Walters: Could Democrats regain supermajorities? Not likely
Three years ago, in new districts drawn by an independent commission, Democrats won — barely — two-thirds supermajorities in both legislative houses.
They were, however, short-lived, erased by a special election and the 2014 general election.
In practical terms, it didn’t mean much. Democratic leaders could never use their supermajorities to do what they had been empowered — on paper, anyway — to do, such as raise taxes or pass constitutional amendments.
Winning them in 2012 was largely symbolic, and that was equally true when they vanished, although the latter did restore some leverage to minority Republicans on some issues.
We are likely to see that leverage come into play when the state Legislature returns in August to take up taxes to finance Medi-Cal services and highway maintenance, since both would require at least a few GOP votes.
Meanwhile, one might wonder, could the Democrats regain their supermajorities in the 2016 legislative elections? Not likely.
Just one of the six Senate seats that will be vacated next year by term limits is held by a Republican, GOP floor leader Bob Huff, who is now running for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
GOP leaders have recruited first-term Assemblywoman Ling-Ling Chang to hold the seat while Democrats have recruited Sukhee Kang, the former mayor of Irvine who has moved into the 29th Senate District to run. But it has a strong Republican tilt in voter registration.
Four of the others are safe Democratic districts. The only potential uncertainty is the 27th Senate District in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, now represented by Democrat Fran Pavley.
With only a 40 percent to 32 percent Democratic voter registration edge, there is a remote possibility that the 27th District could shift parties, but if it did, the Democratic majority would shrink, not grow.
Democrats’ chances seem better in the Assembly, with six of the 15 termed-out members being Republicans. But none of the districts to be vacated (including Chang’s) is likely to change partisan hands, at least at this juncture, due to strong GOP registration margins.
From a partisan standpoint, therefore, 2016 looks like a status quo year, and with modification of term limits, the mandatory turnover that’s been a feature of legislative politics will slow markedly.
After next year, the next time an Assembly member will be termed out is 2024.
In 2016 and perhaps beyond, the biggest legislative election battles will pit Democrats against one another for Senate seats.
Unions and other liberal groups will back candidates against those with business support, replicating this year’s $10 million special election shootout between Democrats Susan Bonilla and Steve Glazer.
Next year’s biggie will likely be a duel between Democratic Assemblyman Bill Dodd, a former Republican, and former Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, a Democrat and labor ally, in the 3rd Senate District, centered in Solano County but including all or portions of five other counties.
Dan Walters is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee.