Politics

Election 2014: GOP blocks Democratic supermajority in California state Senate

A view of the California State Capitol in Sacramento.
A view of the California State Capitol in Sacramento.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Republicans capitalized on Democrats' recent corruption scandals and successfully blocked them from regaining two-thirds control of the state Senate and picked up seats in the Assembly.

The GOP wrested two Orange County seats Tuesday and one more in Los Angeles County's Antelope Valley from Democrats while defending their members in competitive races. In doing so, Republicans were able to secure 14 of the 40 Senate seats, preventing Democrats from reaching the 27 seats needed for supermajority status.

The outcome of the Assembly was too soon to call.

"What it shows it that one-party rule is not the panacea," said Senate Republican spokesman Peter DeMarco. "After a year of scandals and embarrassing headlines, voters in the Central Valley and in Orange County realize how grave the threat was to their way of life."

Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen, a Republican, won 60 percent support in the 34th Senate District over former Assemblyman Jose Solorio. The GOP's Young Kim took the 65th Assembly District seat in Orange County from Democratic incumbent Sharon Quirk-Silva with 56 percent of votes.

Palmdale Democratic freshman Steve Fox lost his 36th Assembly Seat to GOP opponent Tom Lackey, who led with 61 percent of the vote.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon said Democrats did a good job protecting most incumbents from expensive outside attacks and the party retains a strong majority in Legislature.

"Against all odds, it was still a successful night for Senate Democrats," de Leon said in a statement. "In some districts made less Democratic by redistricting, national trends and historically low turnout were too difficult to overcome."

Democrats had hoped to recapture supermajorities in both legislative houses, which would give them the power to raise taxes, pass emergency legislation and override gubernatorial vetoes without Republican support. Of the 120 legislative seats in the Assembly and Senate, 100 were up for grabs in Tuesday's general election.

During the last session, Democrats in the Senate fell below the 27-seat supermajority after two termed-out lawmakers were indicted on federal bribery and corruption charges. A third, Sen. Rod Wright, resigned in September after he was sentenced to three months in jail for lying about where he lived when he ran for office.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff said his party has been focused on rebuilding one district at a time by finding the best candidates for each community. In the Central Valley, incumbent GOP Sen. Andy Vidak successfully fended off a challenge from Democratic candidate Luis Chavez.

"If we are victorious, it's just a way station along the road to having a two-party system again in California," Huff said.

Both parties targeted a handful of competitive districts in Orange County and the Central Valley.

Residents in the 34th Senate District had been bombarded with ads attacking both Nguyen and Solorio in the run-up to the election. The race attracted heavy outside spending from labor and business groups.

Democrats in the 80-member Assembly started on stronger footing but saw several competitive fights in early returns. They currently hold 55 seats compared to 25 for Republicans. A supermajority requires 54 seats.

The majority party was hoping to pick up a seat in coastal Ventura County that once was a solidly Republican district. Thousand Oaks City Councilwoman Jacqui Irwin, the Democratic candidate in the 44th Assembly District, was leading with 51 percent against Rob McCoy, a senior pastor at Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks, with 98 percent of precincts reporting.

In the Antelope Valley, Fox faced legal problems. A former legislative director filed a discrimination lawsuit, alleging the freshman lawmaker forced her to perform tasks for his private law practice and created a hostile work environment that included exposing himself when she went to his Sacramento apartment to get him for work.

Steve Maviglio, spokesman for Assembly Democrats, said the caucus was expecting to hold on to 52 seats, the same number it had in 2010. He downplayed the significance of having supermajority.

"In reality, it just makes a lot of procedural issues easier," Maviglio said.

Democrat Tim Sbranti was trailing GOP candidate Catharine Baker, 48 percent to 52 percent, in the East Bay's 16th Assembly District with all precincts reporting. Also, Democratic incumbent Al Muratsuchi trailed Republican challenger David Hadley, 49 percent to 51 percent, in the 66th Assembly District along coastal Los Angeles County with 72 percent of precincts reporting.

There were a dozen legislative contests featuring candidates from the same party.

One that gained national attention involved Sandra Fluke, who came in second in a field of eight candidates during the primary for the 26th Senate District race. She lost to fellow Democrat Ben Allen, an attorney and a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education.

As a Georgetown University law student, Fluke spoke in favor of requiring employer-provided health insurance to cover birth control, which drew an insult from radio commentator Rush Limbaugh in 2012.

With most precincts reporting, Allen led with 61 percent of the vote.