Dan Walters

Dan Walters: An election year with some certainties and some uncertainties

Dan Walters
Dan Walters

The new year is an election year – by no means the most important one in California history, but one that has interesting and perhaps significant aspects.

We can be certain about some outcomes.

We know, for instance, that Democrats will retain control of the Legislature and the state’s congressional delegation. We are reasonably certain that Gov. Jerry Brown will be re-elected to a fourth term, and that his fellow Democrats will continue to dominate other statewide offices.

But within those parameters, there is some uncertainty.

It’s uncertain, for instance, whether the historic “supermajorities” that voters handed Democrats in both houses in 2012 will survive. There’s roughly a 50-50 chance that Republicans will regain enough seats to once again make them relevant on matters that require two-thirds votes, such as taxes and constitutional amendments.

The possibility that Republicans may rebound in legislative elections creates another uncertainty – whether Democratic leaders will employ their supermajorities this year before they lose the clout. Placing constitutional amendments on the November ballot is the most likely use, if Democratic leaders can actually get enough of their members to go along.

Speaking of which, the current leaders, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, must both step down this year due to term limits, and there’s great uncertainty about who will succeed them. Personal ambitions, geographic balance and a huge number of first-termers in the Assembly are factors.

There’s also a chance that Republicans could pick up a congressional seat or two this year, when voter turnout is likely to be much lower than it was in 2012, a presidential election year.

And there’s a possibility, albeit an outside one, that Republicans could see a comeback at the state level with Pete Peterson, who’s running for secretary of state.

The biggest election action, in terms of money and other campaign implements, will likely be found in ballot measures.

Several dozen initiatives are pending, and a fair guess is that 10 or so will make the statewide ballot, possibly dealing with such issues as pension reform, cigarette taxes and repeal of a new law expanding rights of transgender school students – plus measures the Legislature places before voters.

One of the latter may be a much-revised water bond issue which is linked, politically and financially, to Brown’s very controversial plan to bore twin water tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The twin tunnel plan likely will face a go/no-go moment this year, as will Brown’s other pet project, a north-south bullet train. At the moment, both lack the tens of billions of dollars they would need to proceed, and both face high political and legal hurdles.