For weeks, pundits and politicians alike tried to game play out California's brave new world of electioneering. Lots of same party do-over votes come November, they said. Anti-incumbent grumblings. Skeptical of any and all things promising to be reform.
But as the dust clears, no clean and neat narrative has emerged. Voters, like the rest of us, seem to be figuring all of this out as they go along.
The one thing we do seem to know is that voter turnout was low. Very low. Preliminary numbers with all statewide precincts reporting put voter turnout, as predicted, below the predicted 30 percent. In some areas, poll workers looked like the famous Maytag repairman in the old TV commercials, desperately waiting for something to do. It's hard to know just what to blame all of that apathy on -- though the lack of a contested presidential primary certainly didn't help.
Voters did, though, give a resounding thumbs up to redoing the legislative term limits they first created 22 years ago - and that's interesting, given that two other attempts to rework the law in the intervening years were resoundingly rejected. It's hard to know whether voters were enamored with the proposal itself (which sounds much more like a reduction in years eligible to serve than it does a potential extension of incumbency for a number of new legislators elected this fall), or whether they decided that perfect or not something needed to change at the state Capitol.
The fate of Proposition 29, the much discussed new tobacco tax, was far less clear. Its fate only grew more dire as the night went on, perhaps a function of the almost $47 million spent by tobacco companies to kill the initiative.
Meantime, voters didn't quite seem to act as expected in the top two primary for legislative and congressional races. Yes, both veteran Democratic incumbents advanced to November in the San Fernando Valley's 30th congressional district. But a lot of the other predicted/expected same-party results didn't pan out. Did voters decide to stay in their respective partisan corners? Did independents turn out to be not-so-independent and back the traditional candidates? It'll take some time to sort that one out.
And what of the independent candidates so closely watched in races around the state? Chad Condit in the Central Valley, Linda Parks in Ventura County, Anthony Adams in the Inland Empire, and Nathan Fletcher in San Diego... all came up short in their quest to upend the conventional two-party dynamics of politics.
Meantime, voters in two major cities - San Jose and San Diego - handily approved major cutbacks in the pension benefits of their local public employees. Might that be a lesson for Democratic legislators in Sacramento who have, up until now, been reluctant to embrace pension changes pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown? After all, Brown warned legislators late last year that stalling on the pension issue would mean a tougher road ahead for the November tax initiative he and Democrats are counting on to help erase the state's deficit.
The dust will keep settling over the next few hours and days. But voters - at least those that turned out - seem to have proved that the search for master narratives in elections that hinge on so many personal, and local issues... can sometimes prove elusive.