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State Senate Majority For Democrats Might Not Change Much

Oct 31, 2012

Credit Photo used under Creative Commons from Andy Patterson / Modern Relics /

This could be the year California Democrats finally reach the goal they’ve long strived for: a two-thirds supermajority in the State Senate. We took a look at that possibility in a report yesterday.

It turns out people from both parties don’t think Sacramento’s legislative landscape would change that much. And as Ben Adler reports from Sacramento, the biggest impact on next year’s atmosphere at the State Capitol will likely come from something else entirely.


This story is based on a hypothetical – but not a far-fetched one. Most California political watchers agree that when the next legislature is sworn in later this year, Democrats will likely have a two-thirds supermajority in the State Senate. The question we ask here is, so what? And the answer – even from Democrats, is probably not very much.

"If you hear the Republicans talk about it, it’d be the end of civilization because Democrats would do nothing but pass taxes all day and all night long. But I don’t think that’s the reality," says Democratic consultant Steve Maviglio.

There are several reasons why that’s the case. First, the Assembly. Democrats would need 54 seats to get a supermajority there. Republican strategist Marty Wilson runs the political action committee for the California Chamber of Commerce. He says that possibility is pretty slim.

“We believe that the Republicans probably actually gain a couple of seats in the Assembly,” says Wilson.

And even in Speaker John Pérez’s best-case scenario, Democrats might still fall short. “We’ll build from a base of 50 districts to somewhere between 51 and 53,” says Pérez.

In other words: no two-thirds majority for Democrats in the other chamber, so no carte blanche to raise taxes or fees, or override a gubernatorial veto. The Senate can only do so much by itself.

So Maviglio says Governor Jerry Brown and legislative leaders will still have to negotiate on at least some parts of their agendas – with moderate Democrats in the Senate and, especially, moderate Republicans in the Assembly.

“And so I think you will see a lot more deal-making because many measures will boil down to one or two votes," says Maviglio.

But will there be any moderates? CalChamber’s Marty Wilson says yes. “With the redistricting that was done, that’s created very competitive districts, I think you’re going to see a much more moderate Assembly – both Republican and Democratic members.”

Of course, “moderate” is in the eye of the beholder. The Chamber is looking for lawmakers from both parties, but particularly Democrats, who will work to reduce state regulations and block bills it labels “job-killers.” Democrats, meanwhile, want Republicans who haven’t signed a “no tax” pledge. They hoped redistricting, along with California’s new “Top Two” primary system, would bring moderate Republicans to Sacramento.

But Speaker Pérez isn’t optimistic about that. “I don’t see a single Republican district that is a Republican-and-Republican top-two general election where there is a major ideological difference between the Republican candidates," says Pérez.

And that’s why analysts from both parties suggest a two-thirds Senate supermajority might not make much of a difference next year by itself. The real factor, they say, will likely be the fate of Proposition 30, the governor's sales and income tax measure.

If Prop 30 passes, Democrats could claim momentum and a mandate for their agenda – though some moderates might feel that’s enough new taxes for now. If it fails, says CalChamber’s Marty Wilson.

“I just think they’re going to be very hard-pressed to be looking at these revenue enhancers. And they’re just going to have to hunker down into a very austere budget and god forbid maybe they’ll start thinking, what can we do around here to grow the economy,” says Wilson.

So on Election Night, California Democrats won’t just be eyeing the number 27 – the number of seats for a Senate supermajority – they’ll be locked in on the number 30 as well.