Another year, another Democratic bloodbath outside of California. Democrats have lost control of the US Senate, meaning we’re right back to the late 1990s again in terms of DC politics.
As with 2010, California largely resisted the red tide. Jerry Brown was re-elected governor by at least a 19 point margin. Californians resoundingly rejected Neel Kashkari’s attempt to kill high speed rail, proving that California’s political consensus is indeed pro-HSR.
The red tide did come a bit higher on the California beach this year. In 2010, Democrats picked up some seats in Congress and the state legislature. In 2014, Democrats lost the legislative supermajority they won in 2012 – but they still have huge overall majorities in Sacramento.
One of the more stunning races, still too close to call, is in California’s 16th Congressional District. Jim Costa, a longtime rep and one of the key figures in bringing high speed rail to California, is trailing by 736 votes over a Republican who few expected had a chance of winning.
That Republican, Johnny Tacherra, ran as a clone of other Valley Republicans like Jeff Denham and Kevin McCarthy – opposed to Obamacare, opposed to immigration reform, opposed to new government spending. Tacherra also ran against high speed rail, though it doesn’t appear to have been as large a factor in his campaign as the other issues.
Costa’s troubles stem more from Democratic weakness than a voter revolt against high speed rail. President Barack Obama’s appalling decision to delay action to stop the deportations led to a dramatic collapse in turnout among Latino voters, a key part of Costa’s base. Even if Tacherra hadn’t mentioned HSR at all, Costa would have been in trouble. Still, it looks as if Costa may yet prevail.
So what does all this mean for high speed rail?
The loss of the US Senate doesn’t mean a whole lot for HSR, since the federal government wasn’t giving money for it anyway. Which in turn makes it more important that California develop more of its own sources of revenue to fund transit, since a GOP Congress can be expected to defund mass transit as much as possible. Amtrak, however, is in trouble.
The loss of the legislative supermajority in California shouldn’t hurt HSR, since budgets still require only a majority vote. But it does mean that it will be 2016 at the soonest when we see reforms to transportation funding in California. The supermajority failed to act to lower the threshold for passing transit taxes from 66.6%, and unless they find support for doing this in 2015, LA Metro will have to go back to voters in 2016 with the hope they get the 2/3 majority that narrowly eluded them in 2012.
That’s not to say the election was good for HSR. It doesn’t change the status quo, and so far, HSR has found a way to survive a hostile Congress. We shall see how much longer that can last.