Contrary to Popular Belief: Democrats Lack Supermajority in Legislature
Posted by Chris Nguyen on March 7, 2013
As of the November 2012 elections, Democrats had captured 29 of 40 State Senate seats and 55 of 80 State Assembly seats, giving them 2 seats beyond 2/3 in the Senate and 1 seat beyond 2/3 in the Assembly.
However, Democrats have had little chance to actually wield their 2/3 supermajorities because they have been plagued by vacancies. In the Legislature, a vacancy is effectively a “no” vote, so if Republicans vote against a tax increase, an urgency measure, or any other measure requiring a 2/3 vote, the vacancy joins with Republicans in preventing the measure from reaching 2/3.
On January 2, State Senators Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino) and Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) resigned to become Members of Congress, which shrunk the Democrats’ Senate supermajority to the bare minimum of 27.
Then on February 22, State Senator Michael Rubio (D-Shafter) resigned to take a job with Chevron, which cut the Senate Democrats down to 26 and putting them out of their supermajority.
Next week, the primary elections will take place to replace Senators Negrete McLeod and Vargas. Assemblywoman Norma Torres (D-Pomona) is the leading contender to replace Negrete McLeod, though she has tough competition from San Bernardino County Auditor-Controller Larry Walker (D-Chino). Assemblyman Ben Hueso (D-Encinitas) is the leading contender to replace Vargas.
If Torres or Hueso gets over 50% of the vote on Tuesday and resigns Wednesday morning, their seats could be filled as early as May 28 and as late as July 30. If Torres or Hueso falls short of 50% on Tuesday, the run-off is not until May 14, and assuming they resign May 15, their seats could be filled as early as July 30 and as late as October 15.
The Democrats’ best case scenario has one (but not both) of Torres or Hueso breaking 50% on Tuesday, and the other going to a May 14 run-off. This would put the Senate Democrats at exactly the magical number of 27 and the Assembly Democrats at exactly their magic number of 54 for a two-month window of mid-March through mid-May for their supermajorities. If both break 50% on Tuesday or both get forced to a May run-off, Senate Democrats will rise back up to a supermajority with 28, but Assembly Democrats will lose their supermajority, falling back to 53, one short of a supermajority.
The Rubio vacancy can be filled as early as May 21 and as late as July 23. Since Assemblyman Henry Perea (D-Fresno) has declined to run for the seat, no Assembly Democrat will fill the seat.
This past Tuesday, State Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Los Angeles) was elected to the LA City Council. He will take office as a Councilman on July 1. If he resigns from the Assembly July 1, his seat could be filled as early as September 10 and as late as November 29.
Also on Tuesday, State Senator Curren Price (D-Los Angeles) advanced to a May 14 run-off for LA City Council. If he wins the run-off, Price will take office as a Councilman on July 1. If he resigns from the Senate July 1, his seat could be filled as early as September 10 and as late as November 29. Then, there’s the possibility if an Assemblymember seeks Price’s seat in the special election.
Note that any vacancies that occur in the final year of a term remain vacant under California law, so any Assembly vacancies (and any Senate vacancies in any of the 20 even-numbered districts) that occur after November 30, 2013, will remain vacant until the new term commences after the 2014 general election.
The Democrats’ supermajorities in the Legislature may be quite fleeting.
For Democrats, this will be quite frustrating because vacancies are impeding their ability to use their 2/3 power to implement the policies they’ve dreamed of for years. For Republicans, this will be quite frustrating because it will be difficult to claim in the 2014 elections that Democrats have overreached and that voters want more Republicans to prevent the overreach; if the Democrats can’t wield 2/3, they can’t overreach.
(The timing on these special elections is that the Governor has two weeks from the vacancy to issue a proclamation for a special election, and the special run-off election must be 126-140 days after the proclamation; the special primary election must be held exactly 8 weeks before the special run-off election; the run-off is canceled if someone breaks 50% in the special primary.)