Brown found path to Prop 30. victory in a divided California
On Tuesday night, a triumphant Gov. Jerry Brown told supporters in Sacramento that his tax-hike measure was a “unifying force.” Californians were coming together, he said, to support schools and patch the state budget.
But Brown’s victory may not have been possible without the deepening divisions that have characterized American politics. Even as support for his ballot measure slipped, the governor was able to rely on a firewall of hard-core allies that eventually carried Proposition 30 to victory.
The measure will increase the state sales tax by a quarter of a cent for four years and raise income tax rates on the wealthy by 1 to 3 percentage points for seven years. Without the new taxes, Brown said, the state would have had to make nearly $6 billion in budget cuts, mostly to public schools.
In October, while Brown was largely absent from the campaign trail, public opinion polls showed Proposition 30 leading with a shrinking margin, then dropping below 50% support for the first time.
The slide led to a round of hand-wringing among some of the governor’s allies, since Sacramento operatives have long cautioned that it’s very difficult to pass a tax increase with less than 60% support.
But members of Brown’s team said they were not concerned. They said such benchmarks were relics of a time where the political landscape was populated with Reagan Democrats and Rockefeller Republicans -– moderate voters who could swing either way on an issue like taxes.
Ace Smith, the campaign manager, said that “conventional wisdom has become stale.”
Today, ideological schisms have hardened both sides of the political spectrum, and Brown's team said it didn’t need such a wide margin because its base had become more reliable.
Polls showed that voters who were undecided on Brown’s tax plan were more likely to be Democrats than Republicans, and campaign operatives said they eventually lined up behind the governor’s measure.
Brown began a series of rapid-fire campaign events in the final weeks before the election, and Kevin Gordon, a lobbyist for schools, said the strategy paid off.
"People were really doubtful about its ability to pass," he said. "The governor gets incredibly high marks for his political genius, no doubt about it."
Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown talks to reporters about Proposition 30 during an election night party in Sacramento on Tuesday. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press