The Democratic Supermajority: Use It or Lose It


Posted on 13 November 2012

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By Robert Cruickshank

Democratic control of the California State Legislature is nothing new. Since 1970 Democrats have dominated the Capitol, with Republicans having only a narrow majority in the Assembly for a short 2-year period in the 1990s and never having control of the Senate in that time. But since 1978, Democratic majorities have been essentially meaningless. Proposition 13 required a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise taxes, a conservative attempt to seize power they had failed to win at the ballot box. In November 2012, Democrats finally won the two-thirds majority in the Legislature that had been so close in recent years.

The question on everyone's mind is now "what will Democrats do with their new power?" To hear California's punditocracy tell it, Democrats shouldn't do much of anything. These pundits, who have been slow to grasp the massive changes in California politics that have unfolded over the last few years, argue that Democrats should be ultra-cautious and resist attempts to make big changes. Larry Gerston provides a classic example of the genre:

Still two facts are clear. First, the Democrats need to be careful not to go so far that they upset those who put them in this exalted position. And second, the Democrats should not take fellow Democrat Jerry Brown for granted as an automatic ally, given Brown's penchant to not raise any taxes without voter approval.

Gerston, like the other pundits, completely misreads the situation. The only way Democrats can upset those who put them in this exalted position is to be hesitant and timid. As recent history shows, Democratic supermajorities always evaporate when they aren't used to solve deeper problems.

California Democrats have a supermajority because the new electorate has killed off the Republican Party, just as I said it would two years ago, and put Democrats in power to renew the California Dream by using government to rebuild social democracy and the prosperity it creates. Democrats didn't win because moderates swung their way, they won the same way President Obama won - by cranking out the progressive electorate to overwhelm the remnants of conservative California.

Here's the key: For Democrats to hold these new seats, they have to keep that base happy and engaged in politics. If they disappoint that base, if they fail to solve the problems of that base, those voters won't turn out in big numbers in 2014 and Democrats will guarantee they will lose the supermajority they finally won.

These pundits, almost all of them white men like me, do not understand this new situation. They're locked into the old mentality of politics, which held that majorities were won by getting enough moderate white support. Those days are over. Here in 21st century California, you win and keep power by engaging, empowering, and improving the lives of a diverse, progressive majority.

History proves this theory. In 2006 and 2008, Democrats won two big national elections, seizing first the Congress and then the White House. Obama's 2008 victory brought with it a Democratic supermajority in the Senate, finally reaching the crucial 60 vote threshold that had long eluded Democrats.

But instead of using this majority to solve the pressing problems facing the country, Democrats took a too-cautious approach. They passed a convoluted health care reform bill that few understood and that didn't excite the base. The February 2009 stimulus was good, if too small, but it wasn't followed up with any systematic job creation efforts. Immigration reform went nowhere. Labor unions and environmentalists sat and watched as their key legislative goals were abandoned. LGBT rights sat on the back burner until activists forced it to the top of the agenda on the eve of the 2010 elections.

The result was that in 2010, the electorate that won the 2006 and 2008 elections for the Democrats stayed home - and Democrats lost the House of Representatives as a result. In 2012, that electorate returned, and Republicans were dealt a smashing defeat.

A similar phenomenon recently took place in a West Coast legislature. In 2006 and 2008, Democrats won two-thirds majorities in Washington State. Just as in Congress, however, Democrats failed to use that majority to solve major problems. Democratic leaders in Olympia chose the path of caution, worried that they would lose the swing seats if they moved too boldly to address the state's revenue crisis, create jobs, or improve schools. But because of that caution, Washington State Democrats failed to reward their electorate, and lost that supermajority in 2010 anyway.

Political reality, then, makes it absolutely clear that Democrats need to deliver meaningful improvements to people's daily lives if they are going to keep their supermajority. However, that doesn't mean they should just pass whatever they want. Legislators should assume any tax increase or substantial policy action will be put on the ballot for a referendum by wealthy conservatives. Democratic leaders will need to work hand-in-hand with California's progressive movement to determine and then implement a reform agenda over the next two years. Only by a coordinated effort will that reform agenda withstand the certain counterrevolution from the rich that would come at the November 2014 ballot.

