California Republicans have harbored thoughts – or fantasies – about eroding the Democrats’ two-thirds legislative “supermajorities” in next year’s elections.
But it appears Democrats could do it to themselves by ousting legislators accused of sexual harassment.
Raul Bocanegra, a Pacoima Democrat, was forced to resign from the Assembly due to revelations about harassment that occurred eight years ago, when he was a legislative staffer.
Sen. Tony Mendoza, an Artesia Democrat, faces multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and has been stripped of his key leadership positions by the Senate Rules Committee, headed by Kevin de León, the president pro tem of the Senate who was, until recently, Mendoza’s weekday roommate.
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The latest eruption in the Capitol’s harassment scandal came Monday, when lobbyist Pamela Lopez identified Assemblyman Matt Debabneh, a Democrat from Woodland Hills, as the man who cornered her in a bar’s restroom and masturbated.
“He told me to touch his genitals while he was masturbating,” Lopez told reporters at a news conference. Another woman, Jessica Yas Barker, said Dababneh harassed her when she was working for a Southern California congressman.
The political question is this:
If Bocanegra was compelled to resign over something that occurred eight years ago when he wasn’t even a legislator, how could the institution not demand the same penalty from two other men whose alleged misbehavior occurred while they were in office?
The heat is especially high on de León, not only because he was Mendoza’s roommate but because he’s running for the U.S. Senate next year and is trying to unseat the state’s most prominent woman politician, Dianne Feinstein.
The political equation is this:
Bocanegra’s resignation, when added to the vacancy created by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez’s elevation to Congress, dropped Democrats to 53 seats in the Assembly, one short of a supermajority.
A Democrat filled Gomez’s Los Angeles seat in a special election Tuesday, restoring the supermajority, but if Dababneh is forced out, it would disappear again. His seat would eventually be occupied by another Democrat via special election, but the 2018 legislative session would begin with Democrats still short a seat.
The party’s margin in the Senate is even thinner. If Mendoza leaves, Democrats drop to 26 seats – one short of a supermajority until the vacancy would be filled via special election sometime in 2018.
Supermajorities allow Democrats, at least in theory, to approve tax increases, urgency bills and constitutional amendments without Republican votes. However, such actions also require Democrats to remain unified. That has proven to be difficult.
This year’s measures that required two-thirds votes, such as a controversial gas-tax increase and extension of the state’s cap-and-trade program for curbing greenhouse gases, succeeded only because a few Republicans filled in for Democratic holdouts.
There’s no shortage of potential issues requiring two-thirds votes in 2018, such as the hefty taxes required for a single-payer health program or changes in Proposition 13, both much-cherished goals of the Democratic Party’s left wing.
Bocanegra, Mendoza and Dababneh are not the only politicians ensnared in the harassment scandal. Devon Mathis, a Republican assemblyman from Visalia, stands accused, but his departure would not, as a practical matter, affect the Legislature’s balance of power.
Rumors abound, however, that other names may surface.
Meanwhile, another Democratic senator, Josh Newman of Fullerton, faces a Republican-backed recall election because of his vote for the gas-tax bill. With all of the other turmoil, his fate could have a serious impact on the Capitol next year.
Dan Walters writes on issues of statewide significance for CALmatters, a public-interest journalism venture. Go to calmatters.org/commentary for additional commentary.