The 2016 election will be pivotal for the future of California’s high speed rail project. Here’s what you need to watch for on election night in terms of impact on HSR:
• Who wins the White House? Barack Obama has been every bit the friend of HSR we hoped he’d be back in 2008. Although Donald Trump has occasionally said decent things about HSR and federal infrastructure spending, you shouldn’t believe a word of it. If he wins, and if Congress stays in GOP hands, they’ll unleash a further and deeper attack on HSR. But if Hillary Clinton wins, she can be expected to continue supporting HSR – and potentially promoting massive new federal infrastructure investment that could help HSR.
• Who controls Congress? When Republicans seized control of the House in 2010, it put a halt to any hope of new federal HSR funding. Democrats are in a good position to take control of the US Senate. The House is a longer shot, but Democrats could make big gains there this year. If Democrats take the White House and the Senate, at minimum, it would bode well for a federal infrastructure spending deal – perhaps via an infrastructure bank. Obama and Joe Biden have previously suggested an infrastructure bank could help fund HSR.
If Democrats do make gains in Congress, many of the pickups could come in California, where the Republican Party faces an extinction-level event due to a massive voter registration surge and widespread voter dislike of Trump and his party. Here are the key Congressional races being fought in California:
• CA-10: I would love nothing more than to see Jeff Denham finally lose. He supported HSR in the State Senate, then flipped and opposed it in the US House. He’s been a major thorn in the side of HSR and getting rid of him would be a big boost to HSR’s fortunes. Democrat Michael Eggman stands a good chance of winning here.
• CA-21: David Valadao has also been an important anti-HSR voice in the Valley, even though his constituents desperately need the clean air and jobs it would bring. Emilio Huerta is running a strong campaign against Valadao and a voter turnout surge could lift him to victory.
• CA-49: Darrell Issa has also worked to undermine HSR, holding hearings designed to make HSR look bad. He is facing an extremely strong challenge from Democrat Doug Applegate, and polling has shown this race to be very close.
• Democrats also have a shot at winning CA-25, with Bryan Caforio running against incumbent Steve Knight. If the California Republicans face a Trumpocalypse, they could also lose CA-39 (Ed Royce) and maybe even CA-48 (Dana Rohrabacher).
• Will Democrats regain supermajorities in Sacramento? Control of the state Legislature is not in doubt. Republicans have not held majorities in both houses since 1970. But Democrats stand a chance of winning a 2/3 supermajority in both houses, though the path is slightly easier in the Assembly than in the Senate. One thing to keep in mind is that there is a caucus of moderate Democrats in the Assembly who are not necessarily friends of HSR, though they’re less likely to want to kill it than are Republicans.
The path to a renewed Democratic supermajority runs through six Assembly seats in SoCal, including AD-65, where Democrat Sharon Quirk-Silva is trying to reclaim the seat that Republican Young Kim took from her in 2014. In the Bay Area, Republican Catherine Baker – who also won for the first time in 2014 – is facing a stiff challenge from Democrat Cheryl Cook-Kallio. There are also key intraparty battles among Democrats, such as Karina Cervantez Alejo vs. Anna Caballero in AD-30 in the Salinas Valley and Eloise Gomez Reyez vs. Cheryl Brown in AD-47 in San Bernardino, as well as Bill Dodd vs. Mariko Yamada in SD-3 and Jane Kim vs. Scott Weiner in SD-11.
• Will Proposition 53 fail? Gov. Jerry Brown has put his popularity on the line to stop this bad initiative. Will he prevail?
• Will voters pass local rail funding initiatives? The Bay Area is voting on Measure RR to finally invest in desperately needed maintenance for BART, and LA is voting on Measure M to finally fund a massive expansion of Metro Rail. Both initiatives face opposition from corporate centrists (like State Sen. Steve Glazer) and from anti-tax Republicans. Someday, future generations will look back on people like Sen. Glazer and shake their heads at the penny-pinching shortsightedness that has kept California stuck in traffic, stuck in smog, and stuck with high CO2 emissions.
Some of these races may not be decided on election night. And California’s glacial pace of counting ballots means some races and propositions may not be decided until nearly Thanksgiving. LA County’s previous rail funding initiative, Measure J, just barely failed to reach the 66.7% mark in 2012, a result that took days to determine.
And once this is done, the real fun begins: the 2018 election cycle and the battle to succeed Jerry Brown!