Prop 8 Ruling Barely Registers on Top-of-the-Ticket Races in California

California politics got a shot in the arm last Wednesday with the ruling from a federal court in San Francisco striking down Proposition 8, the 2008 voter initiative making gay marriages unavailable in the state. In a controversial ruling, Judge Vaughn Walker held that "gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals." The decision was met with wild cheers by supporters of same-sex marriage, but others saw Walker rejecting "the will of the people" and overturning "a family structure that historically (and biologically) best serves children."

It's a decision likely to be appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court. But the ruling was greeted reluctantly on the campaign trail, where the candidates for California governor and U.S. Senate are treading carefully on a hot-button issue likely to inflame passions at the grassroots.

In the governor's race, Attorney General Jerry Brown hailed the decision as "great news" on Twitter, and he called on his Facebook fans to fly rainbow flags in solidarity. And as the state's highest law enforcement official, Brown urged Judge Walker to rescind the ruling's stay of implementation so that same-sex marriages could resume immediately. But the press office for Republican Meg Whitman, Brown's billionaire rival for the governor's mansion, just quietly released a statement affirming that "the candidate supports Proposition 8." In the Senate race, incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer put out a press release praising the decision as "a step forward in the march toward equal rights." Meanwhile, GOP Senate candidate Carly Fiorina dismissed the court's ruling and said simply that the voters had "spoken clearly" at the ballot box.

And that, in a nutshell, is the most exciting debate we've had at the top of the ticket since the California primaries wrapped up in June. It's too bad, too, since one or two more 7.2 magnitude earthquakes may plunge the once-Golden State into the Pacific.

As is always the case, California is once again deadlocked in a budget stalemate with the deficit now sitting at about $20 billion and growing. Budgets are supposed to be submitted in June and signed into law by the governor. But that never happens, year after year. The state runs essentially on autopilot, borrowing until it runs out of money, and then some new gimmicks are cooked up to keep the house of cards standing until the next year. The Great Recession has put a massive crimp on that method, of course, and the quantity and quality of public services across the state has suffered. Unfortunately, neither candidate Jerry Brown nor Meg Whitman has said much about this. The pre-Labor Day months are the downtime anyway, but this year's campaign would be a groaner even without the epic silence on the most pressing issues to Californians.

Meg Whitman, for example, has already spent roughly $100 million and she's still struggling to find a coherent message. Especially rough going has been her disastrous flip-flopping on immigration. Having at one time called for a compassionate approach to the issue, she switched to a hawkish stance in the primary, ultimately defeating challenger Steve Poizner who had eroded her numbers with a tough-on-borders platform.

Now, though, Whitman's being hammered by Latino activists for her clumsy efforts at Hispanic outreach. Whitman's grand opening of a campaign office in East Los Angeles was greeted by a storm of angry protesters. And during an interview on the John and Ken Show, Whitman defended her immigration position by saying she would "stand with Arizona" in its battle to defend its tough new SB 1070 legislation.