2012 Election Preview
Tomorrow is Election Day across America, and although it’s not on the ballot, the outcome of any number of races will impact the future of high speed rail and mass transit in California.
Here are some of the races that matter most:
President of the United States – Barack Obama has been an indispensable supporter of the high speed rail project as president. Without his $8 billion in HSR stimulus, half of which has gone to California, it’s unlikely that construction would be taking place on the first segment of the project next year. The polling suggests Obama is likely to win re-election. And in a second term, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is being called the front-runner to replace Ray LaHood as Transportation Secretary. That’s more good news for California HSR and for mass transit of all kinds in the state. A Romney win would be devastating for transit and rail, but that seems increasingly unlikely.
Congress – The US House of Representatives is unlikely to flip back to Democratic control this year, which is unfortunate. House Republicans have defunded HSR at the federal level, whereas House Democrats strongly support future HSR spending. The US Senate is likely to remain in Democratic hands. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a strong backer of California HSR, is up for re-election but is a lock to win a fourth full term.
In California, several House races have HSR implications. In CA-10, the vehemently anti-HSR Jeff Denham faces a neck-and-neck race with Democrat Jose Hernandez. Denham is facing his first re-election fight and if he loses, it will mean one fewer anti-HSR voice from the Central Valley will be in Congress. In CA-26, Democrat Julia Brownley has faced attacks from oil companies for her vote in support of the HSR project in Sacramento this past summer. Tony Strickland, a far right Republican, would immediately become a loud anti-HSR voice in the Congress if he wins that seat. And Alan Lowenthal is running for Congress in CA-47. The less said about him, the better.
State Legislature – Democrats have a chance to win a 2/3 majority in the State Senate, especially if they pick up SD-19 where Hannah-Beth Jackson is running in the seat being vacated by Tony Strickland. The aforementioned Alan Lowenthal is leaving the State Senate due to term limits, as is Joe Simitian, which is excellent news for the HSR project. Democrats have an outside shot at winning 2/3 in the Assembly, but it’s considered less likely. It’s also of less importance for HSR given that Speaker John A. Pérez is a strong backer of the project and has delivered the Assembly for the project without any trouble.
Proposition 30 – Passage of this measure would help fix the state budget and provide badly needed revenue for schools and other priorities. As this blog explained over the weekend, anti-HSR forces are trying to link Prop 30 and HSR together, hoping that they can take each other down. It’s a false linkage, of course. But for the good of the state, Prop 30 needs to pass. If it fails, another round of “omg time to defund high speed rail!!!” could emerge, and I think I speak for all rail advocates when I say we’d rather not go through that again.
Measure J – Los Angeles County voters will be deciding whether to extend the Measure R sales tax by 30 years, to 2069, in order to accelerate several rail projects, including the Westside Subway Extension and the extremely interesting yet still nebulous Sepulveda Pass Corridor transit project. LA’s rail expansion has been among the most aggressive in North America, and a yes vote would sustain that momentum. But it requires a 2/3 vote, and that’s a difficult amount to reach no matter the issue. Measure R barely passed in 2008 with 67.22% of the vote (a landslide victory if judged by the usual majority vote standard). I’m skeptical that Measure J will reach the magic 2/3 mark, but it would be great if it did.
Los Angeles Streetcar – Property owners in downtown LA will be deciding whether to tax themselves to build a downtown streetcar loop connecting the Civic Center, the Jewelry District, LA Live, and the Fashion District. Downtown LA had streetcars in the past and could use them again.