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GOP blocks Democratic legislative supermajorities
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SACRAMENTO  (AP) — Republicans scored a major election victory on Friday by blocking Democratic supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature after flipping an Assembly seat in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area.

Friday’s win by Republican Catharine Baker over Democrat Tim Sbranti in Assembly District 16 follows GOP success on Election Day in blocking a Democratic supermajority in the 40-member state Senate.

A two-thirds threshold is needed to give the majority party power to raise taxes and override gubernatorial vetoes without support from the minority party.

Baker secured 52 percent of the vote after an updated tally by Contra Costa and Alameda counties late Friday. That means Republicans picked up the 27 seats needed in the 80-member Assembly.

She cast her victory as a desire by voters to provide a check to Democrats in Sacramento, who still hold a solid majority of seats in the Legislature as well as every statewide office.

This year’s strike by unionized workers for the Bay Area Rapid Transit system also was a key issue in the campaign and brought frustrated voters to the polls, she said. The district stretches from Lafayette to Livermore, encompassing communities heavily dependent on the mass transit system, and previously was represented by a Democrat.

“It was a real example of when leaders have an opportunity to choose what’s best for the community over whatever prior loyalties or affiliations they might have. And as I knocked on doors all across the district, heard from voters of all political persuasion, they’d ask me the question, ‘Where are you on BART strike? And what will you do about it because that affected my family, my ability to get to work and live my daily life?’ It affected everyone in the Bay Area. So it absolutely was an issue in this race.”

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a 60-day cooling off period for management and the BART union to negotiate a new contract but did not support legislation proposed by GOP lawmakers to strip the union of its right to strike. A strike ensued, disrupting commutes.

The Sbranti campaign did not immediately respond to telephone and email messages left late Friday.

Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto said Tuesday’s election was the first time Republicans had unseated an incumbent Democrat in the Legislature in 20 years. With a handful of other races remaining uncalled, the GOP could end up unseating as many as three incumbent Democrats in the Assembly alone.

“Californians believe in checks and balances,” Olsen said. “This is the first step toward greater balance.”

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said despite a strong ground campaign, the results represented a worst-case scenario of the various possibilities Democrats considered before Election Day. She downplayed the significance of the threshold, saying the party didn’t use the supermajority’s power even when it had it.

“At the end of the day, with the effort we have, we can’t force people to vote,” Atkins said.

Another closely watched Assembly race that remained uncalled involved Democratic incumbent Al Muratsuchi, who was trailing Republican challenger David Hadley in the 66th Assembly District, which covers coastal Los Angeles County.

Republican Young Kim won the 65th Assembly District seat in Orange County from Democratic incumbent Sharon Quirk-Silva with 56 percent of the vote. And Democratic freshman Steve Fox lost his 36th Assembly District seat in the Palmdale-Lancaster area to GOP opponent Tom Lackey, who had 61 percent of the vote.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff said the GOP focused on matching candidates who best reflect their communities and made an effort to diversify the party’s bench.

Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen, a Republican, becomes the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to the Legislature. She won 60 percent support in the 34th Senate District over former Assemblyman Jose Solorio.

In the Central Valley, Republican state Sen. Andy Vidak overcame a voter disadvantage from Democratic candidate Luis Chavez.

During the last session, Democrats in the Senate fell below a supermajority after two termed-out lawmakers were indicted on federal bribery and corruption charges. A third, Sen. Rod Wright, resigned in September after he was sentenced to three months in jail for lying about where he lived when he ran for office.

Democrats had hoped to recapture supermajorities in both legislative houses. Of the 120 legislative seats in the Assembly and Senate, 100 were up for grabs in Tuesday’s general election.