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State Legislative Tracker: California Legislature convenes, new Democratic super-majority takes power

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December 3, 2012

Edited by Greg Janetka
This week's tracker features a look at the California State Legislature's 2013-2014 session.

Weekly highlight

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This morning the California State Legislature officially convened their 2013-2014 Regular Session with an Organizational Session. During the session newly elected and re-elected members were sworn in. The new class includes a total of 39 freshman legislators - one in the senate and 38 in the assembly - the most since 1966.[1]

Today also marks the first time since 1883 that Democrats have held a "super-majority" (2/3rd of all seats) in both chambers, allowing them to, among other powers, pass tax increases without any Republican support.[2] That status, however, will be shortlived as a number of vacancies and special elections will leave them without the necessary two-thirds of members in the Assembly. However, once all the special elections are over, Democrats will most likely regain their super-majority in the fall.

If events transpire as currently expected, Democrats will only have until late April to wield their newly-acquired powers. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D) initially stated, "We will exercise this new power with strength, but also with humility and reason," but what will actually happen is anyone's guess. Democrats are meeting in caucus today to decide just how they will move forward. While some are pushing for a dramatic use of power, others, primarily those who ran close races in swing districts, are operating more cautiously.[3]

Here's why the super-majority will disappear:[4]

  • Two Democratic state senators - Juan Vargas and Gloria Negrete-McLeod - won election to Congress on November 6. These vacancies will lead to special elections once they are sworn in to their new positions. Even after they leave Democrats could retain a super-majority in the Senate, but it could be shortlived if Sen. Curren Price wins election to the Los Angeles City Council.
  • Two Democratic Assemblymembers have said they will run for the soon-to-be vacant senate seats. If one or both wins, which is expected, Democrats will lose their super-majority in the Assembly.

The last time Democrats held a super-majority in the Assembly was 1975-79. Paul Priolo, who served as the Republican leader at the time, offered some advice to the incoming GOP minority - "Stop stonewalling on everything — being against everything. Find out where you can work together. You've got to sit down and B.S. and find some common ground."[5]

Of course, Priolo additionally noted that while this strategy was politically effective and kept the GOP from being shut out entirely, it also led to his demise as leader. Newly elected conservative Republicans, angered that he would work with the opposition, removed him from power.[5]


This week 6 out of 50 state legislatures are meeting in regular session. California began their 2013 session today, while Maine will convene on Wednesday.

Forty-one states have adjourned for the year, while four states - Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Texas - were not scheduled to hold regular sessions in 2012.

Current sessions capture for the week of December 3, 2012

Regular sessions

See also: Dates of 2012 state legislative sessions and Dates of 2013 state legislative sessions
Click here to see a chart of each state's 2012 session information.

Work on 2013 legislation is underway in a number of states: drafting has begun in Montana, Nevada, and Wyoming, while prefiling is going on in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.[6]

Special sessions

Snapshot of State Legislatures:
Monday, December 3, 2012
There are 7,383 Total State Legislators
Total Democratic state legislators 3,298 (44.7%)
Total Republican state legislators 3,948 (53.5%)
There are 99 Total State Legislative Chambers
Total Democratic Party-controlled chambers 36
Total Republican Party-controlled chambers 59
Total tied or nonpartisan chambers 4
2012 Session Information
Total Special Elections 39
Total Special Sessions 20

In 2011, special sessions were a widespread occurrence in state legislatures. This was largely due to states' having to complete the redistricting process for legislative and congressional districts. Overall in 2011, there were 45 special sessions in 28 states.

During 2012, there have been 20 special sessions in 16 states. There is one special session scheduled to take place this week in Delaware.


