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Supermajority Fight Shapes California Legislative Races

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

The California governor’s race and statewide ballot measures may claim most of the spotlight this election season. But below the radar, a handful of pivotal legislative races could shift the balance of power at the state Capitol.

On paper, Democrats have held two-thirds supermajorities in both chambers for the last two years. But given vacancies caused by turnover and legal troubles, they’ve rarely had functioning supermajorities.

Republicans are fighting to pick up at least one Senate seat or two Assembly seats to block Democrats from raising taxes or passing constitutional amendments. That’s key to the GOP’s campaign message in competitive races.

“Regardless of what party affiliation you are, when differences of opinions are at the table, it’s when the best public policy comes out for all people. And this will determine where the direction of the state’s gonna be in the next decade,” says Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen, who's running for an open Senate seat.

Nguyen points to bipartisan agreements between the legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown this year on the water bond and rainy day fund.

Democrats, too, are making the supermajority a campaign issue.

“Being in the supermajority party up there will definitely benefit our communities,” says Fresno Unified School District board member Luis Chavez, who's challenging an incumbent Republican in a Central Valley Senate seat. “And what I feel we have is a golden opportunity for the Central Valley to be at the decision-making table.”

It looks like the battle for the Democratic supermajority will come down to those two Senate races and Assembly seats in Palmdale and Ventura and Orange Counties.

“What we have to look at is individual races,” says Scott Lay, who handicaps California political races for the website www.aroundthecapitol.com. “And I would look less at how much money’s being spent and mail’s being delivered – because at this point voters are probably ignoring it – but really, who has the better turnout operation.” 

Lay says the GOP has a pretty good shot at shedding its “superminority” status – especially in the Senate.

 election 2014

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio 

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