson by almost 11-to-1 through mid-October. Yee had less of a financial edge over Swearengin, an experienced politician with a fundraising network from her six years as Frenso mayor. But Yee, who struggled to raise money during her primary campaign against former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, received strong support from organized labor during the summer and fall. In addition, union-backed independent expenditure committees spent more than a million dollars.

Swearengin spoke to Yee on Wednesday and congratulated her, campaign consultant Tim Clark said. Swearengin, who is termed out as Fresno mayor in 2016, almost certainly will be on Californians’ ballot again in 2018, if not sooner, Clark said.

“I think this is the beginning of a process that will be ongoing for her,” Clark said of Swearengin’s running statewide.

Democrats swept statewide races in 2002 and 2010. In 2006, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger won re-election and voters elected GOP businessman Steve Poizner as insurance commissioner.

Call Jim Miller, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5521. Follow him on Twitter @jimmiller2.