After knocking at the door and coming up short during the last two rounds of state legislative elections, Republicans made significant gains in Tuesday's voting, taking three seats in the Assembly while Democrats were losing two seats in the Senate.
When the new session of the Legislature begins Dec. 1, Democratic control of the Assembly will have shrunk to a 44-36 margin. The Democratic lead in the Senate will be 24 to 15, with one independent.
Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) suffered a major setback in the election, losing five key Assembly races despite massive infusions of campaign money for Democratic candidates.
But despite losing three Democratic seats in the lower house and failing to capture two Republican seats that he had thought were winnable, Brown said he did not expect a challenge to his speakership.
'No Real Change'
"I expect no real change. The numbers have changed, the movement of power will not change. The operation will not change," Brown said.
All five Democratic losses in the Senate and Assembly were for open seats created by retirements or the decision of one incumbent to run for a higher office.
Political analyst Bruce Cain of Caltech, who has been scientifically tracking election trends for several years, said Tuesday's returns indicate that Democrats may be in trouble as they try to hold on to marginal seats when longtime incumbents retire.
"The handwriting is on the wall," Cain said. "All five seats Democrats lost had been held by popular incumbents. As more incumbents retire in the future, Democrats will find the marginal seats even harder to hold on to."
He explained that Democratic voters in certain parts of the state, like the Central Valley, are growing increasingly conservative, tending to vote for Democrats when they are well-established incumbents but just as likely to vote for a Republican when there is no incumbent. Cain said the trend is exacerbated by declining Democratic voter registration, which this year reached its lowest level since 1934.
He said the best example of the trend is the Republican capture of a Senate seat held since 1958 by Sen. Walter Stiern (D-Bakersfield), the dean of the Legislature. The seat was won by Republican Assemblyman Don Rogers of Bakersfield, who defeated Kern Community College Chancellor Jim Young, despite a strong Democratic voter advantage. Stiern's four-county 16th District is 54% Democrat, 37.5% Republican.
The other Democratic loss in the Senate was in a San Francisco Bay Area district that Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) had described as quintessentially Democratic, with a 63.5% of the voters registering as Democrats, compared to 22% for Republicans. It is a district where unions are strong and Democratic loyalties long established.
Despite that, an independent, San Francisco County Supervisor Quentin L. Kopp, a quotable, political maverick, defeated veteran Assemblyman Louis J. Papan (D-Millbrae) in a bruising battle to replace retiring veteran Sen. John F. Foran (D-San Francisco).
Kopp's election, along with that of Assemblyman Rogers in Bakersfield, left Republican Senate leaders elated.
Senate Republican Leader James W. Nielsen of Woodland predicted that Kopp, though independent and a one-time Democrat, would vote more often with the Republicans than the majority party.
"We are counting on Kopp's vote quite a bit. He's a very independent SOB," Nielsen said.
Senate Republican Caucus Chairman John Seymour of Anaheim flatly predicted that the GOP, in taking the two open Democratic seats, will win a third open seat created by Tuesday's balloting.
The election of state Sen. Paul Carpenter (D-Cypress) to the State Board of Equalization will force a special election, probably in the spring, in his 33rd Senate District, which straddles the boundary between Los Angeles and Orange counties.
"I think we proved we can win open seats," said Seymour, whose long-term strategy for ending the Democratic majority in the Senate is built around picking up Democratic seats when incumbents retire.
Seymour's specific goal is to capture the Senate by the 1990 election in order to give Republicans an active hand in the reapportionment that will follow the 1990 census.
An example of Seymour's step-by-step approach is his active role in a GOP effort to persuade President Reagan to appoint Arab-born Sen. Wadie P. Deddeh (D-Chula Vista) to an ambassadorial appointment in a Middle Eastern country, which would create an open seat in San Diego County.
In the Assembly, Democrats lost seats in Orange, Los Angeles and Sacramento counties.
Republican businessman Richard E. Longshore of Santa Ana defeated Democratic Santa Ana Mayor Daniel E. Griset in Orange County's 72nd District. He will replace Assemblyman Richard Robinson (D-Garden Grove), who ran for Congress and lost.