Democrats clinch supermajorities in state legislature, contrasting national election

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Amanda Hart/File

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In stark contrast to Republicans’ sweep of the presidency and Congress on Nov. 8, California Democrats clinched two-thirds supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature Monday night.

The Associated Press called Democrat Josh Newman’s win for state Senate District 29 over Republican Ling Ling Chang when provisional and absentee ballots gave Newman a lead of more than 2,400 votes.

With Newman’s election, Democrats will control 27 of the 40 state Senate seats. Democrats also control 55 of the 80 state Assembly seats, gaining three seats in this year’s election.

A supermajority gives Democrats the ability overturn a governor’s veto, pass tax laws and put constitutional amendments to the ballot — all without bipartisan support. Split between liberals and centrists, however, the Democratic party’s dominance in California is more symbolic than actionable.

“An overwhelming majority of Californians chose to have a Democrat represent them … that’s a testament to our accomplishments over the past few years,” said Kevin Liao, a spokesperson for Anthony Rendon, the Democratic Speaker of the state Assembly. “(But) the whole idea of this magic two-thirds barrier is a bit overplayed.”

Democratic state legislators last held a supermajority four years ago, but failed to pass their most liberal policies — including a measure that would allow voters to overturn California’s ban on affirmative action — because of divisions within the party.

Fernando Salazar, a campus junior and member of Cal Berkeley Democrats, said California’s Democratic supermajority would provide a liberal counterpoint to the conservative policies many incoming federal legislators have promised.

“California will be an antithesis of Trump’s America,” Salazar said. “The state itself is just a complete rejection of Donald Trump. The future of this state is really bright under Democratic governance.”

But some campus Republicans expressed concern that Democrats wouldn’t collaborate with Republican lawmakers.

David Craig, a campus sophomore and the treasurer of Berkeley College Republicans, or BCR, said Democratic legislators in Sacramento might ignore Republican voters’ concerns, using their supermajority to bypass opposition. Just over a quarter of Californians who registered to vote in the Nov. 8 general election registered as Republicans.

“It’s kind of like two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner,” said Pieter Sittler, a campus sophomore and the internal vice president of BCR. “It could … be a tyranny of the majority, because the Democrats have absolutely no need to get bipartisan consensus on anything they want to pass.”

According to Liao, the supermajority could lead to clashes between the state legislature and Republican-controlled federal government.

Liao added that California Democrats are prepared to oppose President-elect Donald Trump’s administration on its proposed policies that would halt immigration, move funding away from public school and slash the Affordable Care Act.

“We don’t know what shape the Trump threat is going to take,” said Michael Soller, a spokesperson for the California Democratic Party. “We’re not waiting to see what’s going to happen — we’re taking action now.”

Contact Simon Greenhill at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @simondgreenhill.