When California voters go to the polls on Election Day, they could usher in a change that hasn’t happened since 1965. They could give one party a two-thirds supermajority in the state Senate. Democrats are campaigning hard to make that happen. But Republicans are fighting just as hard to prevent it.
When Democratic Assembly member Cathleen Galgiani kicked off her campaign for state Senate last month in Stockton, the Senate’s top Democrat stood right beside her.
"We must elect Cathleen Galgiani, we have an opportunity to get to a two thirds supermajority," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. He has been traveling up and down the state pushing that message. Democrats hold 25 Senate seats; only two more would give them a supermajority.
"Obviously my main responsibility is to raise the resources and raise the money for the Senate campaigns, and that’s what I’m spending a lot of time doing and we’re just going to go full pedal to the metal between now and Election Day in November," said Steinberg.
Senate District 5 – which pits Galgiani against Republican Assembly member Bill Berryhill - is one of three key districts that Democrats are targeting. Winning one of the three will get them a supermajority. Republicans have always been concerned about the potential for that. But this year, redistricting created more swing areas, according to Republican Senate Minority leader Bob Huff.
"That’s been the issue all year, can we hold the line," says Huff.
“Now the Democrats it’s a holy grail for them because they can raise taxes, they can override vetoes there’s a lot of things they can do if they hit that supermajority," says Huff.
Democrats aren’t expected to reach a supermajority in the Assembly. But Huff says it’s easier for Democrats to get the critical votes they need in that chamber. So Republicans are playing to voters’ fears of what a Senate supermajority would mean.
“In just about every poll we do, the people Democrats, Republicans, independents are very concerned that any single party can raise taxes without going back to a vote of the people so that’s a strong message that just resonates," says Huff.
Democrats are also targeting Senate District 27, which includes part of Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County. There, Republican newcomer Todd Zink is running against incumbent Senator Fran Pavley.
“This is a tough race, this is probably the toughest of the three for the Republicans," says Wesley Hussey, an assistant professor of Government at Sacramento State University. “This is where the Republicans will need to devote a lot of their resources to make sure they can win this seat,” says Hussey.
Zink, a former lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps, has raised almost a million dollars. And TV and radio ads are hitting the airwaves.
But no matter how much Republicans spend in District 27, they’ll likely be outspent by Democrats. The other closely-watched race is Senate District 31 in Riverside County, which pits Democrat Richard Roth against Republican Jeff Miller.
“This is a district that Republicans have actually done well in registration, in other parts of the state they’re losing registration, here they actually gain in the last six months, so you can see they’ve put a lot of effort here, a lot of resources, so they think they can win this one," says Hussey.
An odd dynamic in that race, a Democrat who lost in the primary, former Assembly member Steve Klute, has endorsed the Republican candidate. His reasoning, according to his endorsement letter: Sacramento politicians have become too involved in local races, because they want a supermajority.