Rudy Salas and the other freshmen in the new-look California Legislature might be swinging bigger axes than any rookie class in a long time. Thanks to a new set of election rules, incoming lawmakers could end up tempering the negative potential of the Democrats' new supermajority.
Salas, a Bakersfield Democrat who appears to have eked out a razor-thin victory over Delano Republican Pedro Rios in the race for the 32nd Assembly seat, is not likely to be a rubber stamp for the Democratic leadership. In the just-completed campaign, Salas opposed high-speed rail and the Proposition 30 tax initiative. And he is not alone among first-term Democratic legislators in questioning certain aspects of state Democrats' agenda, especially as they pertain to spending.
That's because this class is the first product of the post-redistricting landscape. Districts up and down the state have been reconfigured to encourage more competition, in theory eliminating some of the "safe" seats in the Legislature and encouraging officeholders to govern more from the middle. And, because of greater moderation in the rival party as well, that dynamic should force Democrats and Republicans alike to be more accountable to voters.
Of equal consequence is the top-two primary, which favors moderate candidates over more stridently partisan (and less given to compromise) candidates. And, finally, because of revamped term limits, which will enable legislators to serve longer in one house, elected officials will find it easier to develop some expertise in office, decreasing the reliance of lobbyists, the so-called third house of the Legislature.
As a result of all this, California has a growing moderate wing of the Democratic Legislature -- a wing that could serve as a counterforce to Democrats' emerging supermajorities in the Assembly and state Senate. To the extent that a single-voice supermajority could pursue expensive, debt-deepening programs, this California Blue Dog coalition, were such a caucus to emerge, could be most beneficial. We encourage Salas to meet some like-minded friends.