Gov. Jack Markell (D) called the Delaware State Senate to hold a special session on December 5 to address judicial confirmations.[7] It will require the official swearing-in of six new Senators who were elected on November 6.[8]

In recess

As of today, December 3, 2 state's sessions are currently in recess:

  • New York - In recess from June 22, 2012 to December 10, 2012.[9]
  • Wisconsin - In recess from March 17 to December 31, 2012.[9]
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See also: State legislative special elections, 2012 and State legislative special elections, 2013

So far in 2012 there have been 39 special elections in 16 states.

There is one special election taking place this week in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin State Senate District 33

Rich Zipperer (R) resigned his seat effective August 5, 2012 in order to become Gov. Scott Walker's deputy chief of staff and senior legal counsel.[10] The special election to fill the seat will take place on December 4, 2012, with the primary on November 6. Candidates had until October 9 to file.[11][12] Chris Kapenga conceded the November 6 Republican primary race to Paul Farrow. Since no Democrat filed to run, barring a successful write-in campaign, Farrow will win the seat.[13]

General election candidates:
Republican Party Paul Farrow

Recent election results

New Jersey Assembly District 16

Peter Biondi (R) passed away on November 10, 2011 after a battle with cancer.[14] A special election to fill his seat was called for November 6, 2012--local party officials selected Donna Simon (R) to serve in the interim.[15][16] While Simon initially declared victory on November 6, challenger Marie Corfield (D) refused to concede as many ballots remained outstanding and unofficial results showed Simon leading Corfield by about 1,700 votes.[17] Finally, on December 2, Simon affirmed her victory in the race.[18]

Looking ahead

Upcoming special elections include:

  • December 4: Wisconsin State Senate District 33
  • December 11: Alabama House of Representatives Districts 30, 34
  • December 11: Iowa State Senate District 22
  • December 18: Kentucky State Senate District 16
  • December 18: Virginia House of Delegates District 89
  • January 8, 2013: California State Senate District 4
  • January 8, 2013: Georgia State Senate District 30
  • January 8, 2013: Mississippi House of Representatives District 59
  • January 22, 2013: Iowa House of Representatives District 52
  • March 12, 2013: South Carolina House of Representatives District 17
  • April 6, 2013: Louisiana House of Representatives District 65

See also


  1. Sacramento Bee, "California Legislature welcomes largest freshman class since 1966," December 3, 2012 (dead link)
  2. Central Valley Business Times, "California Legislature returned to work," December 3, 2012
  3. Mercury News, "California Democrats' supermajority powers will be short-lived," December 3, 2012
  4. KPCC, "Democrats unlikely to leverage Sacramento super majority until fall," November 28, 2012
  5. 5.0 5.1 Los Angeles Times, "Keys to a California GOP comeback: camaraderie and good ideas," December 2, 2012
  6. StateNet, "Daily Session Summary," accessed December 3, 2012
  7. WGMD, "Gov. Jack Markell Calls for Special Session of State Senate," November 27, 2012
  8. Delaware Online, "Markell calls special session for judge votes," November 27, 2012
  9. 9.0 9.1 StateScape, Session schedules, accessed December 3, 2012
  10. WisPolitics, "Zipperer resigning Senate seat to join Walker's staff," July 18, 2012
  11. TMJ4, "Special election for state Senate set for Nov. 6," September 18, 2012
  12. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Republicans Farrow, Kapenga to run for vacant state Senate seat," October 9, 2012
  13. Waukesha Patch, "Kapenga Concedes to Farrow in 33rd Senate District," November 7, 2012
  14. NewJerseyNewsroom.com, "Funeral service for N.J. Assemblyman Peter Biondi held in Somerville," November 14, 2011
  15. NJ.com, "Biondi succession in the 16th District complicated by timing, redistricting," November 14, 2011
  16. NJ Assembly Republicans, "Led by DeCroce & Simon, women members of NJ Legislature surge," March 5, 2012
  17. Lehigh Valley Live, "New Jersey Assembly race - Donna Simon-Marie Corfield - remains too close to call," November 7, 2012
  18. NJ.com, "Assemblywoman Donna Simon affirms victory in 16th District," December 2, 2012