Can the Democrats Achieve a Veto-proof Senate or Assembly in November?

Allan Hoffenblum
Publisher of the California Target Book and owner of Allan Hoffenblum & Associates

Nothing gives the state legislature’s Democratic leadership — and the Republican governor — more headaches than the constitutional requirement for a two-thirds vote to pass a state budget or any tax increases.

To achieve a two-thirds vote requires the unanimous support of the Democratic members of both houses plus two additional Republican votes on the senate side and six additional Republican votes on the assembly side.

The budget battle in the state Senate last year so infuriated Senate Pro Tem Don Perata that he spent over $1 million to qualify and fund a June 3rd recall campaign against Republican Senator Jeff Denham.

But, for whatever reason, Perata abruptly announced last week that he is abandoning any further funding of that effort, making it highly unlikely that the Denham recall will be successful.

The California Target Book, which I publish, is a publication that tracks and handicaps congressional and state legislative races in California. Looking at the 20 odd-numbered senate districts up for election in 2008, we initially labeled only two as being competitive: the 15th Senate District represented by Republican Abel Maldonado, and the 19th Senate District, an open seat due to Republican Senator Tom McClintock being termed out.

There is little doubt that the race between former Democratic Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson and former Republican Assemblyman Tony Strickland in SD19 – both unopposed in the June Primary – will be a top November target.

But to the surprise of many – particularly among many Democratic Party activists – no Democrat or third party candidates filed to run against Maldonado, allowing him to run unopposed in both the June Primary and November General Election.

Therefore, with Perata throwing in the towel in the Denham recall election, he all but threw in the towel for Democrats being able to pick up the two seats needed to reach a two-thirds level.

Can Assembly Democrats pick up the six addition seats needed to reach a two-thirds level?

There are three Republican-held seats that are at the top of our Democrat target list, and all are open seats due to the GOP incumbents being termed out this year.

The top two of the three are AD 78 (Shirley Horton) and AD80 (Bonnie Garcia). These are two districts that the 2001 redistricting mapmakers purposely drew to favor a Democrat — Democrats have a significant registration advantage in both — but the Republicans won in 2002 due to fielding a superior candidate in both races and, with the power of incumbency, held them in 2004 and 2006. Now open seats, the Democratic leadership will spend big bucks to get them into the Democratic column.

The third is AD15 (Guy Houston), the last remaining Republican-held district in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Republicans are currently in a four-candidate June Primary battle, with no clear favorite. On the Democratic side, San Ramon Valley school board member Joan Buchanan is facing no more than a token Primary opponent and is expected to handily win the Democratic nomination, and she is perceived as a strong candidate. Party registration is 39 percent Republican, 39 percent Democratic, 19 percent independent.

Number four on our Democratic target list is AD26, currently represented by Republican Greg Aghazarian, who is termed out this year and is running for the state senate. On the Democratic side this year is John Eisenhut, a Merced County farmer, former school board member and self-described "Valleycrat," meaning political conservative. Unopposed in the June Primary, he has an impressive resume and it is highly unlikely he would have entered the race without strong encouragement from the Democratic leadership. On the GOP side is Bill Berryhill, also unopposed in the June Primary. He is the brother of GOP Assemblyman Tom Berryhill, who represents an adjourning assembly district. The registration in this district is 41 percent Republican, 41 percent Democratic, 14 percent independent.

Democratic wins in the above four districts would make it a very good year for them, but can they get to plus six?

This would require two major upset wins, and the Target Book is looking at two seats: AD10, represented by Republican Alan Nakanishi who is termed out, and AD37, represented by Republican Assemblywoman Audra Strickland, who is seeking re-election.

The powerful public employees unions have always had their eye on AD10, a suburban Sacramento area assembly district with a large number of public employees residents. Senator Dianne Feinstein carried the district over Dick Mountjoy 51%-41%. But this would be a major upset and the Republicans have strong candidates currently running in the June Primary. Party registration is 41 percent Republican, 38 percent Democratic, 17 percent independent.

As mentioned at the top of this article, a multi-million dollar campaign will be raged in SD19 this fall between Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson and Republican Tony Strickland. Democrats may look at Audra Strickland’s assembly district and see the opportunity of a "two-fer."

Can the Democrats do it?

First, it truly would have to be a Democratic landslide year. But equally important, they will need to hold on to the sole Democratic-held seat that is competitive this year: AD30, the conservative Central Valley seat held by Assemblywoman Nicole Parra, who is termed out this year.

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