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Democrats Gain Supermajority In California Assembly

SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) -- Democrats have gained a supermajority in both houses of the California Legislature for the first time since the 19th century, after the Assembly reached the critical two-thirds threshold Wednesday.

That gives California's majority party complete dominance of state politics and the ability to raise taxes unilaterally if they choose. The party already had secured a two-thirds majority in the state Senate after last week's election.

Voting results in two key Assembly districts announced this week will give Democrats 54 seats in the 80-member Assembly, for a bare two-thirds majority. On Wednesday, The Associated Press called the 65th Assembly District race in Orange County for Democratic challenger Sharon Quirk-Silva.

She unseated incumbent Republican Assemblyman Chris Norby, 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent.

"They have spoken, and it looks like my 28 years in elected life is coming to an end," said Norby, who sat on the Fullerton City Council and Orange County Board of Supervisors before being elected to the Legislature. "But I was glad of the three years I had up there."

He said eliminating community redevelopment agencies remains his biggest accomplishment because he viewed them as "huge drain of public resources toward crony capitalism and eminent domain abuse."

This marks the first time since 1933, when Republicans were in control, that one party has held simultaneous supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature. The last time Democrats held supermajorities in the Assembly and Senate was 1883, about the time electricity was being developed for general use.

A two-thirds majority in both houses is enough for Democrats to approve tax increases, pass emergency legislation, override gubernatorial vetoes, place constitutional amendments before voters and change legislative rules while ignoring Republicans.

When the Legislature convenes next month, it will be the first time since 1978 that Democrats hold an Assembly supermajority, and it will be the first time since 1965 that they'll have a supermajority in the Senate.

"If this is what the voters statewide want, this is what they have," Norby said of the supermajorities. "But at the same time, we Republicans have to continue to offer a positive alternative, as well. I tried to do that working with Democrats on redevelopment, on marijuana law reform ... and also on education reform, as well, especially English-language learner program."

Quirk-Silva issued a statement to supporters Wednesday night saying voters sent a message that they wanted representation from someone "who would take our constituents' stories and values to the capitol and pursue their priorities."

Democratic leaders from both chambers have pledged to use their new power wisely, and Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has promised to rein in any excessive spending that might upset the state's recovering budget. All three contended that no tax increases are imminent, given that voters just last week approved Brown's Proposition 30, raising the statewide sales tax and increasing income taxes on the wealthy.

On Wednesday, before it was certain the Assembly would reach the two-thirds threshold, Brown said it will be his job to control the spending impulses of his fellow Democrats and ensure the state exercises fiscal discipline and builds a rainy day fund.

"There are fat years and there are lean years," Brown told reporters. "And my guide here is Joseph's recommendation to Pharaoh: 'Put your grain in your grainery against the tough times that are coming.'"

Yet Republicans already are anticipating that Democrats will try to eliminate tax exemptions, broaden the tax base and make other changes to boost revenue as they attempt to reverse or reduce some of the state's recent deep budget cuts. They also are free to adopt some of the social and labor programs that are a priority of their allies in organized labor.

"Now we're going on an unprecedented spending and taxing binge," predicted Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, who has been the Assembly Republicans' point person on the budget.

A supermajority gives Democrats "a blank check, a ticket to spend whatever they want," said Nielsen, who is the front-runner to fill a vacant Republican seat in the Senate.

Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, denied that intent a day after the election. At the time, he said he would not use the supermajority to raise taxes or other revenue, and he downplayed the importance of the two-thirds threshold, calling it "just a number."

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, was more expansive and has outlined a broader agenda that includes changing the tax code, the ballot initiative process and perhaps asking voters to legalize same-sex marriage.

"I promise that we will exercise this new power with strength, but also with humility and with reason," he said last week.

And while the legislative leaders downplayed the possibility, Democrats now have enough votes to override Brown's vetoes. For example, he has rejected bills that would have given overtime pay, meal breaks and other labor protections to caregivers, nannies and house cleaners in California, as well as legislation by Perez that would have expanded death benefits for the families of public safety workers.

The Office of the Chief Clerk of the Assembly said there have been no gubernatorial overrides since 1979, when Brown was governor the first time.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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