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Winner: Marijuana legalization. The decision by voters in Colorado and Washington to legalize pot for recreational use appears to have sparked a historic shift in people's attitudes nationwide. After the landmark election outcomes in those two states, a series of polls showed that a majority of Americans now support legalizing cannabis, and even larger majorities think the federal government should leave the issue up to the states.
Loser: Medical marijuana in California. Yet even with the changing voter attitudes and the results in Colorado and Washington, it remains unclear as to whether the federal government will end its fourteen-month-long crackdown on medical pot in the Golden State. As far as 2012 goes, it was a miserable year for dispensaries, growers, and patients, especially in Oakland and Berkeley. The feds shut down industry stalwarts such as Oaksterdam University and Coffeeshop Blue Sky in downtown Oakland, and drove their owner and founder, Richard Lee, out of business. US Attorney Melinda Haag also forced the respected Berkeley Patients Group dispensary to close, and she's working overtime to shutter Harborside Health Center in Oakland, the largest medical cannabis club on the West Coast.
Winner: Gay marriage. Attitudes about same-sex marriage are evolving throughout the country as well, as evidenced by the fact that three states — Maine, Maryland, and Washington — legalized gay nuptials on Election Day. In addition, Minnesota voters rejected a Proposition 8-like measure that would have amended the state's constitution to ban gay weddings. And in California, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge's ruling that overturned Prop 8. The issue is now before the US Supreme Court, alongside a challenge to the federal anti-gay marriage law, known as the Defense of Marriage Act.
Loser: Homophobia. Bigotry against gays and lesbians remains strong nationwide, but it's not nearly as bad as it was just a few years ago. A nationwide survey released earlier this month from Quinnipiac University, a respected pollster, showed that 48 percent of Americans now support gay marriage compared to 46 percent who oppose it. In 2008, the same polling outfit reported that only 36 percent of Americans backed same-sex marriage compared to 55 percent who opposed it. That's a seventeen-point swing in just four years.
Winner: Chevron. The oil giant spent at least $1.2 million in Richmond trying to elect three city council candidates and defeat candidates backed by the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) — and it worked. Two of the Chevron candidates, Councilman Nat Bates and former Councilman Gary Bell, were victorious. And having a friendly council in Richmond could prove to be pivotal for Chevron as it continues to struggle with the fallout from its massive refinery explosion and fire in August.
Loser: Richmond progressives. No RPA candidate won election in Richmond in November — the first time in several years that the group has been shut out in city elections after posting a series of impressive victories. The RPA also lost a seat on the council, and now only has two members on the seven-person panel, although Councilmen Tom Butt and Jim Rogers often vote with the RPA on major issues.
Winner: The soda industry. The American Beverage Association spent a whopping $2.7 million in Richmond, defeating Measure N, a local ballot initiative that would have taxed sugary drinks. As such, the beverage association made 2012 the most costly election in Richmond history, and the amount of money it spent easily dwarfed the total campaign spending in every other East Bay city this year. The beverage association also spent more money defeating Measure N than the initiative would have raised in tax revenue.
Loser: Childhood health. The funds generated by Measure N were to be spent on anti-obesity and children's health programs in Richmond. But the beverage industry successfully scared city voters into believing that the measure was going to do more harm than good for low-income residents, despite the fact that health programs were designed to help those residents the most.
Winner: Jerry Brown. Brown's pet ballot measure Prop 30 won easily, as we noted above, enabling the governor to emerge as a sort of savior of public education in California. If Prop 30 had lost, education funding would have been slashed dramatically — by several billion dollars. The measure, along with an improving economy, also should allow Brown's administration to avoid further deep cuts in 2013.
Loser: Cities and redevelopment. Although the passage of Prop 30 should provide a bit of financial relief for California cities, Brown's decision to kill redevelopment was a major blow for cities like Oakland. Throughout the past several decades, Oakland and other cities have used redevelopment funds to revitalize blighted areas and build affordable housing. But now it's unclear what cities will do to make up for the lost money that Brown took for the state budget.
Winner: Democrats. Not only did Obama win handily, but Democrats also captured super-majorities in both houses of the state legislature. The only question now is whether Dems will use their newfound powers to enact a liberal agenda and reform Prop 13, or will they remain fearful of conservatives and push for more budget cuts and other austerity measures?
Loser: Republicans: The GOP proved decisively this year that it's just too conservative for California, especially when it comes to issues like taxing the rich, abortion, equal rights, and gun control. And the question is: Will the California Republican Party turn toward the center and successfully break from the even more conservative national party, or will it remain beholden to the Religious Right, the Tea Party, and the Koch Brothers?