What should that agenda look like? Here are just a few ideas:

  • Make it even easier to vote. Online voter registration was a big key to the Democratic victories this fall, but there's still a lot of work to be done to make it easier for people to express their democratic rights. Same day registration is a good place to start.
  • Bring even more revenue to the schools. Even with the passage of Prop 30, there's still a lot of work to do to fix education. As Scott Lay of the Community College League pointed out on Twitter late last week, Prop 30 brings in $200 million for community colleges - but they've faced $800 million in cuts since 2008. Prop 30 will help California's public schools, but they've been underfunded since 1978 and the new revenue won't fully fix that problem. What's the answer - an oil severance tax? More closed loopholes, something voters showed they'd support by passing Prop 39? More taxes on the rich? Whatever the means, California's schools still need help.
  • Make sure every Californian gets good health care. There's no excuse now for not passing single-payer, nor is there any excuse for even something as simple as rate regulation for the current private insurers. Health care in California took a lot of cuts since 2007, and the federal health care bill won't fully reverse those problems. Vermont is moving toward a single-payer system. California should join them.
  • Do something to create jobs. Recovery is still slow in California, it's uneven, and wages aren't rising as fast as they should. A comprehensive job creation strategy, likely involving direct government hiring, should be high on the agenda. Matching this with clean energy would be a good start. Infrastructure repair makes sense too. And while they're at it, a solution to the ongoing foreclosure crisis would be especially wise from both an economic and a political perspective.
  • Fix the Constitution. California's constitution has serious problems that get in the way of effective government. The Democratic supermajority can't amend the constitution itself, but it can propose new amendments without having to raise a dime for signature gathering to do so. Well-funded neoliberal groups like "California Backward", whose Prop 31 got clobbered, and Nicholas Berggruen's Think Long group, are likely to come up with their own fixes. Democrats should preempt them with sensible changes.

What might those look like? Fixing Prop 13 would be a good start - a split roll, perhaps? Eliminating the two-thirds rule for local tax revenue is probably a more likely win than eliminating the two-thirds rule for the legislature, and with transportation measures in Los Angeles and Alameda counties "failing" even with 64% support, the need for a fix is clear. Dems could even be bold and abolish the useless State Senate and tripling the size of the Assembly. And a fix to the initiative process, whatever that might be, would be especially appropriate after the Munger insanity this year.

That's a brief list, and I'm sure there's a lot more that can and should be listed. But the point here is that unless California's Democratic supermajority uses its power to fix some of the state's deeper problems, they absolutely will lose that supermajority in 2014.


Robert Cruickshank writes on California politics at Calitics and California High Speed Rail Blog. This article was originally published at Calitics.

Before the Democrats flex their muscles, they should not raise any taxes until they order performance audits to be made of every tax-funded agency to see where the money is going. They should also impose a salary and retirement benefits limits on all agencies. E.g., legislate that no tax-supported agency could grant a salary above $100,000. Employees must contribute to their retirement and they could not retire before 65 with only 2% for each year of service.--with no enhancements (unused sick leave, etc.) and no life-time health.

I agree to this comment. As an Auditor-Accountant-financial analyst and former compliance auditor for a State....It is crucial that an operational and financial Audit be done and past audit recommendation imposed by enforced. The subject and scope of Audit performance should be expanded commensurate to the problems that brought the State into nearly collapse of not only our government but most importantly the states' economy.

Lets' place vengence in a positive note by holding those responsible accountable for their part in this unexcusable derilic of government duty for which failed the people it is suppose to serve the general public of California. The results of such accountability will deter those criminals that has infiltrated our government. The people of California should stand up against any form of exercises of abuses; misuses that has manifested in the recent 5 decades. We the people must unite and make clear that WE THE PEOPLE have had ENOUGH and we are not going to take it(status quo)anymore without a fight in the next election. Audit we demand is an open, transparent, and a meaningful one that WE THE PEOPLE can openly evaluate; examine and so WE THE PEOPLE can make IMPORTANT decisions with regards to our governments' activities. We need to know where the problems began and who benefitted from it. THAT IS THE CHECK and BALANCE that is long time missing and is long overdue.

XYZZXSJ02

Time to close down chevron and mobile and Texaco and p
Bp committees to preserve the 2/3reds rule and for heavens sake finally tax big oil for extraction of our finite resource just like every other state and nation! They've bullied state politics long enough. If yoursserious about ending bullying in this world start with these companies even Forbes has occasionally called reprehensible for not paying taxes while providing the fewest number of jobs per profit ratio of all industries.... sometthing like $15million net per actual oil company employee... jobs creators? Not bloody likely.

I agree. Only we the people have the collective power to unleash or uncuffed our government from corporate that bought out our politicians to advance their corporate agendas and interest that are in conflict with the peoples rights and interest.

We must close out the loopholes once and for all. Corporation must learn that without the people; the consumer; the labor; the professionals; (doctors; lawyers; accountants; techies; teachers;)and artist, their corporation would not have exist and succeeded. It is the people that made everything possible and it is time to pay them back. Yes pay back-by profit-sharing and tax sharing burdens. Lets begin by restoring efficiency to the employees safety-net and undo the loopholes, and create a solid labor laws that are acceptable by the voters that prevent this assult of labor, and allocate more funding to enforcement department that are to be self-funded and set up penalties for those that violate to deter this kinds of practices in the future. I say self-funding so that investigators are more motivated to enforce the LAW when their existence is depended on it. Additional funding should be granted from the General Fund ONLY to help meet this objective and that any penalties collected be accounted (not intermingle with) under special fund that should be audited by random independent private auditors in our states and communities through lawful bidding for this services in an Annual Basis. Such Audit Report should be transparent to the public at large.

