Guns, drugs and soda pop the real stars of election

UC Davis students Maisie Kise, left, and Carli Hambley join a protest of the Brown administration’s refusal to stop fracking in California during a rally at the Capitol in March.
UC Davis students Maisie Kise, left, and Carli Hambley join a protest of the Brown administration’s refusal to stop fracking in California during a rally at the Capitol in March. lsterling@sacbee.com

Most of the news from Tuesday’s election focused on the Republican wave that flipped the U.S. Senate and seeped into California. Even so, we don’t expect too much to change over the next two years in gridlocked Washington, D.C.

Not compared to what’s going to happen in Washington state and in other parts of the West. We find much more significance in races regarding guns, pot, soda and oil. Here’s what we took away from them:

Soda taxes bubbling up. There were soda taxes on local ballots in San Francisco and Berkeley on Tuesday. While they earned a majority of votes, only one passed. Slightly more than 54 percent of San Francisco voters liked a proposed two-cent per-ounce tax, but it needed two-thirds support. Berkeley’s penny-per-ounce tax needed only a simple majority to win, though 73 percent of the city’s voters approved it.

This was a big victory for the public health forces working to combat soda consumption, which they say is a huge contributor to obesity. Earlier attempts at soda taxes in two working-class California cities – Richmond and El Monte – failed at the polls. A third and fourth failure might have fizzed out enthusiasm, but both were wins of a sort for the cause.

Expect to see more soda taxes on future local ballots, probably in affluent liberal communities where soda already is a four-letter word.

Behind the curve on pot. California might have been the first state to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal use, but it could be the last to legalize it for recreational use, at least among Western states. Two years ago, Colorado and Washington state legalized the green stuff. This year, Oregon and Alaska did the same.

Will California be next? It’s looking very likely there will be a pot legalization initiative on California’s 2016 ballot, but will the Golden State be burned out by its bad experiences with medical marijuana dispensaries? It’s certainly possible.

Fracking has a fraught future here. Three counties in California put bans on fracking in oil production on their ballots this year: Santa Barbara, Mendocino and San Benito on the Central Coast. The measures in the latter two won, though no fracking occurs there.

In Santa Barbara, however, it failed by a pretty wide margin, perhaps because fracking is used there. Also, the oil industry spent $7.6 million to defeat it by informing residents of the jobs it creates and the $16 million in annual tax revenue they will lose.

Still, to environmentalists, two out of three ain’t bad. As one told public radio station KPCC in Southern California last week: “This campaign was the beginning of the fight, not the end.”

The Periwinkle State? California is still deep blue, as was evidenced by a Democratic sweep of statewide positions from governor to insurance commissioner on Tuesday. But the Republican Party focused its dollars and attention on on stopping the shrinking of its ranks of legislators in Sacramento. It paid off as the GOP apparently gained four seats in the Legislature, although votes still are being counted.

Republicans might have made more congressional gains if they had spent more money. In Sacramento County, Rep. Ami Bera, a Democrat, is sweating out a count of the remaining ballots in the District 7 race that had his Republican challenger, former Rep. Doug Ose, in the lead for the days after the election. All this means there’s been a steady drip-drip of red into that vast pool of blue.

There is hope for gun control. Voters in Washington state shook off the yoke that the National Rifle Association seems to have on many of the country’s lawmakers and passed strict gun control. In a measure funded in large part by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, voters agreed to require universal background checks for all gun sales, including those at gun shows, online and through private sales. Federal law now requires background checks only at gun shops.

“It’s a game-changer,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told USA Today.

We hope so. Perhaps the victory in Washington state shows that other states can do what that other Washington can’t.