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Nov. 8: The Democrats’ quest for a supermajority

The state Capitol in Sacramento. (Photo: Feoktistoff, via Shutterstock)

Asked about the prospect of a Democratic supermajority in the California Legislature after Nov. 8, leaders of both parties are being, well, supercautious.

With a  Democratic supermajority, which means majorities of two-thirds or greater in each house, Republicans could go from marginalized to irrelevant.

Democrats have been in the majority in both houses for more than four decades, expect for a brief period in the mid-1990s in the Assembly.

The Dems could vote in tax increases, put measures on the statewide ballot, and overturn vetoes handed down by fellow Democrat Jerry Brown.  Whee!

But just how possible is it?

“Easier said than done,” state Democratic Chairman John Burton says.

“There’s just not that many seats up for grabs,’ Burton said in a telephone interview.  “It depends on voter turnout — getting the votes.  It’s not impossible, but who knows?  And there could be some Democrats elected that vote more Republican than Democratic.”

Democrats have been in the majority in both houses for more than four decades, expect for a brief period in the mid-1990s in the Assembly.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon was also cautious.

“We’re aiming to win every race we’re investing in,” Rendon said in a prepared statement. Whether or not that results in a two-thirds majority, Assembly Democrats will continue responsible stewards of the state’s finances while tackling the tough challenges facing California’s families,” he said.

Brian Jones, the Assembly’s Republican Caucus chairman, doesn’t think it’s going to happen, although he stopped short of issuing a no-doubt-about-it prediction.

Seven Republicans are termed out — six in the Assembly and one in the Senate.

“I don’t think the chances are as good as they (the Democratic leadership) thinks they are,” he said. “I think in the seats that are most competitive — our best members are in those competitive districts.  They’re doing a good job in their campaigns, and they’re getting help from their Republican colleagues.’

The Democrats have only to flip three legislative seats — two in the 80-member Assembly and one in the 40-member Senate — to grab a supermajority.

Seven Republicans are termed out — six in the Assembly and one in the Senate.  In addition, Republican Ling Ling Chang of Brea is abandoning her Assembly seat to run for the state Senate.

Democrats are defending 13 seats where incumbents are termed out — five in the Senate and eight in the Assembly.  Those seats are pretty much considered safe for Democrats.

Republicans are defending 35 incumbents — nine in the Senate and 26 in the Assembly.  Local and Sacramento pundits believe most, but not all, of the Republican incumbents are safe. There are real battles underway in six Assembly districts — five of them in Southern California and one in the East Bay.  There, incumbent Catherine Baker of Dublin, the lone Republican legisislator from the San Francisco Bay Area, finds herself in an expensive battle against Democrat Cheryl Cook-Kallio.

The phenomenon was caused by California’s “top two” ballot, where the two candidates with the most votes get on the November ballot, regardless of party.

Kaitlin MacGregor, the communications director for the California Republican Party, was characteristically optimistic in a prepared statement to Capitol Weekly:

“We understand the Democrats and their special interest friends are spending record amounts of money to recapture the two-thirds majority so they can raise taxes on hard-working Californians.

“The voters know this and that’s why we believe we will be successful.”

Republicans fighting off a Democratic supertakover have little to be optimistic about when the conversation turns to party registration figures, however.  The secretary of state’s office reports that as of Sept. 9, there were 8,251,570 registered Democrats in California, or 45.2 percent of registered voters, far ahead of the Republicans’ 4,888,719, or  26.8 percent.

Those with no party preference were close to the Republican figure, at 23.4 percent.

The figures also show a steady decline in Republican registration.  In contrast to the above figures, the 2000 totals showed Republicans had 35 percent, Democrats 45 percent and No Party Preference had 14.2 percent.  (Just-released figures from the secretary of state’s office pegs the overall number of registered voters in the state at 18.7 million, a record, boosted by a late surge in registration.)

The Los Angeles Times recently illustrated the wilting Republican situation in Southern California with a report showing that there are no Republicans on the ballot except for Donald Trump and Mike Pence in a wide swath of Los Angeles County covering 818,000 voters.  Included in what the Times called “the Republican Desert” are parts of five congressional districts, five state Assembly districts and one state Senate district.

The phenomenon was caused by California’s “top two” ballot, where the two candidates with the most votes get on the November ballot, regardless of party.  There weren’t enough Republican votes to push their candidates into the top two.

But a Democratic supermajority is not a slam dunk, in the view of the political types contacted by Capitol Weekly.

Two years ago, Republicans narrowly blocked the Democrats’ effort to win a supermajority in the Senate, and they picked up seats in the Assembly. In part, the results reflected the corruption scandals afflicting Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff said then that his party has been focused on rebuilding one district at a time by finding the best candidates for each community. In the Central Valley, incumbent GOP Sen. Andy Vidak successfully fended off a challenge from Democratic candidate Luis Chavez.

“If we are victorious, it’s just a way station along the road to having a two-party system again in California,” Huff told reporters.

 


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