Both political parties have taken positions on a term-limits initiative that, in the short term at least, could hurt each of their party’s legislative caucuses. Democrats have a good chance to pick up seats in both the Assembly and Senate if the initiative is defeated, political analysts say. But that job will become more difficult if Proposition 93, sponsored by Democratic Legislative leaders, is approved by voters in February.
And the California Republican Party has voted to oppose the initiative, even though it may be the party’s best chance of holding on to the seats they have in both houses. One political analyst says if Proposition 93 fails in February, Democrats could gain a veto-proof, two-thirds majority in the Senate.
Senate leader Don Perata would love nothing more than a two-thirds majority in the Senate, even if he might not be around to enjoy it. Such a majority would leave Senate Republicans powerless to hold up the state budget, as they did this year, and would be fitting revenge for Perata, who was consistently frustrated at his Republican colleagues during this summer’s standoff.
But the problem for Perata, who is scheduled to be termed out of office next year, is that the only way to get that supermajority is to fail to have his own term extended.
If Proposition 93 fails to pass, Sen. Tom McClintock, D-Thousand Oaks, would also be forced from office. That would set up a battle between former Assemblymembers Tony Strickland, a McClintock protégé, and Hannah-Beth Jackson, a liberal former Assemblymember.
Republicans hold a five-point registration advantage in the district, but Target Book editor Allan Hoffenblum said the seat could be in play without McClintock.
“The Democrats love to go after the Stricklands,” said Hoffenblum. (Tony’s wife, Audra, is in the state Assembly.)
“This is a seat that is a real centrist, moderate district,” said Hoffenblum. “It barely voted for Bush, it voted for Feinstein. What is their choice going to be? Hannah-Beth Jackson who is as liberal as you can get and Strickland who is as conservative as you’re going to get. What kind of choice is that for a moderate district?”
An open contest in November could also create a Central Coast showdown between Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, and current Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz. Laird would likely seek reelection if Proposition 93 passes, but if it fails, he would be termed out, and would challenge Maldonado.
“Laird is going to be tough,” says GOP strategist Matt Rexroad, who is managing several contested Assembly races. “A Laird vs. Maldonado race really divides the district.”
The 15th Senate District, which Maldonado represents, stretches from northern Santa Barbara County up past Santa Cruz and into Los Gatos in Santa Clara county. The district is a mixture of agricultural conservatives and coastal liberals. Democrats hold a slight, 40-37 point registration advantage in the district, but the district routinely splits its vote. John Kerry bested President Bush in 2004 here, but the district voted to recall Gray Davis, 56-44 percent. Maldonado easily defeated San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Peg Pinard, 53-43 percent in 200, but could face a tougher challenge from the well-funded Laird.
Other political atmospherics also may favor Democrats in 2008.
Next November’s elections coincide with a presidential campaign. That means a higher voter turn-out, and say the analysts, often a higher percentage of Democratic voters. That could help Democrats pick up some key seats that they lost in 2002 – a soft Democratic year which saw a weakened Gray Davis barely best a stumbling Bill Simon campaign.
The relative ambivalence at the top of the ticket led to a low voter turnout in 2002. And in the process Democrats lost a couple of seats the thought they would win, with Horton and Garcia’s elections.
Republicans say they are confident of their chances in both Horton’s Chula Vista-area seat and Garcia’s Riverside and Imperial County seat in 2008. John Kerry defeated President Bush in both districts in 2004, and Barbara Boxer carried both districts by 20 points.
The [Republican seats] that most people are looking at are the Shirley Horton seat in AD 78, [Bonnie] Garcia in the 80th,” says Allan Hoffenblum, editor of the California Target Book. “I think the best chance for Republicans to hold onto those seats would be to have the incumbents seek reelection.”
Democrats will also target the East Bay/Central Valley seat held by Guy Houston, R-Livermore. Houston has said that he will run for Contra Costa County Supervisor, regardless of what happens to Proposition 93.
Bo Bynum, a former NFL player who plans to run as a Democrat in Sharon Runner’s heavily-Republican 36th Assembly District, is a member of the Democratic Party Resolutions Committee, which voted to endorse Proposition 93. Bynum says he voted for what was good for the party, even if it would make his long-shot run for Assembly even more difficult.
“That’s a sacrifice you have to make for the betterment of your party and your state,” explaining his support of Proposition 93. If I’m going to get there, it will happen whether it’s 08 or 10. If the party’s going to support me, they’re going to support me.”
(Bynum will likely need more than Proposition 93 to have any chance at winning that district. George Bush defeated John Kerry by more than 20 points in the district, and Bynum lost to Runner by 24 points in 2006.)
Democratic Party spokesman Bob Mullholland says the fate of Proposition 93 will do little to change Democrats’ plans for targeting Republican seats next year. “Those seats will be at the top of the lists, either way. I think that November 08 is going to be a big sweep for Democrats. At this point, the conventional wisdom is that we’ll pick up House and Senate seats, and legislative seats all across America.”