Republican incumbents Bono-Mack, Lungren, and Bilbray down in their re-election bids; GOP further marginalized in California
Lost in the wake of President Barack Obama’s sizeable win over Mitt Romney and the high profile Congressional races in California were the gains California Democrats made in both houses of the State Legislature.
During the wave midterm election in 2010, where California bucked the national trend that went Tea Party wild, California swung even deeper blue, with Democrats winning every statewide election and solidified their majorities in the Legislature. Following a new redistricting procedure that took politics out of the district mapping process and removed the responsibility entirely from partisan politicians, the nation got to see just how big a Democratic stronghold the largest state in the union has become.
But despite large majorities in the State Assembly and the State Senate, Republicans still maintained the power to derail just about any piece of legislation they wanted for whatever reason they wanted. Prop 13, the 1978 initiative that limits the state’s ability to raise property taxes, also limited the Legislature’s ability to raise revenues and pass major budget measures, adding a two-thirds majority requirement into the state’s constitution for any such actions. California Democrats enjoyed exactly a two-thirds majority in the Assembly, but fell one seat short of that threshold in the Senate.
Until last night, where Marty Block’s victory over Republican George Plescia in the 39th Senate District race in San Diego helped put Democrats over the top with a 28-13 edge. Democrats also managed to increase their advantage by two seats in the Assembly to 54-26.
One way of looking at the significance of these results is this: Had Democrats been working with full two-thirds majorities in both houses, ballot initiatives like Props 30 and 39—both of which emerged victorious with California voters—would have been unnecessary, and would have saved tens of millions of dollars and a whole lot of headaches along the way. The Legislature would have simply been able to take the action it needed to in order to pass the legislation without having to resort to the costly ballot initiative process. Until now, and despite overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the California Legislature, lawmakers have been handcuffed by an intransigent minority. California lawmakers were unable to do the job they were sent to Sacramento to do. I’ve covered this issue more in depth here.
That all changes now. At least for the next two years. Perhaps in 2014 we won’t have to deal with all of these budget adjusting ballot proposals again. Maybe now the Legislature will actually be able to get a budget done on time and without decimating public school funding and state healthcare programs.
“With a working two-thirds majority, the Senate can move California forward without running headlong into a recalcitrant minority party to place ideology above balance solutions that spur job growth,” State Senator Darrell Steinberg told the LA Times.
Of equal—or perhaps greater—significance is the further marginalization of the GOP in California. In 2010, back when the rest of the country was shading slightly more red, California went the opposite direction, as already noted. But it was hard to imagine California Republicans sinking any lower. Now we don’t have to imagine it, because it’s happened.
In addition to devastating losses for Republicans on Props 31, 32, 39, and 40, Democrats also managed to flip a handful of Congressional seats. Longtime Republican Congresswoman Mary Bono-Mack, who succeeded her late husband Sunny Bono in the Palm Springs area, is unexpectedly losing her bid to maintain her 36th district seat. As expected, Democratic challenger Ami Bera and incumbent Republican Dan Lungren are locked in a tight race that as of the time this story is being typed has Bera in the lead by fewer than 200 votes. And here in San Diego, Scott Peters has taken a 685 vote lead over incumbent Republican Brian Bilbray with all precincts reporting an presumably only provisional and mail-in ballots remaining to be counted.
Combine that with Republican losses in the San Diego Mayoral race, where Bob Filner becomes the first Democrat to win that office in more than 20 years, and Dave Roberts becoming the first Dem to win a County Board of Supervisors seat in a similar time frame, and it’s clear that Republicans are a withering party, at least in California.
The question of whether this will all lead to better governance for California remains to be seen. But given the diversity and wide range of opinions within the Democratic Party, and the fact that Democrats rarely march in lockstep, strictly toeing the party line as Republicans usually do, it’s a fairly safe bet that it will lead to better legislation and more efficient government. Haggling within the Dem caucus usually leads to more moderate outcomes. I’m betting that that’s what we’ll see……at least for a good while, anyway.
Also see related story, “California’s Primary Election Grand Experiment”
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