Dan Walters

Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013 – 12:00 am

Democrats won a 55-seat supermajority in the state Assembly last year, thanks to a couple of surprise wins in what seemed to be safe Republican districts. They kept it by eking out wins in two surprisingly close special elections this year.

Democrats also won a 29-seat supermajority in the state Senate last year, then dropped a seat in a special election.

Despite wide speculation about what supermajorities would bring, they meant virtually nothing this year, due to the unusually heavy spate of resignations and special elections and Democratic leaders’ go-slow attitude on using their theoretical power to raise taxes or pass constitutional amendments by two-thirds votes.

It’s theoretical because actually assembling two-thirds votes for taxes or major constitutional amendments would be difficult.

Both houses have blocs of moderate Democrats who would be reluctant to make such moves, and Gov. Jerry Brown is a barrier on taxes.

The hesitancy has dismayed those on the Democratic left, who envisioned achieving some long-sought goals, such as altering Proposition 13, the state’s property tax limit, or imposing new taxes on oil extraction.

“Use it or lose it” has been the left’s motto, and it appears that 2014 will tell us whether Democrats use their supermajorities and/or lose them during an off-year election with relatively low voter turnout.

The presidential contest drove turnout last year, but history tells us that it will be much lower in 2014, particularly since Democrats may be weighted down by the bollixed-up rollout of health insurance. Polls show a sharp erosion of President Barack Obama’s approval ratings.

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