All Eyes on the Quest for a Two-Thirds Majority

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Many commentators look at the coming California elections with a yawn expecting little drama in most of the constitutional officer contests and little excitement amongst the public on the ballot measures. But, one thing insiders are watching with great interest is whether the Democrats once again can secure a two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature.

The two-thirds standard for the Democrats may be more important in this election than when they gained two-thirds majorities unexpectedly in the 2012 contests.

Legislative leaders were quick to announce they would use the power of the two-thirds majority in the legislature judiciously: No rushing off to raise taxes, propose constitutional amendments or override gubernatorial vetoes. Flush with their big win, they mostly kept to the pledge while the two-thirds majority was wiped away by scandals that sidelined three Democratic state senators.

Now, however, an effort to secure two-thirds majority comes in a different context. The governor, even if he wins re-election by a wide margin, will be in his final term. And, importantly, the end of the temporary taxes passed by the voters is not far over the horizon.

Some have argued that the new leadership in the legislature, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and Senate President Pro-Tem-elect Kevin de Leon, are a bit more progressive than their predecessors. Perhaps. But it’s the issues that might drive legislators to use the two-thirds majority.

Environmentalist hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer told the Sacramento Bee he prefers that his campaign to pass an oil severance tax go through the legislature rather than by way of initiative. If the two-thirds majorities are secure, advocates to extend Proposition 30 might decide not to wait until the taxes are on the verge of sunset before campaigning to make them permanent. Other issues to establish an urgency measure to take effect immediately would also require a two-thirds vote.

With the thought that the battle over the two-thirds majorities are the story of this election, I turned to election expert Allan Hoffenblum, editor of the Target Book that tracks the state election campaigns closely.

“I have little doubt that the Assembly Democratic leadership will go all out to maintain their two-thirds super-majority, and Republicans are gearing up to take it away. In fact, this battle may be one of the few that will make an otherwise boring and predictable November election interesting,” Hoffenblum said.

Looking at the battle for the Assembly, Hoffenblum said, “Fifty four is the magic number and the Democrats now have 55.

“On the Democratic side, their most vulnerable incumbents are Steve Fox (AD36, Antelope Valley) and Sharon Quirk-Silva (AD65, Anaheim/Fullerton). These are two seats the Democrats took away from the Republicans in 2012, and Republicans have recruited strong challengers to both.”

But the Republicans have to engage is some hotly contested races as well.

“On the Republican side, their most vulnerable seats are AD40 (Rancho Cucamonga/Redlands) and AD44 (Ventura County). They are two open seats that the Republicans narrowly won in 2012 against weak opponents. Both races are expected to be much more competitive this year.”

As for the Senate, Hoffenblum said, “Only two races are currently in play and the Democrats need to win only one of the two to maintain their super-majority: SD14, a heavily Democratic and Latino Central Valley seat that Republican Andy Vidak won in a July 2013 Special Election; and SD34, an open Orange County seat that Democrat Lou Correa must give up due to term limits.”

So do the Democrats win the two-thirds majority again in the 2014 elections?

“I believe either side could win this battle, low voter turnout being the Democrats’ Achilles’ heel,” Hoffenblum concluded.

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