SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Now that voters have created Democratic supermajorities in both houses of the California Legislature, they should expect to see more conflict between liberals and moderates in the party and even tension with Gov. Jerry Brown, another Democrat.
Republicans, meanwhile, will be even further marginalized, without any leverage to extract concessions from Democrats or make an imprint on state government.
The latest election results show that Democrat Josh Newman won a Republican-held Senate seat, giving his party the final position it needed for the supermajority.
With control of two-thirds of the seats in the Assembly and Senate, as well as the governor’s office, Democrats – if they want to – could raise taxes, ignore legislative rules or pass emergency legislation.
In reality though, they’ll only be able to exercise that power if they can agree unanimously.
Steep ideological differences within the party have already derailed the passage of environmental and labor regulations that didn’t even require a supermajority.
The Democrats’ appetite for using their power will be tested on issues such as allocating funding to repair crumbling roads and bridges, and ending legal uncertainty surrounding the state’s cap on pollution.
Lawmakers – mostly Democrats – voted earlier this year to strengthen and extend the climate change goals but were unable to muster the two-thirds supermajority that would inoculate the program from several legal challenges.
For more than a year, Brown and top Democratic lawmakers have unsuccessfully promoted plans to raise gas taxes and vehicle registration fees to tackle a $57 billion backlog in road maintenance. Last week, they said they’re giving up for now and will try again next year with the newly elected supermajorities.
“I’m not certain that it will be any kind of a slam dunk,” said Will Kempton, executive director of Transportation California, an advocacy group seeking a transportation funding plan. “Particularly in the Assembly, I think there are moderate Democrats that have taken a view of more concern about impact of taxes.”
The tremendous power of a supermajority had been the holy grail of California politics. But it has lost much of its significance since voters decided in 2010 to no longer require a two-thirds majority of lawmakers to approve the state budget. The two-thirds requirement had been blamed for legislative gridlock and tense impasses.
When the new Legislature is sworn in Monday, Democrats will control 55 of 80 Assembly seats and 27 of 40 Senate positions.
Yet Democrats say those supermajorities are more symbolic than practical, because winning them requires the party to succeed in diverse areas ranging from liberal coastal districts to working-class inland areas and conservative Orange County.
In addition, several incoming Democrats won by razor-thin margins after running as moderates and may not be enthusiastic about voting for tax or environmental measures.
Still, they will be under tremendous pressure from members of their own party, said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. He worries that they won’t be able to consistently hold out against tax increases or efforts to roll back limits on tax increases imposed in measures such as Propositions 13 or 218.
The moderates “were able to repel some of the more aggressive instincts of the progressives by saying, ‘Well, the Republicans will never go for that,'” Coupal said.
Now, moderates will hold the decisive votes.
“They can’t hide,” Coupal said.
Assembly Minority Leader Chad Mayes, a Republican from Yucca Valley, said voters will know to blame Democrats when problems don’t get fixed.
“Now they’re not going to be able to blame us and shame us for it,” Mayes said. “They own it all.”
Democrats last had a supermajority in 2012 but did not use it to raise taxes. They didn’t hold it for long, however, because three Democratic senators were indicted and suspended from the Legislature.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.