Political Change in Sacramento

As of this month, Gavin Newsom is the 40th Governor of the State of California, every statewide Constitutional officer is a Democrat, and the Democratic Party has a super-majority of both houses of the State Legislature. This is a situation that is without precedent in the history of our state – and it’s hard to know what will come next.

The numbers are so heavily in the Democrats’ favor that to get elected as Republican Leader in the State Senate now only takes 5 votes, which is precisely what happened this month when Senate Republicans chose Senator Shannon Grove as their new leader.

What does the strong showing of the California Democratic Party mean on critical issues, including healthcare and education, housing and homelessness, and jobs and the economy? With the increased numbers and a Governor that is considered more liberal than former Governor Jerry Brown, Democrats could pass new taxes without a single Republican vote or approve laws that previously may have fallen short or been the victim of a governor’s veto – in other words, even though the Democratic Party has been ascendant in California for decades, this is still a whole new ballgame in Sacramento.

There will be a lot to watch in the coming legislative session. While California is clearly steering in the direction of Democrats and leading the resistance against the policies of Donald Trump, this new class of Democrats may not necessarily move the state much further to the left.  Many of these Democrats were elected in moderate districts and have a history of being pro-business.  Even Gavin Newsom as mayor of San Francisco was considered a pro-business leader and I expect that will continue in his role as governor and as he determines his next political position.

Historically, to stop a bill in the State Assembly, interest groups would work to get all the Republicans to join a handful of Democrats to vote no. Now, though, with 60 Democrats in the 80-member State Assembly, in order to kill a bill, more Democrats (21) than Republicans (20) are needed in order to get the 41 votes to stop legislation. This will certainly be a challenge for legislative advocates as they navigate this new terrain.

These new dynamics will not only play out on state issues but will likely have national implications as Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins look to continue to lead on issues of climate change, immigrant protections, healthcare for all, and civil rights, among other issues. Many of the newly elected members of the State Legislature are pragmatic, though – the party is not entirely filled with ideologues. Many want to protect the needs of workers and help ensure families can thrive in California, while also building a strong economy, which has now grown to be the fifth largest in the world.

In Republican circles, they are also discussing the future of their party in California.  They too are not a monolithic group, and a group of Republicans led by Assemblyman Chad Mayes have started a moderate caucus called the “New Way Republicans,” which seeks to find bipartisan solutions.

Regardless of where one stands in the political spectrum, change is certain in Sacramento. Only time will tell how the partisan makeup of the Legislature will affect public policy in California, and, given our status as leaders, the nation.

In the coming months, I look forward to reporting back to readers how things are moving in the State Capitol and bring you greater insight into your state government.

Adam Keigwin is Managing Director in the Sacramento office of Mercury Public Affairs (www.MercuryLLC.com).