California Democrats hitched their wagon to President Barack Obama's rising star this election season, a strategy that's paid off handsomely for the party.
State Democrats have won a supermajority in the legislature (at least 54 Assembly seats and 27 Senate seats), which means they can now reach the two-thirds majority vote needed to overcome filibusters and pass crucial tax revenue laws. It also empowers the party to overturn vetoes handed down by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Democratic leaders know full well what kind of opportunity this is. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has big plans for the supermajority, telling Reuters on Wednesday, "I think we're going to have the opportunity to really look at constitutional changes that improve governance in California - initiative reform, tax reform."
Assembly Speaker John Perez added, "Now we've got 54 people that I know are going to come together on Day One and work to further stabilize our economy."
Sacramento politicians have rarely been able to agree on a state budget that doesn't kick debt problems down the road. Since the 1978 passage of Prop 13, which capped property taxes and required new tax legislation to be approved by a two-thirds vote in the state legislature, the effort to raise much-needed revenue has often dissolved into partisan stalemates. Adding to the gridlock, many California Republicans have signed no-tax pledges -- essentially promises to their electorate that they would vote "no" on all legislation that includes a tax increase.
But the Democrats' newfound power isn't a blank check, warned Brown. In the past, the governor has promised to ask voters to approve any new tax hikes, as was the case with Tuesday's approval of Prop 30. "The desires will always outrun the available money,” Brown said during a press conference. “I always like to think with greater power comes greater responsibility.”
Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) echoed Brown's sentiment. While Huff has pledged to work with Democrats to help create jobs for Californians, reports the Visalia Times-Delta, he similarly noted that the majority party now has a "tremendous responsibility."
Complicating matters, Democratic Senators Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino) and Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) won seats in the U.S. Congress Tuesday, meaning special elections need to be scheduled to replace them in the California Senate. If their replacements come from the lower house, a new round of special elections would need to be held to replace those Assembly members.
Negrete McLeod's district is registered as 48 percent Democratic and 26 percent Republican, while the one Vargas will vacate is 47 percent Democratic and 24 percent Republican, notes the Los Angeles Times.
If Democrats manage to come out on top in all the ensuing special elections, they'll retain their supermajority in both houses.
The last time a single party held a supermajority in both houses of the California legislature was in 1933, when the Republicans controlled the legislature. Democrats held a supermajority in both houses back in 1883.