Winner: Good government. The results of the 2012 election could potentially usher in an era of good government in Oakland — or at least one that is not so dysfunctional. Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan and City Attorney Barbara Parker — who handily defeated Councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente and Jane Brunner, respectively — have both earned reputations for being consensus builders and problem solvers. The additions of three new councilmembers, especially Dan Kalb from North Oakland and Lynette Gibson-McElhaney from West Oakland-Downtown, also should help breathe new life into the council, which in recent years has been ineffective because of petty squabbling.
Loser: Dysfunctional government. De La Fuente was a primary source of divisiveness in City Hall in recent years and often appeared to be far more happy creating controversy and exacting revenge on political enemies than getting things done. As for Brunner, she seemed obsessed with the politics of running for city attorney (a job for which she lacked the proper qualifications) rather than governing and leading as a councilmember.
Winner: Positive campaigning. The victories by Kaplan and Parker also were convincing — and refreshing — wins for positive campaigning. Both candidates' campaigns almost exclusively relied on advertising that informed voters who they were and what they would do in office. And neither went negative until the final days of the campaign — after they had been maliciously attacked by their opponents. Parker, in particular, ran an extremely impressive campaign, ultimately defeating Brunner by nearly 40 percentage points. Don't be surprised if her campaign manager, Doug Linney, becomes one of the most sought-after political consultants in the years to come.
Loser: Negative and unethical campaigning. Both De La Fuente and Brunner ran relentlessly negative campaigns, and they were trounced at the polls. Same goes for the Oakland police union, which leveled nasty and misleading attacks against Kaplan and Parker as well. The Oakland Zoo also lost its bid for a countywide parcel tax after the organization violated numerous local and state election laws.
Winner: Tony Smith. Oakland's superintendent of public schools wasn't on the ballot, but his education reform efforts and policies were — at least indirectly. And they proved to be popular. The four school board candidates who won — incumbents Jody London and Jumoke Hinton Hodge and newcomers Rosie Torres and James Harris — all were supporters of Smith and his plans for the school district. And all four of the losing candidates opposed Smith's proposals to varying degrees.
Loser: The Oakland teachers' union. The union, which has been unhappy with Smith, backed all four of the losing candidates — incumbent Alice Spearman and newcomers Thearse Pecot, Mike Hutchinson, and Richard Fuentes.
Winner: The environment. In Berkeley, four incumbents — Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli, Darryl Moore, and Susan Wengraf, who all strongly support smart growth and believe Berkeley needs to add residents in order to discourage suburban sprawl and limit greenhouse gases — all won reelection. Then after the election, US Secretary Ken Salazar decided to close a controversial oyster farm in Point Reyes National Seashore in order to create the first marine wilderness on the West Coast. Plus, California regulators launched the state's cap-and-trade system, which is designed to cap greenhouse-gas emissions and spur green-energy technology.
Loser: The environment. Unfortunately, Measure B1, an Alameda County tax measure that would have raised billions of dollars for mass transit, bike and pedestrian pathways, and transit-oriented development, lost by an extremely narrow margin: just 0.14 percent, or 721 votes. In addition, Measure T, which would have spurred housing development and urban density in West Berkeley, lost in a close race by 1 percentage point, or 512 votes.
Winner: Taxing the rich and unions. California voters made it clear that they believe the state's wealthy residents are not paying their fare share of taxes, approving Proposition 30, the so-called Millionaire's Tax, 55 percent to 45 percent. State voters also proved that they have no intention of jumping on the anti-union bandwagon that has swept part of the nation. Proposition 32, which would have devastated the political power of unions in California, lost 47 percent to 53 percent.
Loser: The Koch Brothers and Big Business. A shadowy group from Arizona that reportedly has ties to the Koch Brothers funneled $11 million into a campaign that sought to defeat Prop 30 and pass Prop 32, and lost both efforts. Large corporations also helped bankroll the same losing campaigns. And, of course, the Koch Brothers' costly attempts to oust President Obama failed badly as well.
Winner: Monsanto. Big Business, particularly Monsanto, took solace in the fact that Proposition 37 went down in defeat in California. Prop 37 would have required food companies to inform consumers about whether their products contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and Monsanto spent millions defeating it. Some large food companies that make organic products joined Monsanto's campaign, knowing that even though the labeling initiative likely would have boosted organic food sales, it also threatened to impact their non-organic food revenues.
Loser: Consumer awareness. Regardless of whether you were convinced that GMOs pose threats to the environment and human health, Prop 37 would have been a groundbreaking win for consumer transparency and the right to know what's in our food. But Monsanto et al successfully frightened voters into believing that the labeling initiative would have increased food prices — despite no proof that it would have done so in a substantial way.