The most important members of the California legislature this
year might not be the two Democratic leaders - despite the
two-thirds supermajorities they hold in each chamber. And it
almost certainly won't be the Republicans. They've been
courted for key votes in recent years but now don't have the
numbers to block any bills on their own. The leverage in this
legislative session may well lie with a newly-critical voting bloc:
From Hugs to Bad Wine
It wasn't so long ago that Governor Jerry Brown was doing all
he could to win Republican votes for a budget deal.
Brown: "Remember, hug a
Republican. Thank you very much…" (applause)
That's the governor in spring 2011, speaking to a group of law
enforcement officials. Then, legislative Republicans held
just enough votes to block Democrats on anything requiring a
two-thirds vote - like raising taxes or placing measures on the
ballot. So Brown wined them and dined them, invited them to
his loft a few blocks from the Capitol. But talks collapsed,
and by the end of the year, the governor wasn't in a hugging mood
Brown: "I'm not gonna serve my
good wine in the way I did earlier in the year."
Miller: "In years past, we've
seen a number of moderate Republicans be key swing votes on
previous budgets, for example."
Now, GOP political consultant Beth Miller says Democratic
supermajorities in the legislature mean no more Republican
Miller: "All that action - that
swing space of who's gonna vote which way - has really swung to the
Democrats and the moderate Democrats who have been
The New Swing Votes
Many of those Democrats are new to Sacramento and edged out
more liberal Democrats with help from Republican-friendly groups
like the California Chamber of Commerce.
Daly: "I think restraint is a
good word and it's a label that I think is reasonable to use in
these - what I still consider perilous times."
Talamantes Eggman: "I don't think you'll
see giant sweeping changes. I think it's a time of
Roth: "We need to make sure the
budget is balanced and remains balanced, and that we spend the
public's money wisely."
Those are three freshman Democrats: Assembly members Tom Daly
of Anaheim and Susan Eggman of Stockton, and Senator Richard
Roth from Riverside. All three are skeptical when asked about
some early Democratic proposals that would require two-thirds
votes: raising taxes and fees, or in particular, tweaking
California's landmark Proposition 13. Again, Daly and
Daly: "It's not a priority of
mine, personally, to make changes to Prop 13."
Roth: "Some members of the
Senate have indicated the thought that they want to take a look at
Daly: "And I'm not sure that
modifying Prop 13 will help the economy."
Roth: "I think, frankly, what we
need to make sure that we do is that we not harm business in the
state of California."
Leverage and Pressure
Those freshmen are far from alone. The Senate in
particular already has several moderate Democrats - more than
enough to block a two-thirds vote or veto attempt if the often
business-friendly Governor Brown rejects a measure passed by the
more liberal legislature. Inglewood Senator Rod Wright is
among the moderates.
Wright: "If we don't grow
business, we don't grow revenue. And we have to be careful
that we don't attempt to simply raise tax without spreading the
base and expanding the economy."
Many analysts believe the "swing-vote" moderate Democrats will
have leverage any time a supermajority bill comes up. And
Wright expects to see tension in the Democratic caucus on the
budget, taxes and a proposed overhaul of California's major
Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg says his caucus works well
together despite its variety of viewpoints. He has plenty of
votes to pass controversial measures that only require a simple
majority. As for bills needing a supermajority:
Steinberg: "Well, that's
obviously a little more challenging. But we'll pick and
choose. And when it comes to an important 27-vote measure,
we'll get it. We'll get it."
And that's the thing: There are always ways for leadership and
outside groups to pressure lawmakers. Still, Republican
consultant Beth Miller says moderate Democrats will face that
pressure from business groups, too.
Miller: "If they become just a
party-line vote for the speaker or the Senate pro Tem, they're
gonna have to answer to the voters at home in those competitive
And not just from Republicans - California's new "top two"
primary system means they could face challenges from fellow
Democrats … backed by the same groups that helped them get elected
in the first place.