Legislature returns, Democrats ponder their power

5:27 PM, Dec 3, 2012   |    comments
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Leave it to the newest and most unlikely legislator of them all to offer all of his colleagues at the state Capitol some words to live by.

"Now we've won and we're going to have to do something with it, and prove that we're worth being here," said Democrat Steve Fox, whose apparent 145 vote victory in a Southern California Assembly race earned him a last minute golden ticket to Sacramento.

Fox joined 119 other men and women Monday for the new two year session of the California Legislature, a session that already appears one for the history books. Just consider the milestones: largest freshman Assembly class in 80 years. New legislators who have the potential of serving more years (12) in one house than any newcomers since 1988. More openly gay members.

And, as much discussed, more Democrats in the statehouse that at any time since Chester A. Arthur was president in 1883.

Some are calling it Democratic dominance. But it's a dominance that doesn't quite yet have a shape and form to it, even as diehard party members want Dems to flex their political muscles... while others argue for a more cautious path to be taken.

"That discussion will continue, I'm sure, every day of every month for the next year as we really feel our way through this new mandate that we have," said state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance. Lieu found himself in a small political maelstrom just after the Nov. 6 election, with talk of increasing the state's vehicle license fee. That plan was quickly dropped.

But that doesn't mean controversial issues will be set aside. A review of the bills introduced on this first day of the 2013-2014 session seem to prove the point -- from a new effort to increase the minimum wage, to a revived plan to block some deportations of undocumented immigrants. And while most tax ideas may be set aside, others - like asking voters to make it easier to pass local parcel taxes earmarked for schools - seem full steam ahead.

Still, Democrats admit the tax debate is a dicey one so soon after a multi-billion dollar hike by voters.

"I think the public, before they want to do anything further with taxes, wants to see us do the job, wants to see California come back, wants to see that money well spent," said state Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara.

Republicans will no doubt be watching, too.

"We will see if it really was the will of the people to change that [legislative] ratio," said Assembly GOP leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare. "And we will also see if they're happy with the results of what they did in the election."

(NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the last year in which Democrats held a California legislative supermajority, and thus also misidentified the occupant of the White House in that year.)

My Storify look, through tweets, of the first big day back for legislators:


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