Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Democrats unlikely to leverage Sacramento super majority until fall

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When California’s state legislature convenes next week to swear in new members, Democrats will have a so-called super majority in both houses: a two-thirds majority in each chamber that empowers them to pass taxes without Republican votes and to override a gubernatorial veto. 

But that advantage could prove elusive for Democrats in the coming months.

One month after California’s newly elected senators and assembly members take their seats, two Democratic senators will head to Congress: Juan Vargas of San Diego and Gloria Negrete-McLeod of San Bernardino.

Shannan Velayas of the Secretary of State’s office says when those senators depart, it’ll trigger a special election to fill the vacancies: “The state senator must step down from office before the governor can call an election to fill that vacancy.”

Gov. Jerry Brown then has 14 days to declare a date for a special election, which can take a while.  The election must take place on a Tuesday and it must be at least 112 days, but not more than 126 days, from the day that governor sets the date.

Democrats will still hold a super majority in the Senate even after Negrete-McLeod and Vargas leave. But they could lose it, at least temporarily, if Senator Curren Price wins a seat on the Los Angeles City Council in the spring. 

Another problem: Democrats in the Assembly have already decided to run for those Senate vacancies.  If at least one of them wins, Democrats would lose their super majority in the Assembly until another round of special elections fills the vacancy. 

Political consultant Steve Maviglio says the Democrats’ supermajority probably won’t be effective until the fall: “They’ll start off with it but then the dominoes will fall with the different races, people moving up to Congress, people moving up to the state senate.”

Maviglio — who served as chief of staff for Assembly Speakers Fabian Nuñez and Karen Bass — says even when the Democrats finally have all the numbers they need, that doesn’t mean a slam dunk for a liberal agenda.  After all, some of the Democrats who make up the supermajority ran in tight races in swing districts.

“You want to keep those people elected in office and by putting them out on a tight rope and voting on tough issues all the time it makes their re-election prospects more precarious,” Maviglio says.

Maviglio doubts the Democrats would do anything that would put the supermajority at risk — once, and if, they actually nail it down.

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