SACRAMENTO — Democrats have regained their two-thirds majority in the California Senate with a special election victory in a San Diego-based district.
Ben Hueso, a Democrat from San Diego, will switch from the Assembly to the Senate after receiving 52 percent of the vote Tuesday in the 40th Senate District race.
He needed a simple majority to avoid a mid-May runoff. Hueso's victory gives Democrats in the Senate the 27 votes they need to raise taxes, pass emergency legislation, override gubernatorial vetoes and put constitutional amendments before voters without Republican cooperation.
Democrats will temporarily keep their narrow supermajority in the Assembly while Democratic Assemblywoman Norma Torres of Pomona heads to a May 14 runoff in the 32nd Senate District.
She received 44 percent of the vote in Tuesday's other special election, setting up a special general election contest with the runner-up, Ontario Mayor Paul Leon. The Republican challenger trailed with 26 percent of the vote.
Democrats have half the registered voters in the district, which includes portions of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Republicans account for 28 percent of registered voters, while 18 percent have no party preference.
The runoff means Torres will maintain her Assembly seat, ensuring Democrats a supermajority in that chamber at least until mid-May.
"We fought an uphill battle with very little assistance," said Leon, estimating that he raised about $200,000 from his family, friends and local businesses to compete against Torres. "We're going to go after the funding it takes to put on a competent campaign."
Democrats won two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Legislature last fall, but margins in both chambers are narrow and tenuous while a merry-go-round of vacancies and special elections continues.
If Torres beats Leon for the Senate seat in May and leaves the Assembly, Democrats will be temporarily short of the 54 seats they need in that chamber for a supermajority. Moreover, they will lose Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Sherman Oaks, in July, when he leaves to join the Los Angeles City Council.
But Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, downplayed the significance.
"The speaker has said since Election Day (in November) that it's not going to make that much difference. He'll continue to work with Republicans," Maviglio said.
Tuesday's special elections were called to fill the seats vacated when Democratic Sens. Gloria Negrete McLeod of Chino and Juan Vargas of San Diego resigned to take the congressional seats they won last fall.
A third vacancy was created last month when Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, resigned to take a job with Chevron. The special election in the Central Valley's 16th Senate District will be May 21, with a special runoff election on July 23 if no candidate wins a majority in the primary election.
Senate Democrats also could lose Sen. Curren Price, D-Los Angeles, in July if he wins a May 21 runoff election for a Los Angeles City Council seat.
Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book,