GOP ‘run over by a truck’ in down-ticket races

by Jack Dolan and Shane Goldmacher, Los Angeles Times

Democrats sweep seven of eight statewide offices, including lieutenant governor, insurance commissioner, treasurer, controller, secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction.

Bucking the national conservative trend, California Democrats swept all but one of the eight statewide elected offices, with the contest for attorney general too close to call Wednesday after a late surge by Democrat Kamala Harris.

"It’s a fine day today, isn’t it?" said Tom Torlakson, a Democratic state assemblyman elected as California’s next superintendent of public instruction.

On the other side, Jon Fleischman, a vice chairman of the state Republican Party, titled a post-election analysis on his blog, "Random Thoughts After Being Run Over by a Truck."

Among the down-ticket winners was San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, elected lieutenant governor less than a year after saying he had no idea what the state’s second-highest-ranking official does. He beat incumbent Republican Abel Maldonado, a former state senator appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger after Democrat John Garamendi left to serve in Congress.

Newsom won 50% of the vote to Maldonado’s 40% in Wednesday’s tallies. He will sit on the state Lands Commission, the Economic Development Commission and the boards governing public universities but won’t have much independent decision-making power.

Newsom did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. But in a statement released in the hours after the election, he offered faint praise for his opponent. "Abel Maldonado took the helm of the lieutenant governor’s office during a brief and challenging time. He is to be thanked for his service," the statement read.

Maldonado could not be reached for comment because he was attending a relative’s funeral in Mexico, campaign spokeswoman Brooke Armour said.

In a battle between two termed-out assemblymen to replace Republican Insurance Commissioner Steven Poizner, Democrat Dave Jones of Sacramento defeated Republican Mike Villines of Clovis 51% to 38%. Jones will be responsible for regulating a $124-billion market and will play a key role in attempting to implement President Obama’s healthcare overhaul.

A former legal aid attorney with a Harvard law degree and a distinctive mop of thick brown hair, Jones won endorsements from trial lawyers and leading consumer advocates, including the Consumer Federation of California. Large insurance companies shelled out millions of dollars to run ads on Villines’ behalf.

"I’m very pleased Californians rejected the insurance industry’s effort to buy their own regulator," Jones said Wednesday.

Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who has held office without interruption since 1973, beat his Republican challenger, state Sen. Mimi Walters of Laguna Niguel 56% to 37%.

The controller’s race reprised a 2006 contest between the Democratic Controller John Chiang and Republican state Sen. Tony Strickland of Moorpark. Chiang won again Tuesday, 55% to 37%.

As California’s top fiscal officers, Chiang and Lockyer must manage the state’s investments, sit on powerful pension boards and keep the deficit-laden state solvent.

In the secretary of state contest, Democratic incumbent Debra Bowen marched to victory with 53% of the vote, though the evening did not go smoothly for California’s chief elections officer.

Her website ‘ the source of California election results ‘ crashed only minutes after the polls closed and worked only haltingly through much of the evening. She blamed a contractor who had promised her unlimited capacity for Web traffic. The contractor apologized.

"It’s always unfortunate when you can’t provide the service you are expecting to provide," Bowen said.

Bowen beat challenger Damon Dunn, a 34-year-old former professional football player and political neophyte who had not voted until 2009 and garnered 39% of the vote.

The race to be the next superintendent of public instruction featured more than $5 million spent by the California Teachers Assn. and the California Assn. of School Administrators.

Larry Aceves, a former school superintendent, once served as head of the administrators group, which paid for radio ads and slate mailers touting his candidacy. But it was the teachers union-backed candidate, Torlakson, who won with 55% of the vote in the nonpartisan race.

Aceves, a lifelong Democrat, had reregistered as an independent to appeal to GOP and independent voters. But he won only 45% support.

Republicans did hold on to two of the four district-based seats on the state Board of Equalization, which resolves tax disputes.

Michelle Steel of Rolling Hills, who represents much of Southern California outside Los Angeles, won reelection with 55% support. State Sen. George Runner (R- Lancaster) beat Chris Parker, a Sacramento Democrat, 50% to 43%, to represent the seat that reaches from northern Los Angeles County through inland California to Oregon.

But Democrats maintain their majority on the five-member panel. Los Angeles County Democrat Jerome Horton won his district with 72% of the vote. Democratic Betty Yee of San Francisco, whose coastal district reaches from the Oregon border to Santa Barbara, won her second full term with 62% of the vote. The controller holds the fifth seat.