Voters approved Jerry Brown's $6 billion tax hike this week because California has changed and Brown hasn't. Lots of help from organized labor didn't hurt.
First, give the governor his due. In a state that spawned the tax revolt 34 years ago, Proposition 30's passage by what could end up being 10 percentage points is an extraordinary turn of events.
Issues win and lose for many reasons. In this instance, the right salesman made the right pitch, and the opposition stumbled. The governor and his consultants understood the electorate and gave voters what they wanted.
Brown's message, ultimately, was simple: Government has made cuts. School kids have suffered. A "yes" vote would allow California to begin restoring public education and other services, and bring the budget into balance.
However Brown was viewed in his first incarnation as governor, this version of Jerry Brown offers an air of authenticity. Brown drives a Pontiac, stays in a midtown apartment when he is in Sacramento, and is seen as a skinflint, who at age 74 no longer seeks higher office.
Like him or not, he kept his word that he would not raise taxes without a vote of the people. Speaking to voters in television ads and in rallies on college campuses, Brown delivered the closing argument that there is a need for more revenue, that it would be spent wisely and that people could afford the tax, though he rarely uttered the word tax. Besides, rich people would be the ones paying the tax.
It gets back to the audience. White voters were split 50-50 on Proposition 30, the exit polls showed. But because of changes in California's makeup, Latinos, Asians and African Americans made up between 41 and 43 percent of the electorate.
They see the need for public services, particularly schools. Latinos supported the measure by 53 percent to 47 percent, while 61 percent of Asians supported it, and 75 percent of blacks embraced it.
"There is an embrace of education to make the future better for their kids and grandkids," said Ace Smith, of SCN Strategies, the firm that ran the Yes on 30 campaign.
Not wanting to antagonize the governor, some businesses donated to the Yes on 30 campaign, and the California Chamber of Commerce stayed neutral, although Rick Claussen, the political consultant who generally represents business interests in initiative campaigns, produced ads opposing the governor's measure.
Claussen has had a long run of successes. But in this instance, conservatives wrote their epitaph by promoting Proposition 32, the initiative that sought to cripple organized labor by restricting its ability to raise campaign money.
Brown was able to muddy his foes when a secretive Arizona group funneled $11 million into efforts to defeat Proposition 30 and pass Proposition 32. State authorities sued, alleging campaign finance law violations, which spawned pointed Election Day news reports about the governor's opponents.
Labor raised more than $60 million to kill Proposition 32. In the process, unions helped secure victories for Democratic candidates for Congress and the Legislature, and for Proposition 30.
Not one to pay for something when someone else is willing, Brown relied on unions to deliver support for Proposition 30. Much is made about the millions spent on TV advertising. Ads have impact.
But the California Democratic Party and labor spent up to $15 million to get voters to the polls. California Labor Federation spokesman Steve Smith said 40,000 labor volunteers contacted 3.7 million voters. The California Republican Party, nearly insolvent, could not respond.
"You have to have something else (other than ads) and that something else was our ability to contact voters by knocking on their doors and calling them on the phone," said Gale Kaufman, the strategist for the No on 32 campaign.
The youth vote was key, which is why Brown held rallies from Chico State to UCLA and promised to limit tuition hikes. Exit polls found that voters ages 18 to 24 made up 14 percent of the electorate and backed Proposition 30 by 69 percent to 31 percent. Voters 65 and older made up 13 percent of the electorate and opposed the initiative 52 percent to 48 percent.
No one should assume Californians' antipathy toward taxes is history. It's not. Think of all the taxes that have failed in recent years, including ones proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and others to tax tobacco, oil and banks.
With the exception of a tax on millionaires to aid mentally ill people, they all failed, until Tuesday when voters approved Proposition 30, and, for good measure, took a $1 billion a year tax bite out of out-of-state corporations by passing Proposition 39.
Emboldened by the outcome, some Democrats will agitate for more taxes. Brown vows to hold the line, as he should. Proposition 30's passage is not a mandate to do anything other than to spend money wisely.
Almost two-thirds of Tuesday's voters weren't conceived, were teething, or were obsessing over their zits in 1978 when voters slashed property taxes. Brown, however, remembers it well.