Harris, Newsom win easily in primary

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California State Attorney General Kamala Harris

California State Attorney General Kamala Harris (AP Photo)

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Kamala Harris cruised to victories in Tuesday’s primary, while Republican hopes to break the Democrats’ stranglehold on statewide offices got a boost with strong showings in the secretary of state and controller races.

Democrats hold all eight statewide offices and five incumbents are running for re-election and favored to win November’s general election. GOP hopes rest on the races for controller, secretary of state and treasurer.

The secretary of state is California’s chief elections officer and oversees the campaign finance reporting system. From a diverse field of eight candidates, voters chose Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles and Republican Pete Peterson, who runs a Pepperdine University think tank dedicated to public engagement in politics.

With more than 2 million votes counted, Peterson and Padilla each had about 29 percent.

Peterson’s priorities include greater campaign finance transparency and more public involvement in the state initiative process, which he said has become too politicized. Among his proposals is a “citizen’s initiative review” where a citizen “jury” would review and comment on state ballot proposals.

He acknowledged the challenge of taking on a prominent Democrat in a blue state. “We’re going to be outspent all the way straight through to November,” he said.

Padilla’s priorities include increasing voter turnout, which was dismal Tuesday. “I think the low turnout today is Exhibit A in terms of why we must do better when it comes to civic engagement,” Padilla said.

Also on the ballot for secretary of state was state Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco, who ended his campaign after being arrested on federal corruption charges earlier this year. He ran third, with 11 percent of the votes.

The race for superintendent of public instruction was a union-versus-reformers referendum, and the unions made a strong statement that their political power remains strong in California.

The incumbent, Tom Torlakson, was backed by teacher unions and had nearly 49 percent of the votes. Marshall Tuck, a former charter school operator who wants changes to how teachers are evaluated and when they can be fired, trailed with 27 percent.

The third candidate was Long Beach educator Lydia Gutierrez, a Republican who also ran four years ago. She attracted 24 percent of votes with a campaign critical of recently enacted national learning benchmarks called Common Core State Standards.

Because the race for schools chief is nonpartisan, Torlakson can win the seat outright if the remaining votes push him past 50 percent. In all the other primary races, the two candidates with the most votes advance to November, even if they are from the same party.

In the race for controller, the state’s chief fiscal officer, four candidates were bunched with between 20 percent and 24 percent of the votes. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin had a narrow lead over fellow Republican David Evans and two Democratic stalwarts who are termed out of their current offices – former Assembly Speaker John Perez of Los Angeles and Betty Yee, a member of the state Board of Equalization.

The current controller, John Chiang, is termed out and is running for treasurer. He easily advanced to November, winning 55 percent of the votes and will face Republican Greg Conlon, who had 38 percent.

In the lieutenant governor’s race, Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor, had about 50 percent of the votes. In November he will face former California Republican Chairman Ron Nehring, who had 23 percent.

Harris had about 53 percent of the votes in her quest for another term as attorney general and waited to see which of four closely bunched Republican challengers would emerge to face her in the fall.

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones took a step toward a second term, winning about 54 percent of the votes and will meet Republican state Sen. Ted Gaines in November. Gaines, who had 41 percent, listed himself as an independent insurance agent rather than state lawmaker, a nod to the public’s generally low opinion of the Legislature.


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