LOS ANGELES — Months of campaigning and millions of dollars spent on 100 legislative races across California boiled down to a handful of contests Tuesday to decide whether Democrats can seize unbridled control of the state Senate for the first time in nearly a half-century.
Democrats are two seats away from the two-thirds Senate majority they need to approve tax increases, pass emergency legislation, override governors’ vetoes and change house rules while ignoring Republicans.
New Senate boundaries drawn after the 2010 census gave them the opportunity to gain a supermajority for the first time since California voters passed Proposition 13 in 1978, raising the legislative vote threshold to pass tax increases to two-thirds. Democrats also are two seats short of a supermajority in the Assembly but were not expected to reach the threshold there this year.
“We’re confident in our key races and confident we’re getting to a working majority in the Senate,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said in a telephone interview. “It’s time to start anew and to live within our means but at the same time invest in the cornerstone of our future and of our economy, and that’s education.”
The last time either party gained a supermajority in either chamber was in the 1976 election, when Democrats won a two-thirds margin in the Assembly. The last supermajority in the Senate dates to 1965.
Democrats were on track to gain the Central Coast seat currently held by Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, who retired when the new Senate map turned his swing district safely Democratic.
They expected the second seat to be the 19th Senate District in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, where former Democratic Assemblywoman Hannah Beth Jackson was leading Republican attorney Mike Stoker.
Democratic attorney Richard Roth of Riverside was slightly ahead of Assemblyman Jeff Miller, R-Corona, in Riverside County’s 31st Senate District. Meanwhile, Democratic Assemblyman Marty Block was leading in the San Diego-centered 39th Senate District over Republican George Plescia, a former Assembly minority leader.
However, Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, was trailing in her bid for re-election in the 27th Senate District. She faced GOP challenger Todd Zink, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, in the district that includes portions of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
Termed-out Democratic Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani was slightly behind Republican Assemblyman Bill Berryhill in the Central Valley’s 5th Senate District. The Stockton-based district includes parts of Sacramento, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.
“It’s too early to really tell, but we’re feeling good about the 5th and the 27th,” said Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar. However, he noted that even if Republicans prevail there, they only need to lose one seat elsewhere to hand Democrats a supermajority.
Aside from having new political boundaries drawn for the first time by an independent citizens commission, candidates were selected this year under a new top-two primary system. Of the 100 state legislative races this year, 20 involved candidates from the same party running against each other.
In the San Francisco Bay Area’s 19th Assembly District, for instance, Michael Breyer, son of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, was trailing fellow Democrat Phil Ting. Ting is the San Francisco assessor.
Incumbent Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Roseville, was leading Republican attorney Andy Pugno in suburban Sacramento’s 6th Assembly District. Pugno is best known as the attorney who represented supporters of the 2008 Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriages.
Ian Charles Calderon was leading in his bid to succeed his father, termed-out Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, in the safely Democratic 57th Assembly District in Los Angeles County. A win by Calderon would continue the family’s 30-year political dynasty into a second generation.
State Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood, was on his way to winning re-election in the safely Democratic 35th Senate District despite fighting eight felony counts of voter fraud and perjury alleging that he lived outside his district.
But Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon was behind in the San Fernando Valley’s 39th Assembly District as he awaits trial on 17 state charges of perjury and voter fraud stemming from allegations he lived outside his council district.
Tuesday also was the primary election to replace state Sen. Doug La Malfa, R-Willows, who resigned his 4th Senate District seat to run for Congress. Republican Assemblyman Jim Nielsen of Gerber had a bare majority of the vote among five candidates in the Northern California district. If he falls short of 50 percent of the vote, a special run-off election will be held Jan. 8.