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June 02, 2014 10:52 AM Way Down Ballot

By Ed Kilgore

Some observers are calling tomorrow “Super Tuesday” (check out Daily Kos Elections’ fine preview for all the details) since it’s the day of the cycle with the most state primaries (eight). Those focused strictly on highly competitive GOP Senate primaries will only pay attention to Mississippi and maybe Iowa. But down-ballot there are many fierce contests of local importance.

California’s one of the states holding primaries tomorrow. As it happens, I don’t live in one of the highly competitive U.S. House districts that the initiative-driven “nonpartisan” redistricting process created in the Golden State. And the statewide “top two” contests are only marginally interesting (it’s beginning to look like Republican Establishment favorite and TARP administrator Neel Kashkari may avoid the ignominy of finishing behind former Minuteman leader Tim Donnelly for the right to get squashed by Jerry Brown in the gubernatorial general election). So the big issue where I live on the Monterey Peninsula is a ballot initiative aimed at facilitating a public takeover of water supply from Cal Am Water in the area.

This “Measure O” is as complex as the Thirty Years War, and the fight over it is nearly as savage. The Peninsula has been for decades under a perpetually extended state deadline for ceasing to draw its water from the Carmel River, which is a unique habitat for steelhead trout. After a variety of failed, deadlocked and litigated experiments to come up with alternative public and private solutions to the water crisis, a consortium of local mayors has cut a deal with Cal Am to build a desal plant that would in combination with other expedients take care of the problem (at a hard-to-predict cost in higher water rates) before the state loses patience and shuts off access to the Carmel River, forcing extreme water rationing of a type that might croak the area’s economy.

Measure O feeds on well-earned hostility to Cal Am and to a privately owned water system, though it would actually only authorize a study of a public takeover. But opponents claim it would blow up the only feasible solution.

Everybody in the area has an opinion on Measure O, and rumor has it private polling shows a very close contest, even though opponents (financed heavily by Cal Am and local businesses) have massively outspent proponents, running TV, radio and internet ads, and sending out (no kidding) a piece of direct mail every day for the last month. Most of the mayors opposing O are Democrats, so it’s not a a partisan fight, but it’s definitely ideological; there’s even talk of recalling the elected officials who have “sold out” to Cal Am.

I don’t imagine many local jurisdictions voting tomorrow have anything like this kind of quasi-existential ballot initiative, but where they exist, they tend to blot out the sky. If you know of any where you live, please share your impressions in the comment thread.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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