XYZZXSJO2

Mr. Cruickshank, have you ever actually run a "for profit" business? You really think that you can solve our economic problems by simply saying, "let the government employ everybody?"
The government involvement and taxing of everything is the main reason why unemployment is over 10% and is staying that way. How happy are people going to be over the next few years when unemployment is about 11 to 12%?

You said: "Fix the Constitution. California's constitution has serious problems that get in the way of effective government. The Democratic supermajority can't amend the constitution itself, but it can propose new amendments without having to raise a dime for signature gathering to do so. Well-funded neoliberal groups like "California Backward", whose Prop 31 got clobbered, and Nicholas Berggruen's Think Long group, are likely to come up with their own fixes. Democrats should preempt them with sensible changes."

I disagree. The biggest problem IS that there are clearly those individuals that DOES NOT HONOR OUR STATES AND FEDERAL CONSTITUTION. YOU KNOW who I am taking about and I am SURE they know who they are (the lawbreakers).

The Judicial System need much needed reform and fixing before Justice system can be effective. In the past DECADES, many people has written blogs about California's judicial institution and system. I must say they have been very disturbing. I remained skeptic until I myself have virtually experienced all that bloggers and victims of the justice system has vehemently written about in the past several years as I went through the Justice System since I was injured on the job in January 20, 2004 and wen through all level of the court system from Administrative Law Justice to Superior Court Justice, to WCAB to 9th District Court of Appeal--to the Supreme Court Justice of California.

Most disturbing was the recent blog which former AG Elliot Pitzer has written about the Corrupt Judicial System that has plague many States Justice System including California. As an Auditor, This information has prompted me to do my own investigation, research, probed more as I go through my own defending my claim. It is clear that Average Citizens who does not know their rights or rely MUCH on their attorneys legal advices and to protect and preserve their legal interest are in great danger of being exploited by the Justice System as it is NOW. Unless and until those in this Justice System adhere to the peoples' Constitutional Rights; victims of this system will NOT (I repeat NOT) be able to vindicate their claims against the wrong-doers and bring them to justice and be held accountable.

There is no sense of bring any claim to a lawsuit unless and until TRUST and CONFIDENCE is restored in our Justice System. At the current condition--with very little resources and misused resources of the Justice system and its conspiratory acts of the past and politicising issues before the Court the PEOPLE have NO JUSTICE. Period. The system is meaningless and used ONLY for legal battles between Corporation. A single individual will potentially lose every case brought to the court unless ONE knows their rights, familiar with the existing laws; and past rulings by the court and most importantly the Rules of Canon and the Ethic the legal industry must follow. Unsuspecting individuals, uneducated in LAW and common ignorance WILL have no chance at ALL in the current state of our Justice System.

Richard I Fine, a Well known and international legal scholar and former US Prosecutor, legal scholar and many courageous Lawyers who challenge our legal system has been "PUNISHED" by corrupt Justices.

Its been found by Bill Windsor founder of LAWLESS AMERICA and other anti-corruption activist and bloggers that our System is nearly collapse and that Justice no longer serve the public--only the cororate interest. The people MUST lose FOCUS on cleaning up the Justice System FIRST AND FOREMOST before the rest of government (Legislative and the Executive Branch can be reformed and effective). How can we hold corrupt government officials and administrator to account when the Justice System is just as or perhaps seriously corrupted.

PEOPLE OF THIS NATION AND IN THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA HAVE NO CHANCE OF RESTITUTION FROM CRIMES COMMITTED AGAINST THEM WHEN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM HAS BECOME JUST A POLITICAL TOOL TO ADVANCE SELF-SERVING AGENDAS OF THOSE THAT SOLD US OUT.

UNTIL WE COME TO GRIP WITH THIS REALITY, WE AS PEOPLE ARE DOOMED BY THOSE WHO CORRUPTED OUR SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT. ENFORCEMENT OF THE LAW IS CRUCIAL FOR DEMOCRACY TO RULE. IT IS A FALSE ASSUMPTION TO SAY THAT OUR CONSTITUTION IS NO LONGER EFFECTIVE. I ARGUE THAT IT IS IN FACT AS SOLID AS THE PEOPLE EXPECT IT AND BELIEVE IT TO BE. WE JUST NEED THE RIGHT PEOPLE TO ENFORCE THEM IN OUR GOVERNMENT. THE FIRST STEP IS TO HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE FOR ABUSING THOSE POWER AND FOR NOT ADHERING TO OUR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS.

