October 4, 2016

ELECTION 2016: Arizona & California Should Follow Familiar Patterns

It’s not an exaggeration to say that all eyes are on the presidential election this year.  Every day brings a different story, different revelation and more news that seemingly drives up the unprecedented unfavorable ratings of both candidates.

Much has been written about that election and seemingly there is nothing more to add.  But that’s not the case with regard to California and Arizona politics.  There are issues on the ballot and important races to cover that have received scant treatment even within their own respective states.  It appears that the national presidential election has sucked all of the air out of the room.  Fewer than 60 days out at this writing, and the political scene within the states is still relatively quiet.



For agriculture and the business community, the biggest, most impactful race is Proposition 206, which, if passed, will raise the minimum wage almost 50 percent by 2020.  The proposition was declared valid by the courts in August, but a month later there was very little campaigning going on.  “Right now there appears to be no concerted effort opposing it,” said AnnaMarie Knorr, Western Growers Arizona director of government affairs.

She said there was still time for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and other groups to mount a campaign, but without one, she expects the proposition will pass.  Arizona’s minimum wage is currently $8.05 per hour.  Under the proposition that figure would rise to $10 in 2017 and to $12 in 2020.  With worker advocates and union organizers pushing for minimum wage of $15 all over the country, local observers are estimating that a fight against $12 would be hard to win.

Knorr said the same thing, but also noted that there are other provisions in the proposition that the business community will find even more onerous and potentially more expensive.  In fact, the proposition is called The Minimum Wage and Paid Time Off Initiative.  The proposition mandates paid sick leave.  Currently, there is no Arizona law that requires private employers to provide employees with sick leave, paid or unpaid.  Proposition 206 guarantees 40 hours of annual paid sick time to employees of large businesses and 24 hours to those of small businesses.  Employees would be entitled to accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.

Competing for attention currently is Proposition 205, the Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative, which would legalize the recreational use of the drug.  Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is speaking out against this initiative and it appears to be where he expending his influence on the voters.

Though there is national talk that Arizona is a swing state this year and the longtime Republican stronghold could move into the Democrat column, Knorr said the numbers don’t bear that out.  In the past few years, citizens registering as “Independents” topped those in either the Republican or Democrat category.  However, this year, a strong surge in Republican registrations moved the needle back to that designation as the most popular.  “I don’t see how Republicans will lose the presidential election with that advantage,” said Knorr.

However, she did add that the demographics of the state are changing with citizens of Hispanic descent being the fastest growing population sector.  While Republicans have historically done fairly well with the family-oriented Hispanic sector, that wasn’t true in the last election and it appears that Donald Trump will get a smaller percentage of the Hispanic vote than any of his predecessors.  That does not bode well for the future of the Republican Party in Arizona.  Knorr said it will take time for the transition to take hold, but eight years from now, Arizona could be a “Blue State” in terms of registration.

Though the state has two Republican senators, its delegation to the House of Representative is only 5-4 in favor of Republicans and that is subject to change every election as there are many competitive districts in the state.  While the Arizona House of Representatives is firmly in the Republican corner 36-24, the Arizona State Senate could end up 15-15 after this year’s election.  After the last election, Republicans held a 18-12 edge.  They lost one seat in a special election and could lose two more in November for a 15-15 tie.

On the national front, John McCain’s long-held Senate seat appears to be fairly safe as the election looms less than 60 days away.  He fought off a primary battle from the right flank, and his centrist lean seems to play well in a general election, even with Arizona’s changing electorate.  Last month, Western Growers Board of Directors endorsed the senator.



No one is expecting any major shifts in California’s political landscape, but even a few minor ones can greatly influence legislation for the next two years.  The Democrats have had an extremely tight rein on both Houses for the past two decades.  Interestingly, it was the fallout from an anti-immigrant statewide proposition in 1994, Prop. 187, that has resulted in huge losses for the California Republican Party ever since.  Both the State Senate and Assembly are on the cusp of veto-proof two-third, super majorities.  The Democrats need a two-seat gain in the 80-member Assembly to achieve that status, while they can attain it in the Senate with a net gain of only one member.  “On the other hand the Republicans have no strong opportunities to have a net gain,” said Dave Puglia, executive vice president for Western Growers.  “This year they have to play defense.”

However, Puglia said every election year is different and Republicans should not despair about the future.  He noted that two recently-passed propositions—independent redistricting and the top two primary system—have led to many more districts in which Republicans voters have some say.  A competitive district generally means that the opponents for the office do drift toward a more centrist position.  And the top two system often means that even in heavily Democrat districts, the candidates who appeal to more Republicans gets elected.

Western Growers, in fact, used this dynamic in the last several elections to help more moderate Democrats win primaries.  Puglia expects these types of campaigns to continue to surface.

He noted that in the November elections, it is extremely important that both houses don’t reach that super majority level.  Governor Brown, as a policy wonk, has proven that he will use the veto pen to rein in some outlier votes from the California Legislature.  If the Legislature becomes veto proof, there will be huge pressure on moderate Democrats to toe the line when a veto vote surfaces.  Already, Puglia said activists that play near the left edge have been successful in exercising some political clout and moving some moderates a little bit closer to their viewpoint.

This may all be very important as Jerry Brown completes the final two years of his 16 in the Governor’s office over the last 40 years.  “At this point in their terms almost all governors are concerned about their legacy,” Puglia said, “but what that means in regards to Jerry Brown is impossible to predict.  The only thing for sure about Jerry Brown is that if you make a prediction you will be wrong, 100 percent of the time.”

He noted that Brown has clearly adopted the climate change issue as one of his legacies.  He has moved the state further down that path than the federal government, any state in the union and the vast majority of countries.  The laws he has signed will clearly add costs to the cost of doing business within California.  History will either credit him or blame him for the aggressive stance.  He also wants the Delta tunnels and high speed rail to form part of his legacy package.  California agriculture could benefit from the former if it is done properly.  The state’s farmers are mostly against the high speed rail concept, which will appropriate land throughout the state if it truly comes to fruition.

There are 17 ballot propositions on California’s November ballot covering a host of controversial topics including legalization of marijuana, outlawing the death penalty, upping the cigarette tax and banning single-use plastic bags.  There are no initiatives specifically about agriculture.

With Sen. Dianne Feinstein retiring, California’s two person Senate delegation will change but it will still be all-women and all-Democrat.  Two Democrat women are vying to replace Sen. Feinstein, with California Attorney General Kamala Harris the odds-on favorite to win.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, little change is expected to occur with members of the California delegation.  There are currently a handful of seats in play, but Republicans are having to defend more districts so it doesn’t appear that they have an opportunity to gain any more than one seat and they could lose up to three.  That will only be big news on the national scene if it leads to a change in leadership in the House because of a Democrat sweep of the White House, Senate and House.  Though that is possible, almost all pundits believe that while the Republicans will lose some seats in the House, it won’t be nearly enough to put the Democrats in power.