A deep blue sea of California lawmakers takes oath of office

Forget mere supermajorities. As a new class of legislators was sworn in today in Sacramento, the watchword for Democrats was “super-duper-majority.” Or maybe “mega-majority.” Or, as Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon put it, “gigamajority.”

In any case, Dems now hold 75 percent of the seats in the Assembly and nearly the same portion in the Senate—the most Democrats the state Capitol has seen in decades.

Among the expected priorities? Early childhood education, wildfire costs and prevention, health care, affordable housing, programs to combat poverty and inequality, and perhaps a fresh look at California’s tax system, just for starters. Though conventional wisdom might translate more Democrats to mean more liberal governance, however, that might not be the case.

Both Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon stressed in their welcome addresses that the state’s most urgent challenges—climate-driven disasters, gaping income inequality, homelessness—demand bipartisan solutions. This Legislature also is among the most diverse in state history: As if to underscore this year’s striking influx of women, at least 36 of whom were sworn in this morning, the Secretary of the Senate, Erika Contreras, juggled a baby as she was sworn in to the chamber’s top executive staff position.

Many of the newcomers also are from the Central Valley and conservative stretches of Southern California, where Democrats swept districts previously held by the GOP.

One race remains too close to call. Assemblyman Brian Maienschein took the oath but leads his Democratic challenger Sunday Gover with just 50.2 percent of the vote.

Since Maienschein was leading as of today, the rules permitted him to be sworn in—but he will be replaced if his win turns to a loss when final votes are counted.

The new class includes 10 more women than the last. Among them are lawyers,  businesswomen and the first pair of sisters to serve in the state Legislature. Here are a few more things you should know about this new group:

  • Nine new senators and eight new Assembly members were sworn in to the 120-person Legislature, the smallest new cohort in 30 years. The small crop of newcomers is due to a change voters made to term-limit rules, allowing lawmakers to run for the same office for up to 12 years. It means more legislators to run for re-election, and creates fewer opportunities for fresh blood until those 12-year spans start to turn over.
  • It’s been a record-breaking year for women taking office at the state and federal level combined. This year’s class of state lawmakers includes 36 women, which is 10 more than the previous session—a big jump that brings the Legislature close to its 2005-06 apex for female representation, when the body included 37 women. Even so, women still comprise just 30 percent of the Legislature overall.
  • The state Senate now has 29 Democrats. It’s been 56 years since Democrats had that many and kept them throughout the session. (The tumultuous 2013-14 session started with 29 Democrats but ended with 28 because of resignations, according to legislative historian Alex Vassar.)
  • Two Democratic businesswomen were sworn-in to represent coastal So-Cal districts that have been held by Republicans for decades. Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath of Encinitas is the first Democrat to represent North San Diego County since 1978. And Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris of Laguna Beach is the first Democrat representing her district since 1980.
  • Democratic Senator-elect Anna Caballero of Salinas will be the first non-Republican lawmaker elected from Madera county since 2000. The seat was hotly contested and millions were spent on campaigns there. The flip helped Democrats win a supermajority in the state Senate.
  • Democratic Assemblyman James Ramos of San Bernardino, who was born at the San Manuel Indian Reservation, becomes the first lawmaker born on Native American tribal territory, according to the Speaker’s Office.
  • The steep losses for Republicans meant that just one freshman GOP member was sworn into the Assembly—Tyler Diep of Westminster. It’s the first time since 1958 that the Assembly’s freshman class included just one Republican.
  • Democratic Sen. Melissa Hurtado of Sanger, 30, will be the youngest woman ever elected to serve in the state Senate. She’s the youngest state Senator since 1981. Adding to the blue wave, she’s also the first Democrat to serve from Tulare County since 2010, according to Vassar.
  • With Democrat Susan Rubio sworn into the Senate, the Legislature now includes a pair of sisters for the first time in state history; Democratic Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio is her sister. (Several pairs of brothers have served over the years.) Side-note: Former Assemblyman Roger Hernandez is Susan Rubio’s ex-husband. She campaigned, in part, as a survivor of his domestic abuse, and criticized other legislators for tolerating his behavior.
  • Do you know who your lawmaker is? Check here to see if your senator or assembly member has changed.
Democrat Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, left, plays with her two-year-old daughter, Josephine Ambler, on her desk after being sworn into the California Assembly, December 3, 2018 at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California.

Democrat Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, left, plays with her two-year-old daughter after being sworn in. At least 36 female lawmakers will serve in the Legislature this term. Photo for CALmatters by Max Whittaker.

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