SACRAMENTO — At most a single seat in the 120-member Legislature will shift party control after Tuesday's vote, but the complexion of the institution will nonetheless change, as nearly half the Assembly turns over, and several business-friendly politicians moderate the historically liberal Senate.
No incumbent lawmaker lost in the general election, and only an open Senate seat in Orange County that had been held by a Democrat might change party hands. That race is too close to call: Republican Assemblywoman Lynn Daucher led Democrat Lou Correa by 138 votes Wednesday, with about 12,000 absentee and provisional ballots to be counted.
Republican leaders said they were pleased to hold on to their seats and buck a national trend. Across the country, the number of Democratic-controlled state legislatures rose from 19 to 23, so that Democrats now control more statehouses than they have since 1994, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"We were able to maintain Republican control in two districts dominated by Democratic voters at a time when, nationally, Republicans were losing seats that were drawn for Republicans," said Morgan Crinklaw, spokesman for the Assembly Republican caucus. He was referring to seats in Imperial and San Diego counties.
Democrats, who have held a majority in both houses since 1996, will retain their firm grip on the California Legislature regardless of the outcome of the Orange County race. On Wednesday, they promised more teamwork with newly reelected Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) said he spoke Tuesday evening with the governor.
"I had a very nice, jovial and warm conversation with him about the future of California, and I can tell you with certainty that I feel that this governor is committed to working with us and getting things done," he said.
Nunez has been criticized by the left wing of his party for working too closely with Schwarzenegger on bills to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, raise the minimum wage and cut the cost of prescription drugs. He listed as a top priority for the coming year finding ways to cover the 6 million Californians without health insurance.
Nunez also promised that Assembly Democrats would craft a package to take redistricting out of the self-interested hands of lawmakers and give it to an independent commission.
The last time lawmakers drew districts, in 2001, they lassoed and excised pockets of Democratic and Republican voters to tilt many districts sharply in favor of one party or the other. That gerrymandering, plus the natural tendency of like-minded voters to congregate, was reflected in Tuesday's election results: A third of legislative candidates won their races with 70% or more of the vote.
Reform advocates say the creation of districts more evenly balanced between Republican and Democratic candidates would help elect more moderate lawmakers who can bridge the divide between liberals and conservatives.
Schwarzenegger championed a redistricting overhaul initiative last year, but voters defeated it in the face of opposition from Nunez and other Democratic leaders, who said they were willing to cede redistricting authority but didn't like the details of the governor's measure. In August, the Senate passed a constitutional amendment that would have given redistricting authority to an 11-member commission of citizens. But the Assembly failed to act in time to put the measure on Tuesday's ballot.
"I think you're going to see something come out of the Legislature this year and be on the '08 ballot," said Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland). "The bigger problem now is what it's going to look like."
He offered lukewarm support for redistricting reform, saying that the tight Senate race in Orange County and the defeat of long-term Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Tracy) discounted the notion that the 2001 redistricting, designed to protect the status quo, eliminated all competition.
The Senate, traditionally more liberal than the Assembly, may be altered by several newly elected Democrats expected to oppose new requirements or restrictions on businesses. Included are Los Angeles City Councilman Alex Padilla, Assemblyman Ronald S. Calderon of Montebello, Assemblywoman Gloria Negrete McLeod of Chino and Correa, should he ultimately win against Daucher.
"I think it's going to be much more moderate next year and much more pro-business," said Senate Republican Leader Dick Ackerman of Irvine.
When the Legislature resumes Jan. 3, it will include California's first Chinese American senator, San Francisco Democrat Leland Yee, and nine African Americans -- the largest black caucus in the state's history. Several of the new members hail from districts outside traditional African American strongholds.
Included are Wilmer Amina Carter, who in the June primary defeated Assemblyman Joe Baca Jr. (D-Rialto), the son of Rep. Joe Baca (D-Rialto). She said vocational education will be her top focus in Sacramento.
"We have a big gang problem in our San Bernardino area," Carter said. "We really need to expose these young people to other alternatives."
Carter is among the 36 people newly elected to the 80-member Assembly -- an unusually high turnover driven by term limits and the departure of members who ran for other offices.
On Friday, the newcomers will begin learning about travel forms, parliamentary rules and office budgets in a bipartisan crash course on lawmaking.