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Legislative Democrats make gains on bad night for national party

November 3, 2010 | 10:51 am

Although Democrats lost control of the U.S. House of Representatives, in California they bucked the national trend and picked up two seats in the Legislature.

Democrat Richard Pan of Sacramento won a Northern California Assembly seat being vacated, because of term limits, by Assemblyman Roger Niello (R-Fair Oaks). Pan defeated Republican Andy Pugno, whose role as an attorney for Proposition 8, the ban on gay marriage, made him a lightning rod for controversy.

Democrat Henry T. Perea, a Fresno city councilman, won the 31st Assembly District seat being vacated, because of term limits, by Assemblyman Juan Arambula of Fresno, who had changed from a Democrat to an independent more than a year ago. Perea defeated Republican Brandon Shoemaker.

That Democrats won the governorship and other statewide posts appears to have helped the party avoid the kinds of legislative losses seen in other parts of the country.

"National trends are sometimes overstated," said Assembly Speaker John Perez, who was happy at having 52 Democrats in the 80-member chamber. "You definitely have Californians wanting to make their own decisions and not be influenced by what is happening in other states."

The Democratic majority in the Assembly is still two short of the super-majority needed to pass taxes without Republican help, but that is less critical given voter passage of Proposition 25, an initiative allowing majority-vote approval of the budget.

In the state Senate, Democrats did not lose or pick up any seats in the election. They are down one, though, because of the recent death of Sen. Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach). However, Oropeza's death on Oct. 20 did not stop voters in the 28th Senate District from reelecting her with 58.4% of the vote, which triggers a special election in which a new Democrat can compete.

Republican John Stammreich received 35.7% of the vote, and Libertarian David Ruskin garnered 5.9%. Stammerich filed a complaint with the state attorney general over a Democratic mailer that he said misled voters by talking about Oropeza's illness but not her death.

"They were saying everything but telling the truth about Senator Oropeza's death," Stammreich said.

He said the decision will be a costly one for taxpayers, because it means the added expense of a special election. "It will result in spending $2.1 million that the county doesn't have," he said.

Senate Democrats also had a chance to pick up a seat, but failed to do so.

Republican Jeff Denham of Atwater could not run for reelection because of term limits in the 12th Senate District, where Democrats enjoy a 19-percentage-point lead in voter registration.

Still, Ceres Mayor Anthony J. Cannella, the Republican candidate, received 52.6% of the vote, winning election over Assemblywoman Anna Caballero (D-Salinas).

RELATED:

Which pollsters called it right?

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

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