Click photo to enlarge
Assembly candidate Mark Stone shares a laugh with supporters at the Watsonville Democratic Headquarters on election night. (Kevin Johnson/Sentinel)

SANTA CRUZ -- On Election Day, the Central Coast played a critical role in setting Democrats up to run the table when it comes to tax policy in Sacramento.

Voters statewide handed the party victories not only with Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 win, but with unexpected apparent super majorities in both houses of the Legislature. And critical in that effort was Carmel Sen.-elect Bill Monning's win, converting a newly drawn Central Coast Senate seat to Democratic hands.

"This seat was always seen as the first of the two we probably needed," said Monning, 61, of Democrats' Election Day strategy. "The second was uncertain."

The tactic of targeting swing districts paid off when Democrat Richard Roth of Riverside appeared to pick up the other needed seat. Democrats also were confident of a two-thirds majority in the Assembly, though it is still uncertain.

Monning is one of three Democrats forming a Monterey Bay delegation, and once sworn in Dec. 3, the trio would engage in a nearly unprecedented session in the state Capitol. No party has held super majorities, which allows one party to force through tax legislation, in nearly 80 years.

Joining Monning will be returning Watsonville Assemblyman Luis Alejo, 38, who should be able to exert more influence this session, and first-time state Assemblyman-elect Mark Stone, 55, of Scotts Valley. All three won Tuesday by commanding margins.


Advertisement

Stone said Prop 30's passage means the Capitol won't spend time sorting through the wreckage of trigger cuts that were set to go into effect if Prop. 30 failed.

"It lets us look to the future instead of trying to hash out where the cuts would be what that looks like," Stone said. "Now we've got a whole budget, looking ahead."

Monning also said the importance of the measure is hard to overstate.

"For me, that was without a doubt the most important issue in front of voters in California," Monning said. "For the health of California, Prop. 30, I think in my view, we underplayed the consequences of that failing. It's not a universal solution; it's a necessary or short-term solution."

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg called Prop 30's passage and the new super majorities a "real validation" of Democratic leadership. He said it is the first time since 1933 that one party held such commanding margins in both houses, which was then led by Republicans.

"I guess you might say it's our time," Steinberg joked during a Sacramento press conference Wednesday. "In all seriousness, I look at this as a great opportunity but also we take on this responsibility with great humility.

"We have the responsibility to move this state forward," he added. "We have the responsibility to produce. We have the responsibility to make needed changes here in California."

In the Assembly, a super majority appeared likely. Hours after polls closed, Assembly Speaker John Perez said his caucus would be focused on improving the state's economy.

Stone also said it's significant that Perez is a veteran of the Speaker's post.

"One thing I'm glad of is that given the super majority, we've got a speaker who has some experience leading and will be better be able to manage that," he said.

Most Sacramento Republicans oppose tax increases, and successive governors have put tax measure before the people in part to avoid that opposition.

But Prop. 30's passage could actually minimize the significant of Democrats' ability to push through tax increases. Using newfound powers to layer tax increases on top of the package just approved by voters might not go over well.

"I don't think anyone's looking at the two-thirds and saying, 'Oh, that means now we're going to raise taxes again.' I haven't heard that from any quarter," Monning said.

But Stone even the ability to force tax hikes improves Democrats' standing in Capitol debates.

"That question is pervasive. Whether or not you're raising taxes, the fact that you have that ability to influences other issues," Stone said.

And of course there is no guarantee that Democrats would act in unison when push comes to shove. It is easy to see how the party could become split negotiating the terms of its own success.

"I think it's a fair question because we're not a monolithic caucus," Monning said. "It may be we go from an obstinate vote within the Republican caucus to an obstinate vote within our own caucus."

Follow Sentinel reporter Jason Hoppin on Twitter at Twitter.com/scnewsdude

Senate, 17th District

Bill Monning 166,239
Larry Beaman 99,976
647 of 647 precincts reporting

Assembly, 29th District

Mark Stone 93,762
Tom Walsh 43,313
385 of 385 precincts reporting

Assembly, 30th District

Luis Alejo 48,230
Rob Bernosky 28,471
240 of 240 precincts reporting

STATE LEGISLATIVE RACES

29th Assembly district
Mark Stone: 55, D-Scotts Valley
tom walsh: 75, R-Bonny Doon

30th ASSEMBLY DISTRICT
ROB BERNOSKY: 49, R-Hollister
Luis alejo: 38, D-Watsonville

17th SENATE DISTRICT
BILL monning: 61, D-Carmel
larry beaman: 38, R-Scotts Valley