Analysis: Brown, Democrats win big in California

2:45 AM, Nov 7, 2012   |    comments
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The old saying of 'be careful what you wish for' is no doubt ringing in the ears of California Democrats this morning.

Not only does Gov. Jerry Brown's tax increase, Proposition 30, appear to be on the winning side of Election Day, but Democrats are in the position to capture a super-majority of both the state Senate and Assembly... the first time any party has done that in California since 1933.

Translation: Democrats would control all the levers of the budget process - including the ability to raise taxes.

The legislative dominoes were still falling into place as night turned into morning. Democrats were long expected to hit supermajority status in the state Senate, as they only needed a net gain of two seats in the 40 member upper house. Vote counting was still a long ways from being complete Tuesday night, that goal was in good shape. Even so, there's a likely vacancy in one of those seats - Democrat Juan Vargas, an incumbent state senator, handily won his San Diego/Imperial area congressional race - that could delay the actual supermajority control by Democrats.

But the idea of Democratic domination wasn't really expected in recent weeks, because the Assembly looked out of reach. Well, no longer. Several closely watched races look to have gone to Democrats.

The idea of a Democratic supermajority in the Legislature raises more interesting political questions than can be answered at this juncture: would long-term tax increases be on the agenda to balance the budget? Could legislative Democrats then be in a position to override the veto of the occasionally less reliably liberal Governor Brown? But then again, would the new tension worth watching in the state Capitol be the tenuous alliances between moderate and liberal Democrats?

For his part, the governor would come into a new Democratic supermajority with his own electoral gravitas. Brown looks to have pulled off what's almost impossible to do in California: have voters impose a new, broad-based tax on themselves.

The governor's Prop 30 was winning with about 53 percent of the vote as this was being posted. That's pretty much lined up with what campaign insiders say they saw in the last tracking polls, as the tax increase slowly crept back from the abyss of defeat... and $6 billion in automatic spending cuts that would kick in should the measure fail.

"Well, here we are," Brown told supporters in downtown Sacramento Tuesday night. "We have a vote of the people, I think, the only place in America where a state actually said, 'Let's raise our taxes for our kids, for our schools, for our California dream.'"

Polling in the final weeks showed that the number of voters worried about those automatic cuts may have trumped the general reluctance to raise taxes, even though the bulk of the revenue would come from an income tax increase on the most wealthy.

Democrats, and their backers in organized labor, also cheered the defeat of Proposition 32 - the paycheck deduction measure that marked the third time voters have turned back limits on union political fundraising.

Voters seemed skeptical on a number of fronts - rejecting governance changes, auto insurance discounts, repeal of the death penalty, and labeling of genetically modified foods. They also rejected the tax hike that most vexed Brown over the last few months, wealthy activist Molly Munger's Proposition 38.

Two winning initiatives may thank, in part, their ability to fly under the radar of the other big political battles this season: Proposition 36, to modify the state's Three Strikes law, and Proposition 39, a tax increase on out-of-state corporations.

For Republicans statewide, it may be hard to see any silver lining... especially if they lose their small hold on legislative blocking power with the two-thirds. The governor and his fellow Democrats will no doubt want to see the dust settle before patting themselves on the back. But with a state now firmly in their control, the question is... what will they do with all that power?


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