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Top 5 Winners on Election Night

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Opinion: Top 5 Winners on Election Night

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You've already read who won which race in the papers. But the bigger winners on Election Night weren't on the ballot. Some weren't even participating.

Here is your blogger's ranking of the top 5 winners in the California elections.

5. Secretary of State Debra Bowen

She wasn't running this year (and is termed out in 2014), but her office provides results on Election Night, and the data was available quickly, without interruption. This was a big victory for an office that has been dogged by technical problems.

4. State legislative leaders

Prop 28, the measure to make changes to state term limits laws, passed. It is likely to have a modest effect, since it drops term limits for lawmakers from 14 to 12 years and allows them to serve all that time in one house. Practically, this will give a little bit more power to the legislative leaders in the Assembly and Senate, who should have more time in office and thus more ability to do long-term policy and to punish those lawmakers who would cross them.

3. The illusion of pension reform

San Diego voters overwhelmingly passed a pension reform measure that doesn't actually save San Diego any money. A measure approved by San Jose voters does a little better, but not much. Voters would like to have pensions brought under control, but the policy work has to be stronger.

2. The LA Times

Anyone who says newspaper endorsements don't matter wasn't paying attention to the Prop 29 campaign. That initiative to raise cigarette taxes to fund cancer research looked like a sure bet to pass until the Times weighed in with a surprising editorial. The paper, no fan of tobacco companies, pointed out that establishing a separate fund for cancer research was bad budget policy at a bad time for the state. This carried the day. Prop 29 supporters made matters worse by suggesting, implausibly, that the Times was being duped by the tobacco industry, instead of taking on the budget argument. The result: Prop 29 was too close to call, with less than half a percentage points between the no and yes votes by the end of last week.

1. California's non-voters

Californians who were eligible to vote -- but didn't -- were easily the biggest winners of the night. First, they skipped an election that didn't mean much, since the two statewide ballot propositions are modest in impact and candidates' races are almost meaningless given the restrictions on the discretion of California's state and local elected officials. Tellingly, California's elections were so devoid of import that the most frequently seen politician on local television in Los Angeles on election night was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who survived a recall challenge.

And the numbers of non-voters were overwhelming. There were 17 million of them -- three times as many as there were voters. That's a supermajority, with a clear message: California may have its problems, but the system is so broken that voting isn't worth their time.

Now that's what I call a mandate.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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