Two years after California Democrats swept to commanding two-thirds majorities in both houses of the state Legislature, they were unable to again claim the same margin in the Senate and the Assembly remained in doubt with key races too close to call.
Republicans captured two closely contested Senate seats central to the supermajority hopes of Democrats. Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen defeated former Democratic Assemblyman Democrat Jose Solorio, while Republican Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, repelled a challenge from Democrat Luis Chavez to retain a spot in the Senate he first won in a tight special election last year.
“I think the people want to see more of a two-party system working things out rather than one party slam-dunking things,” Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said in a phone interview from Vidak’s campaign headquarters.
More seats were in play on the Assembly side. Two vulnerable first-term Democrats, Sharon Quirk-Silva of Fullerton and Steve Fox of Palmdale, lost seats that became focal points for a Republican party intent on fracturing Democratic control.
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Several other races hung in the balance.
Democrats could partially offset the losses of the Quirk-Silva and Fox seats if Democrat Jacqui Irwin holds a two-percentage-point lead and picks up the open seat vacated by Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo. Two targeted Central Valley Democrats, Adam Gray of Merced and Rudy Salas of Bakersfield, held leads with 100 percent of precincts reporting.
Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, trailed his Republican opponent by just over 2,000 votes with all precincts reporting, while Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, led his race by about 1,400 votes after a year in which two of his uncles were subject to a sweeping federal corruption investigation. After emerging from a bruising primary fight with a fellow Democrat who was a former adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown, Democrat Tim Sbranti trailed Republican Catherine Baker by around 3,200 votes with 100 percent of precincts reporting.
The supermajorities Democrats secured in 2012 empowered them to raise taxes, place constitutional amendments on the ballot, and alter California’s Political Reform Act without getting any support from Republicans. But it’s a power they barely used in the 2013-2014 session.
Democrats in the Senate passed a bill last year that would have placed a tax on real estate transactions to fund low-income housing but the bill stalled in the Assembly. They used their supermajority again in January to pass a measure to ask voters to repeal California’s ban on race-based preferences in college admissions. It, too, faltered in the Assembly.
Then in March of this year, Democrats lost their supermajority status in the Senate when three Democrats were suspended for facing charges in unrelated criminal cases.
Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543. Laurel Rosenhall of the Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.