Politics

Democratic statehouse supermajority could hang on this San Gabriel Valley race

L.A. County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich speaks at the Hall of Administration on June 6, 2012.
L.A. County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich speaks at the Hall of Administration on June 6, 2012.
Andres Aguila/KPCC
L.A. County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich speaks at the Hall of Administration on June 6, 2012.
Anthony Portantino, a former Assembly member, is running for the 25th District Senate seat.
Portantino for Senate


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In a presidential election year, down ballot races like those for the California Legislature can be overlooked by voters.

But there are about a dozen races statewide that could give the Democrats a supermajority, when one party controls two-thirds of the legislative seats.

To get that supermajority, Democrats need to pick up two seats in the Assembly and one more in the Senate. And to keep from being overrun at the statehouse, Republicans need to keep those seats in their column.

Based on past state election patterns, Democrats will win a majority of seats in the Assembly and Senate. But with a supermajority, the dominant party can do pretty much whatever it wants, like approving taxes and passing legislation because there are not enough members in the opposing party to stop them.

One key race in the Senate could determine whether Democrats regain the supermajority of seats they lost in 2014.

The 25th Senate District covering Burbank, Glendale, and parts of the San Gabriel Valley foothill communities would normally be an easy win for the Democrats.  About 43 percent of the voters are registered as Democrats and only 29 percent as Republicans. The district supported Obama in 2012. 

But the district is turning out to be a lot more competitive than the registration numbers and voting history would suggest.

Anthony Portantino, Democratic candidate and former assemblyman, faces Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich.

Antonovich, a conservative Republican, has represented the north end of L.A. county for 36 years, so voters recognize his name — it's been listed every four years on the nonpartisan ballot for his supervisor's post. So this race is one of the best chances the Republicans have to pick up a seat.
 
It's been a high-spending race: Portantino's campaign spending is at about $3 million dollars and Antonovich about half that.
 
Some of the issues in the race concern local infrastructure.  For example, there's a longstanding division among cities within the San Gabriel Valley over whether a tunnel should extend the dead-end 710 freeway in Alhambra north to the 210 in Pasadena. Portantino opposes a tunnel, while Antonovich doesn't take a position. He sits on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, which will decide on the project.
 
On wedge issues like gun control, Portantino takes the liberal stance, favoring more limits on gun and ammunition sales. He authored a bill to limit open carry of weapons, for example. Antonovich takes a more conservative line on the Second Amendment, and has focused more on keeping weapons out of the hands of proven criminals.

Much of the campaign battle is waged in mailboxes.  Democrats have sent a lot of mailers trying to tie Antonovich to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. But to make that connection they reach back into the '70s, '80s and '90s for positions Antonovich staked out on abortion rights, marriage equality and women.
 
Antonovichs' mailers are a bit more light-handed. They depict Portantino as a "retired politician" and describe him as accepting campaign donations from the oil and gas industry. Antonovich even sent a mailer penned by his wife.
 
Antonovich knows he'll get Republican votes, but to win he also needs to capture the nearly one-third of voters who are nonpartisan and some of those Democratic votes. So he's mellowed his image and talking up issues like education and health.
 
Portantino's challenge is to show that he is the one who is more closely aligned with the district's values, more so than a very well-known local politician.

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