Two years ago, as a collateral effect of President Barack Obama’s landslide re-election win in California, Democrats gained two-thirds “supermajorities” in both legislative houses.
It sparked a torrent of private and public speculation over potential impact on legislative issues, such as tax increases and constitutional amendments, that the controlling party might pursue.
However, the supermajorities have not, at least so far, been significant factors in what emerges from the Capitol, despite pressure from liberal groups to use them.
Why? Gov. Jerry Brown is clearly ambivalent, especially on tax increases, blocs of moderate Democratic legislators are reluctant, and legislative leaders have feared backlash if they appeared to be arrogant.
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So far this year, the Senate’s supermajority was used to approve a constitutional amendment rolling back the state’s constitutional ban on affirmative action in college admissions, but it has yet to clear the Assembly and be placed on the ballot.
Other controversial issues are pending, and liberal groups are increasing their pressure for action. Whether supermajorities will be vigorously employed remains unclear, however, especially since Democrats are just one seat above the two-thirds mark in both houses, and Democratic Sen. Rod Wright probably will be forced out in March due to a felony conviction.
Meanwhile, the supermajorities, especially the Senate’s, may not survive the November elections. Among Capitol politicians and lobbyists, their fate is an overriding preoccupation.
Republicans are virtually certain to win a new Senate district created by the state redistricting commission, running down the Sierra and including adjacent foothills and deserts, and are favored to retain two potentially vulnerable San Joaquin Valley seats.
The supermajority’s fate likely boils down to the 34th Senate District in the heart of Orange County, which as drawn by the commission seems to favor Republicans.
Termed-out Sen. Lou Correa might have held it for Democrats, but now it’s a high-stakes match between former Democratic Assemblyman Jose Solorio and Republican county Supervisor Janet Nguyen, whom the county district attorney recently cleared of conflict-of-interest allegations. And it’s as much about ethnicity – Latino vs. Vietnamese American – as it is ideology.
Republicans would have to gain two seats to kill the Assembly supermajority, but they have two seats potentially at risk because their incumbents are running for other offices. Thus, the GOP would have to hold both and knock off two Democratic incumbents, with likely targets being Steve Fox of Palmdale and Sharon Quirk-Silva of Fullerton, who won seemingly solid Republican districts in 2012.
Bottom line: A better than 50-50 chance for the Senate’s supermajority to disappear, but a less than 50-50 chance in the Assembly.