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Jon Fleischman

Senate Republicans: Referendum or Irrelevance

A few days ago it happened that I was sitting down with former Senate (and Assembly) Republican Leader Jim Brulte.  While we talked about a number of things, when the topic came up of redistricting, and the recently announced plans of the Senate Republican Caucus to qualify a referendum on the Senate District maps created by the California Redistricting Commission, Jim was very clear — he said that referring the proposed lines was critical, and that there was simply no choice.  He told me, “I have reviewed in detail the Commission lines for the California State Senate, and I can tell you that it will be nearly impossible for Republicans to block a Democrat super-majority.”

Many readers of this column know Senator Brulte, though the vast majority of you do not.  Brulte has a reputation both for being a keen political strategist — and an equally strong reputation for not talking out of school, or making widely speculative statements.

I wrote about the importance of qualifying the referendum on the State Senate lines last week, but it is important that I circle back and cover this issue yet again.  Let me be very clear, and as clear as Jim Brulte — if we do not successfully refer these lines, we are looking at a political extinction event for Republicans in the upper house.

As I discussed in my previous column, Democrats need only gain two seats and they will have a super-majority to push out of the Senate every possible tax increase that you could imagine.  One GOP seat, currently held by Senator Sam Blakeslee, evaporates completely.  And as for the other opportunity for Dems to gain that critical 27th seat, there is a bevy of opportunity as three other Senate seats that need to elect Republicans have such significant registration advantages for the Dems that a Republican win in just one of the seats would be a great victory (for reference in these three seats Obama beat McCain handily, with margins of 9%, 15% and 17%).  But of course the GOP would have to “run the table” on all three to block the Democrat super-majority.  Frankly, it’s not that hard to imagine the Senate Republican Caucus being reducef to just 11 or 12 members.

Staring down the crater into a Republican abyss in the Senate, you would think that everyone with an interest in avoiding a Democrat super-majority would be actively engaged in referring these maps to a vote of the people, right?  After all, just by qualifying the referendum it sets into motion a process whereby the State Supreme Court would appoint a “special master” to draw a new set of Senate lines to be used next year. While possible, it is very unlikely that a redo by the courts would leave the GOP in such dire straights in the Senate.

Unfortunately there are folks out there, many of whom apparently were supplied with some incorrect initial data that showed better Republican figures in some of these districts, who are very focused on trying to stop the qualification of the referendum — and no, I am not talking about Democrats, unions, or progressive groups (all of whom have good reason to stop it).  There are interests out there who stand to benefit from Republicans being able to have a check on the ability of Democrats to push tax increases out of the Senate who are just not being helpful to what should be a critical initiative for them.

Don’t take my word for it, or Jim Brulte’s, or even former Governer Pete Wilson who strongly supports a referendum on the Senate lines.  Take the word of the State Senate Republican Caucus, who voted to support a referendum.  If this effort fails, you won’t have to look far to find the Cheshire Cat grin — it will be worn by Senate President Darrell Steinberg…