Last week’s primary election told us that there will be very little drama in November’s general election vis-à-vis California’s statewide offices. With one potential exception, Democrats will continue to hold all of them.

Instead, voters will be pounded with pitches for and against a clutch of high-dollar ballot measures.

Gov. Gavin Newsom. Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, Secretary of State Shirley Weber, Treasurer Fiona Ma, Attorney General Rob Bonta, schools Supt. Tony Thurmond and U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla will face only token re-election opposition in the November election.

Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara is not a shoo-in, because he might be facing fellow Democrat Marc Levine in the November election. However, three Republicans have a chance to finish second in the top-two primary balloting and if Lara has a GOP foe, he’s a strong favorite thanks to a lopsided voter registration advantage.

The one real question mark is the state controller’s position, which is open because the Democratic incumbent, Betty Yee, is being forced out by term limits.

Republican Lanhee Chen, a Stanford University lecturer and former advisor to national GOP figures, has drawn an extraordinary amount of editorial board support and will likely top the field when all votes are counted. Malia Cohen, a Democratic member of the state Board of Equalization, is Chen’s probable November foe and his candidacy is a test of whether the GOP has a future in this deeply blue state.

With the paucity of drama in statewide office campaigns, the November election’s major focus will be on ballot measures, topped by a high-dollar duel over who, if anyone, will control gambling on sports events.

Indian tribes that now dominate casino gambling in the state are divided over whether to pursue a tribal measure to limit sports wagering to their casinos, which has already qualified for the ballot, or concentrate resources on defeating a rival measure proposed by a coalition of online gambling companies.

Tribes committed to an opposition strategy are already broadcasting and streaming ads aimed at the online betting measure, alleging that it will cause gambling addiction. The opposition coalition plans to place its own online measure on the 2024 ballot if it can defeat the corporate proposal.

Sports wagering, however, is not the only issue that will face voters. Others likely to make the ballot include two measures that would raise income taxes on high-income Californians, one for pandemic preparedness and the other to subsidize electric vehicle purchases.

The latter is sponsored largely by Lyft, a major rideshare corporation, and has been criticized as a corporate effort to make taxpayers underwrite a state requirement that Lyft and other companies, such as Uber, electrify their fleets.

Other pending initiatives would guarantee state funding for arts and music in the schools, reduce single-use plastic packaging and impose new staffing requirements on dialysis clinics. Previous union-backed dialysis measures have failed.

A measure to raise the state’s minimum wage to $18 per hour, sponsored by wealthy Los Angeles investor Joe Sanberg, might make the ballot, but only it if it meets the signature requirements by the June 30 deadline.

Finally, a referendum would overturn a state ban on flavored tobacco products — the latest example of corporate interests turning to the ballot to escape new regulations imposed by the Legislature.

The initiative and referendum processes were brought to California more than a century ago as a way for voters to assert their will over a Legislature then dominated by corporate interests. However, they have largely evolved — or devolved — into ways for corporate and other special interests to have their way, as this year’s crop of ballot measures proves anew.

CALmatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California's state Capitol works and why it matters. Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers.

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