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COURSEY: Five things I've learned from the election of 2012

1. Voters aren't ready to dismantle their government – yet.

Despite a presidential campaign that featured one side that wanted to dismantle government as we know it, Americans sent a strong message that they understand and appreciate what government does in our society, and even though they get frustrated they still support it. This was apparent in results from Washington, D.C., where voters returned to office a president who supports higher taxes and promotes greater access to health care, to Sacramento, where they handily approved tax hikes via Proposition 30, to local school districts, where most of Sonoma County's parcel tax and bond measures were approved.

2. Jerry Brown may possess some magical powers.

California's governor pulled a rabbit out of a hat with the passage of Proposition 30. Polls and pundits predicted the tax initiative would fail on Election Day, particularly when Brown decided to be the primary voice of the campaign. The 74-year-old governor was criticized as too old to connect with the younger voters he needed to pass the initiative. Critics said his request for new taxes wouldn't fly at the same time Brown was touting a $68 billion high-speed rail project and another big-ticket plan to upgrade the state's water-delivery system. Prognosticators pronounced Prop. 30 dead following the scandal in which the state Parks Department "found" $54 million in unspent funds lying around at the same time the department was threatening to close parks around the state. Under all of that weight, Prop 30. won by 8 percent in what Brown called "a vote of confidence with some reservations."

3. Don't mess with the union vote.

Gov. Brown's victory with Prop. 30 may have as much to do with Prop. 32 as it does with his magical powers. When corporate interests and wealthy Republican activists decided to take on unions with a proposition that would cut off unions' political money, California's labor groups and their Democratic allies fought back with impressive ferocity. They spent more than $60 million to fight Prop. 32, including a huge get-out-the-vote effort featuring robo-calls by Bill Clinton. That mobilization effort not only resulted in a 12-percentage-point smack-down of Prop. 32, but it's also being credited for helping lift Prop. 30 to victory and even is mentioned as part of the reason we have new Democratic super-majorities in the state Legislature.

4. Incumbency is no longer a slam-dunk to re-election.

Granted, Michael Allen had to run in a new district this year, so he isn't technically an incumbent. But the one-term Santa Rosa legislator is the assistant majority leader of the state Assembly, he had Assembly Speaker John Perez personally campaigning for him and he was the recipient of more than $700,000 from Democratic-controlled spending committees in the final weeks of the campaign. Yet, as of last count, Allen trailed fellow Democrat Marc Levine by 1,663 votes. This is just one example of the state's new "top two" primary format, in which the top two vote-getters in the June primary advance to the fall general election contest – no matter what their party affiliation. That, and the citizen-driven redistricting that also affected Allen's race, resulted in a 20-percent turnover rate in California's Congressional delegation – the largest shuffle in 20 years. Whether you like the results or not, competitive campaigns are a healthy sign for California politics.

5. November surprises are better than October surprises.

Does anyone really believe that the date of the election didn't affect the timing of CIA Director David Petraeus's resignation? According to details that have dribbled out since the shocking announcement last week, the FBI had been investigating the matter for at least four months. They conducted what have been characterized as "final interviews" with Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, before the end of October. But they didn't inform Petraeus's boss, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, about the investigation until Election Day. Now, I don't believe for a minute that the CIA director's zipper problems should have any bearing on the re-election of President Barack Obama. But the president was taking a lot of heat in the last weeks of the campaign about his administration's handling of the attack in Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, and Petraeus and his agency were at the center of the controversy. It was awfully convenient that his resignation came the Friday after the election, rather than the Friday before. Bad news is always easier to weather after the ballots have been counted.


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