State Democrats tired of dickering with Republicans for tax votes are increasingly hopeful that next year they will elect a majority large enough to make negotiating unnecessary.
Redrawn legislative districts, high voter turnout for the presidential election and continuing demographic shifts are likely to benefit Democrats, political observers of both parties say.
"If you think 2010 was bad," former Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte tells Republicans, "just get a load of what's going to happen in 2012."
Democrats have controlled the Legislature most years since the late 1950s. But in all that time, they have not once held two-thirds majorities simultaneously in both houses.
Voters last year lowered the threshold for budget passage to a simple majority, but tax measures like Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing still require a two-thirds vote under Proposition 13.
The Democratic governor plans to present a revised budget plan this morning. But as his negotiations with Republican lawmakers drag on Brown needs two Republican votes in each house to put tax extensions on a ballot frustrated Democrats are increasingly looking to 2012.
"It's absolutely clear the only permanent solution for California's problems is to elect a two-thirds majority of Democrats in each house of the Legislature," Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, told delegates at the recent California Democratic Party convention. "That work must begin today."
For Democrats, the circumstances are encouraging. Though the commission redrawing legislative districts is likely to shift some seats from coastal to more conservative inland areas, Republicans continue to have difficulty capturing a minority population that is growing statewide. Republican voter registration has declined so precipitously that the party, while maintaining a registration advantage over Democrats in some counties, no longer holds a majority in any.
Further disheartening to Republicans is the fund-raising advantage of legislative Democrats. In the new, top-two primary system, influential labor unions may involve themselves in what were once exclusively Republican races, likely increasing the cost of competing.
"The Republicans are just losing their basic competitiveness everywhere," said Garry South, a Democratic strategist. "I do not at all discount the possibility the Democrats could walk away with this."
It is unclear to both sides how the redistricting commission will redraw district lines. But one back-of-the-napkin estimate traditionally done at the Capitol basing the makeup of likely legislative districts on county populations and voting characteristics suggests Democrats could gain a two-thirds majority in the Senate by defending seats in Democratic-leaning districts and winning one tossup. They could potentially do the same in the Assembly by winning two tossups.
Republicans already are bracing. Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, said next year's election is a "big focus for us." A series of issue forums put on by the Republican Party throughout the state is indicative of the "ground game" Republicans believe will be successful, she said.
Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, said voters will tire of Democratic budget proposals.
Republicans have surged before, as when the class of "Proposition 13 babies" swept into the Legislature in 1978. They won eight Assembly seats in 1994 and eventually took marginal control of the house.
There is a chance, Dutton said, "we'll end up capturing a lot of seats and reverse the trend."
Democrats since the late 1950s have occasionally captured two-thirds majorities in one house or the other, but never both at the same time. The prospect seemed not even to be on Democrats' minds in 2010, and some observers said it was an opportunity missed.
"They should have tried the last time, but they didn't," said Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, which handicaps legislative elections.
He said Democrats ran liberal candidates in some moderate districts and failed to compete seriously in others. With a chance to win a two-thirds majority in 2012, Hoffenblum said, "It'll be very interesting to see how they handle this."
If Republicans' difficulties in California were not already apparent, they became so last year, when Democrats swept statewide races despite record gains for Republicans elsewhere in the United States.
Brulte said he has long been "raising the red flag for Republicans and Republican donors" in California. At a company retreat this spring in Indian Wells, he and South gave their consultant partners at government affairs firm California Strategies a PowerPoint presentation about prospects for 2012.
"Republicans are out of play here for the most part," South said. "They are not competitive at the moment."