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MORAIN: Democrats' supermajority isn't absolute

  • Assembly member Michael Allen listens to Bill Herms, Deputy Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, during a Joint Oversight Hearing on the Impacts and Status of State Park Closures in Sacramento on Tuesday, November 1, 2011.

As they make their big plans, Democrats emboldened by their likely supermajority in the Legislature should study Betsy Butler and Michael Allen, two Democratic Assembly members who might not be coming back to Sacramento.

While votes remain to be counted, Butler and Allen face the ignominy of losing in a year when Democrats won big. One reason: They carried legislation that ran afoul of an interest group, which responded with well-aimed campaign attacks that helped elect their Democratic challengers.

<WC>"<WC1>I tend to believe the majority will show some restraint,<WC>"<WC1> said Dave Puglia, the executive for the farm group, Western Growers Association, who oversaw the independent campaign against Butler and Allen.

Message sent. Point taken.

For the first time since 1933, one party would hold two-thirds supermajorities in both houses of the California Legislature. By terms of the California Constitution, Democrats can do as they please. Republicans can complain but can block nothing.

Raise taxes? Sure. Override a veto by Gov. Jerry Brown? No problem. Spend wildly? Certainly. The constitution would authorize it all, and it all could happen, but it won't.

<WC>"<WC1>We're not going to try to enact more taxes. Voters just did that,<WC>"<WC1> Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told me. <WC>"<WC1>We have to find that balance between not losing the big opportunity and not overplaying it.<WC>"<WC1> Steinberg will preside over a 40-seat Senate that will have at least 28 Democrats, more than the two-thirds vote needed to approve taxes in the upper house. Some might wish for tax hikes. But then there's reality.

Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, has made a point of refusing to vote for anything that smacks of a tax increase, and Sen. Michael Rubio, a Central Valley Democrat, voted against this year's budget.

Rubio in particular has emerged as a moderating voice. Last month, he sent a letter signed by 16 Democrats demanding that the Brown administration pull back on potentially costly environmental regulations related to so-called green chemistry.

In past years, Republicans would have taken the lead on such a missive. But with the GOP marginalized, business interests are relying on moderates to represent their interests. Rubio's letter reflects the reality that in the Senate, moderate Democrats exert more clout on some issues than liberals.


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