Democrat Jim Frazier's swearing-in as an assemblyman today will climax a 12-year journey in politics that began with the death of his 20-year-old daughter in a head-on traffic accident.
"It's been a long road to get this opportunity to serve the people of my district," said Frazier, a former Oakley councilman. "I just can't wait to start."
Republican Frank Bigelow's swearing-in marks the start of a battle by the lifelong rancher and Madera County supervisor to alter a Legislature that he says "can't keep its word," an institution marked by "empty promises and failure to get the job done."
Bigelow will be easy to spot: Look for his cowboy hat. "Where I go, the hat goes," he said.
Frazier and Bigelow are two of 39 new members to be sworn in today, the largest freshman class since 1966. Bigelow will be part of a Republican caucus that is outnumbered by Democrats by a 2-to-1 margin for the first time since the 1880s.
Democrats will control both legislative houses by a supermajority for the first time since 1883. The party holds 29 of 40 seats in the Senate, 55 of 80 in the Assembly.
Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders have urged restraint, however, saying they have no plans to hike taxes.
The Legislature will mark two other milestones today:
Term limits for the incoming class will be 12 years in either house, not a maximum of six in the Assembly and eight in the Senate.
Nearly half the Assembly's seats 38 of 80 will be filled by freshmen. The modern high, 39, was recorded in 1934.
The Senate is replacing nine of its 40 members, but only one freshman, Richard Roth of Riverside County, never has been a legislator.
Democrat Ken Cooley is the only Capitol veteran moving from the upper house to the lower. An attorney, he worked as a Senate aide this year before winning a Sacramento County Assembly seat.
Asked why he ran for office, Cooley said, "There's only so much you can do as a capable staff person, and I've always been interested in the Legislature, in government, as a way to touch lives in a positive way."
Cristina Garcia, a college instructor and community activist, said she wants to be part of an Assembly freshman class that boosts the Legislature's sagging public approval ratings.
"I went from being a revered math teacher to being the bottom of the barrel and that's not the type of career I want for 12 years," the Bell Gardens Democrat said. "So I hope we learn to rebuild some of the public's trust."
Bigelow said today's swearing-in feels like the first day of college.
"There are a lot of new friends you're going to make, a lot of excitement, anticipation, yet a lot of solemnness there's a huge deficit and a number of issues we have to address," he said.
Frazier dived head first into government after one daughter, Stephanie, was killed and another critically injured in a head-on crash sparked by black ice on Highway 50 near Ice House Road nine days before Christmas in 2000.
Frazier, a longtime contractor, pushed successfully for improvements to that stretch of Highway 50. He joined a road safety task force, then a planning commission, then won an Oakley City Council seat.
"I really enjoy helping people and building relationships," Frazier said.
Heavy in local government experience, the Assembly's freshman class features people with backgrounds ranging from teacher to attorney to business owner.
Democrat Ian Calderon, 27-year-old son of termed-out Assemblyman Charles Calderon, was making only $50,000 a year as a low-level Assembly aide when this year began. Republican Brian Dahle owns a Lassen County seed business. Democrat Adam Gray has managed a public affairs firm and helped teach UC Merced students about the Legislature.
Today also marks the first day for submitting new bills. This year's legislation will include measures to raise the state's minimum wage, regulate medical marijuana sales, improve work standards for domestic workers and expand rights for undocumented immigrants making them eligible for driver's licenses, for example, and curtailing their deportation after arrests for minor or nonviolent crimes.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has floated the possibility of lowering the sales tax rate but extending it to professional services.
Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez has said he wants to renew a campaign for middle-class college scholarships.
Freshmen legislators will "come to Sacramento to do grand things," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. "Now it's up to the governor to convince them to calm down."
Senate GOP leader Bob Huff said not much is likely to change for Republicans under the new supermajority, since Democrats already pass a state budget without negotiating with them.
"When it comes to tough decisions, they're going to run their own stuff," he said.
Steinberg, Pérez and Brown have urged restraint in using the supermajority, or tilting too far left, but analysts say it will be hard to hold that line when wish lists pour in from powerful Democratic interest groups that helped pass the Proposition 30 tax hike.
"The pressure will be the same as parents on Christmas morning telling their kids not to open the presents yet," said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont Mc- Kenna College.
Rick Jacobs, head of the liberal Courage Campaign, said the Legislature needs to think big. If it presents a grand vision of a "functioning progressive state," voters will jump on board and pay for it, he said.
"To me, it's about: What would Pat Brown do?" Jacobs said, referring to Jerry Brown's father, a governor who oversaw massive water, school and transportation improvements in the 1960s.
The dwindling number of Republicans places a spotlight on about 20 moderate Democrats in the Legislature 11 of them freshmen who could block tax hikes or other measures they deem obstacles to economic growth.
"We'll look to do things that ease the regulatory burden for business and allow for job growth," said Assemblyman Henry Perea, leader of the Assembly's pro-business Democrats.
Roth is expected to be a key moderate Democrat among freshmen senators. He is a business attorney whose wife, Cindy, is president of the Greater Riverside Chamber of Commerce.
"It's an exciting time, I look forward to serving, and I hope I can make a difference," Roth said.
Despite the Democratic supermajority, Allan Zaremberg, president of the state Chamber of Commerce, said he remains hopeful that lawmakers will act to improve California's business climate.
"I don't care if they are Republican or Democrat," he said, "most people who won this year ran on a campaign of making it a better place for jobs and the economy to grow."