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Riggs Report: One party rule in Sacramento

​December 1, 2016

Democrats now hold supermajority in California

California woke up to a new political reality this week: the Democratic Party now wields complete dominance in Sacramento, with word that Republican Ling Ling Chang lost her bid for a Senate seat in the Southern California-based 29th District.

That was the final piece to fall into place for the Democrats, who now hold a two-thirds supermajority in not just the Assembly, but in the Senate, as well.

It underscores just how different a political outpost California represents when compared to much of the nation.

At a time when Republicans in Washington control the House and the Senate, and soon the White House, it is just the opposite in Sacramento, with Democrats controlling not just the Legislature, but every single constitutional office from the governor on down.

What does that mean? Probably not that much for now.

The math gives the Democrats tremendous power in theory. With a supermajority, they can pass spending and tax increase bills, place constitutional measures on the ballot and approve urgency bills. The Republicans now find themselves in about as irrelevant a position as they’ve ever been.

In practice, however, the idea of a tide of new spending on social, health and environmental programs sweeping across the Capitol is unlikely.

There are many varieties of Democrats, just as there are Republicans: Moderate, pro-business Democrats will have a very different view of taxation issues or greenhouse gas control programs than their more progressive colleagues.

It will be a tremendous test for Senate President pro Tem Kevin de Leon and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon to round up a two-thirds vote among the different factions present.

Four years ago, when the Democrats last achieved a supermajority, Democratic leaders did not pursue a campaign to raise taxes. Then-Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, told KCRA, “It’s something the governor’s been very clear that he would not do without a vote of the people.”

Gov. Jerry Brown, and his often-stated intentions to keep state spending in check, was a moderating force in 2012. And that dynamic remains the same now.

Democrats, emboldened as they may be by their supermajority, know that Brown won’t want to see his legacy of fiscal prudence be stained and won’t hesitate to use his veto powers.

The majority party does have the votes, in theory, to override a veto. But that is considered an extreme political tactic; what one former governor once described to me as the equivalent of “nuclear war.” Brown, in a strong position in the polls, is unlikely to face such a confrontation.

Of course, at the Capitol, nothing can ever be ruled out. And Brown has some personal experience with this. After all, the last time a governor’s veto was overridden was 1979, when Brown was in his second term in the corner office.