PEOPLE SHOULD REMEMBER THAT ANY AMENDMENT TO OUR CONSTITUTION AND LAWS THAT ARE MADE WITHOUT THE 'PEOPLES' CONSENT THROUGH THEIR VOTING RIGHTS ARE UNCONSTITUIONAL. SUCH AN ACTION THAT BETRAYS THAT TRUST IS A CRIME AGAINST 'PEOPLE'. NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW.

LETS START WITH REPEALING SB211 (AN UNCONSTITUTIONAL LAW) PAST BY OUR ELECTED OFFICIAL IN CONCERT WITH THE THREE BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT AND BY THOSE WHO ARE LAPDOGS TO CORPORATION THAT ARE IN CONFLICT WITH THE INTEREST OF THE PEOPLE AND BY THE PEOPLE.

IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT WE "SEPARATE" THE STATE BAR FROM THE JUSTICE SYSTEM. IT HAS BEEN FOUND THAT CHIEF JUSTICE RONALD GEORGE HAS ABUSED HIS POWER OVER THE CALIFORNIA BAR TO PUNISH HONEST LAWYERS. UNTIL THIS IS CORRECTED, GOOD LAWYERS ARE BEHOLDEN TO THAT ABUSE OF POWER OF THE CHIEF JUSTICE.

XYZZXSJ02

For Example:

The current Department of Industrial head (Christine Baker) subsequently named in the case titled Duncan v WCAB, X.S) now known as Baker v WCAB, XS (formerly aka the Duncan case who was then appointed by Republican Governor A.S) has been silent on the fact that there has been a claim brought by XYZZXSJ02 for the breach of privacy committed by the State Department and counsel during the final stages of the legal battle for COLA.

The California Supreme Court has been given NOTICE of this incident (the breach of privacy) to the Supreme Court by X.S 's attorney Art Johnson and before the Panel of California Supreme Court made it ruling; which were headed then by the present Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye (also appointed by former Republican Gov. A.S.). According to the Rule of Canon, she is in charge of maintaining the "integrity" of the Court and the Justice System.

Instead proceeded to make its' ruling on the COLA issue when there was evident that XS has been violated of it's right under the Victims of Rights Act; Anti-discrimination Laws; American Disability Acts; and rights to enforce a protective Court-Order therefore not only adversely impacting XS's right to protection and privacy but also extend to the Rights of ALL Injured Workers and for that matter the rights of LABOR and the people it serves (the Citizens of California). By extending THAT Judicial Power unchecked, it is the kind of abuses our fore-father has warned us when they wrote our Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The California Supreme Court has made its final ruling on the issue of Labor code 4659 (c)in August 11, 2011 and YET the current administration of DIR(SIF) has NOT made the necessary adjustment to XYZZXSJ02's weekly pay to reflect "final Ruling" made nearly one and a half years ago. Instead DIR division made FALSE claim of making "OVERPAYMENT" to XYZZX; when in FACT the "overpayment" on their DIR's RECORD was in FACT a mis-entry of VOIDED CHECKS that was presented by XYZZX to be examined by the State Bureau of Audit for FRAUD and another discovered by XS to be a MISCLASSIFICATION of PAYMENT in DIR's record made as a "payment for "BURIAL EXPENSE" to XYZZXSJ02".

XYZZXSJO2 is STILL ALIVE.

WORST YET--DIR division staff offered to settle this "OVERPAYMENT" in exchange for the underpayment for not adhering to make the necessary ADJUSTMENTS to XYZZXSJO2's weekly indemnity payment that should reflect the rulings made by the California Supreme Court regarding the calculation of COLA.

WE THE PEOPLE HAVE A VERY SERIOUS PROBLEM in California.

When the highest court loses the TRUST and Confidence of the PEOPLE its credibility and intergrity of the Court ceases to exist.

What has the Chief Justice of California Supreme Court done to protect the rights and interest of XYZZXSJ02? It's been over ONE YEAR NOW since the VIOLATION occured. Only she can restore Justice by holding those individuals accountable to the crimes committed against XYZZXSJ02. Obstructing such fundamental rights due to XYZZXSJ02 is a serious offense against every Citizens in the State of California. Governor Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris has been elected by the Californians to do the peoples' business and this is A SERIOUS issue of PUBLIC INTEREST.

Committing a crime in the Justice System is a serious people's business--worst yet when it implicates the California Supreme Court Justice. Crime by Chief Justices and the Associate Justice in the highest Court of California are an impeacheable offense under color of law.

Let me remind Ms. Christine Baker her oath that she is not above the Law and the people through their advocates demand transparency and openess in her post.

XYZZXSJ02