A Two-Thirds Democratic State Senate

Tony Quinn
Political Analyst

The Redistricting Commission is now history. It has certified its final maps and all that’s left is the counting: who gets how many seats under the new maps.

In the Assembly, the consensus is that there is not much change. Few seats will be in play next year; most incumbents are reasonably safe. The two party breakdown in the Assembly is not likely to change very much.

The State Senate is a much different story. Here the consensus is that the commission handed the Democrats a two thirds majority in the Senate. That will lead to dramatic changes in how California is governed. Certainly Gov. Brown will not need to go hat in hand to Republicans looking for votes to raise taxes; a two thirds Senate will be able to raise taxes pretty much at will, and there is every reason to assume that future budgets will be balanced with tax increases rather than additional cuts.

The Assembly Republicans will probably stay above one third, but public employee unions are talking about an aggressive program to elect tax friendly Republicans using the state’s new “top two” general election system.

The situation in the Senate is probably best understood by looking at the individual races. Republicans currently have 15 Senators. One Senate seat is gone for sure, GOP Sen. Sam Bakeslee’s district becomes safely Democratic and Assembly member Bill Monning has already declared for it. He would appear to have a pretty clear path to the Senate.

Democrats also gain a new Senate seat in Santa Barbara thanks to the commission lines, and either former Assembly members Hannah Beth Jackson or Pedro Nava will likely return to Sacramento as the new Democratic Senator for that area.

Republicans only have 11 safe seats of the 40 districts under the new maps. Six senators are holdovers. Their districts are not up until, 2014: Sens. Anthony Cannella, Tom Berryhill, Jean Fuller, Joel Anderson, Mark Wyland and Doug LaMalfa. Five senators up in 2012 have safe seats: Sens. Ted Gaines, Sharon Runner, Bob Huff, Bill Emmerson and Mimi Walters.

There are three toss-up districts under the new maps; for Republicans somehow to stay above one third in the Senate they would have to win all three, a very tall order.

The first is Senate District 27 that pits GOP Sen. Tony Strickland against Democratic Sen. Fran Pavley. Registration for this district is 41 percent Democratic, 35 percent Republican. In 2010, Brown and Whitman, and Boxer and Fiorina, ran virtually even in this district. The overlapping vote for congress was 50 percent Democratic, 50 percent Republican, while the overlapping vote for the Assembly showed a slight Republican advantage. However, in 2008, President Obama received 58 percent in this district.

While this district is a true toss-up, Sen. Pavley probably should be given a slight advantage in 2012. The district performs better for Democrats in a presidential election year, and most of the population is found in Los Angeles County, not in Sen. Strickland’s base in Ventura County. Pavley was not seriously opposed in 2008 and won with 67 percent while Strickland barely won his old district with only 50.2 percent.

The second toss-up district is the new 31st Senate District in Riverside County. It has no incumbent. GOP Assemblyman Jeff Miller has already announced for it, and he represents the more Republican parts of the district currently.

Party registration favors the Democrats 40 percent to 38 percent. Brown defeated Whitman 49 percent to 44 percent in 2010, and Obama won 58 percent here in 2008. So the district, on paper at least, would appear to favor Democrats.

Finally, the commission did reunite San Joaquin County into a new Senate district. GOP Sen. Tom Berryhill lives in this district, so he could run here in 2012. But his current term runs to 2014 and he could move into the new Senate District 8, which is heavily Republican, and run for re-election there in 2014.

Termed out Democratic Assemblywoman Cathleen Gagliani has announced plans to run here in 2012. She currently represents the most Democratic parts of the district. The composite congressional vote in this district in 2010 was 51 percent Democratic, 49 percent Republican. Brown beat Whitman by a point, although Fiorina beat Boxer by seven points.

Berryhill and Gagliani currently represent parts of Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties in the new district. Gagliani carried the Stockton overlap by 12,000 votes while Berryhill carried his overlap by more than 16,000 votes. Berryhill would probably be favored if he runs here, Gagliani would have to be favored if he does not.

Republicans face particular difficulties running in these Senate districts in a presidential election year when traditionally Democratic turnout is higher. So the conclusion that Republicans are unlikely to win all three of the toss-up districts, the only way for them to hold more than one third of the Senate.

The last time Democrats had two thirds in either house of the legislature was 1974-1978 when they had more than two thirds in the Assembly. That was a great period of government expansion, including passage of the public employee collective bargaining legislation. Californians could well see the same phenomenon beginning in 2013 with two thirds Democratic control of the State Senate.

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