Renewed Opportunity for a Two-thirds Majority in the California Legislature: Democratic Write-In Candidate to Run Against Republican Senator Maldonado

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With the announcement yesterday of Dennis Morris’ write-in candidacy for the Democratic nomination in SD-15, alongside four other candidacies which I’ll discuss in a moment, we now have a renewed opportunity to win a 2/3 majority in the State Senate this fall.

Democrats in California have been slow to recognize this opportunity and to take full advantage of it. Don Perata is partly to blame for this, as he blew two priceless chances to help accomplish 2/3 by not finding a challenger to Abel Maldonado here in SD-15, and by prematurely abandoning his backing of the Denham recall a few weeks ago. But despite the lack of support from Sacramento, grassroots activists across the state have mobilized and even put forth candidates to challenge Republicans, in districts both purple and red.

The 2/3 goal is one of the most important tasks facing California Democrats this year. As the state budget requires a 2/3 majority to pass, Republicans are able to leverage their greater-than-a-third minority to hold the budget and therefore the entire state hostage to their ridiculous and reckless demands for spending cuts that hurt the economy and most Californians.

Eventually voters will have to change that rule, but until then, our only option is to do something about it – seek 2/3 majorities in both houses. A 2/3 majority, even if it just lasts two years, would be transformative for California. Democrats could govern without Republican obstruction, and could even govern without Arnold (since 2/3 is also the figure needed to override a veto). Dems could push through structural budget reforms and go to voters in 2010 with a record of accomplishment, instead of having to explain to voters why it’s not their fault nothing gets done in Sacramento.

We are closer to 2/3 in the Senate than we are in the Assembly, as just TWO seats will produce the 2/3 majority that we need. The best chances at this are SD-12 (currently represented by Republican Jeff Denham), SD-15 We have a +3 registration advantage in SD-15, +5 in SD-12, and are only – 2 in SD-19, where we are closing the gap fast (Ventura County gained a Democratic registration majority in the most recent numbers).

The numbers and the budget fight are two compelling arguments for a serious 2/3 strategy by California Democrats. So is the incoming leadership in the Legislature. Karen Bass and Darrell Steinberg are two good progressives, but for their terms in office to have maximum effect, they need bigger majorities. Steinberg in particular can benefit from a push for 2/3, as it will strengthen his hand in budget negotiations for Republican Senators to know that Dems are gunning hard for their seats.

For those reasons we need to give the Democratic Senate challengers as much support as possible over the coming months. We need to start here on the Central Coast – Simon Salinas in SD-12 and Dennis Morris in SD-15 need votes for June 3, which is do-or-die for them both. If the Denham recall fails, Salinas will not have the chance to replace him. And if Dennis Morris does not get the 3,698 write-in votes he needs on June 3, he won’t be the Democratic nominee on the November ballot.

But there are other challengers who deserve our support. Hannah-Beth Jackson is running in SD-19, currently represented by the odious Tom McClintock. This is a seat we can win and Jackson is one of the state’s leading progressives, as seen through her Speak Out CA site. Jackson will be the Democratic nominee for November, and has an excellent chance of winning – but without either SD-12 or SD-15 as well, we won’t have a 2/3 majority.

Finally there are two Southern California Democrats making a bold yet difficult challenge to some of California’s most far-right legislators. Gary Pritchard is running in SD-33 in Orange County, likely against Howard Jarvis acolyte Mimi Walters. In SD-17 Bruce McFarland is taking on Sharon Runner. Although these seats are going to be harder to win, these candidacies show that the California Democratic grassroots is stepping up to fight Republicans and win the 2/3 majority needed to fix California.

Will Sacramento Democrats step up to the plate and help these challengers?

Robert Cruickshank is a historian, activist, and teacher living in Monterey. He is a contributing editor at Calitics.com and works for the Courage Campaign, in addition to teaching political science at Monterey Peninsula College. Currently he is completing his Ph.D. dissertation in US history, on progressive politics in San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s. A native Californian, he was raised in Orange County and educated at UC Berkeley.

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