Will California Democrats succeed in winning a supermajority that can advance environmental justice?


People of color are the majority in California and represent a critical, growing voting bloc in our state. The changing statewide demographics in our state have also diversified our legislature. More elected officials are people of color, often from districts highly impacted by pollution and we know that these demographic shifts can translate into enormous power and policy shifts. That’s why CEJA Action mobilizes the untapped voter base among people of color to build political support for elected officials that share our values.

CEJA Action has endorsed candidates in some of this year’s most competitive races that will likely determine the balance of power in California’s legislature. Democrats have been in the majority in both houses for more than four decades, except for a brief period in the mid 90s in the Assembly, and now have the opportunity to gain a supermajority in California’s legislature.

California is 1 of 7 states in which Democrats control the Legislature and the Governor’s office. Out of the 100 legislative seats up for election this November, the balance of power will be determined by races in 12 swing districts, most of them in Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino counties where many of our members live and work. At the end of the legislative session, Democrats held 52 seats in the Assembly and 26 in the Senate.  If the Democrats can hold the seats they have, they will only have to flip 3 legislative seats – two in the 80-member Assembly and one in the 40-member Senate – to gain a two-thirds supermajority. A two-thirds majority will allow Democrats to pass taxes, amend political spending laws, move measures to the statewide ballot, and even overturn vetoes handed down by Governor Brown.

Where can we find seats to flip, hopefully filling them with EJ champions? In California, 7 Republicans have termed out – 6 in the Assembly and 1 in the Senate. Republicans are struggling to maintain a voice in Sacramento, and meanwhile Democrats are defending 13 seats where incumbents are termed out – 5 in the Senate and 8 in the Assembly. Of the candidates CEJA Action has endorsed, Abigail Medina and Henry Stern have the potential to be the new additional Democrats that can get us to a supermajority.

Democrats are spending record amounts of money to recapture the two-thirds majority and we already see that this year’s presidential election is amplifying turn out at the polls as Democrats typically show higher turnout rates in presidential election years. Of course, we know that just because a legislator is Democrat, doesn’t mean they support environmental or social justice. The “Moderate Democrat” Caucus is a strong presence, and we will have to find new ways to hold these business-friendly members accountable to their constituencies.

Whether we can achieve a supermajority or not, this election will certainly lock in a new set of decisions-makers and thus will have impact on the make-up of the legislature for years to come. The change in term limits allows lawmakers to run for re-election in the same house for up to 12 years, which means the Assembly will have no vacancies created by term limits until 2024 and incumbents are very hard to unseat.

CEJA Action is working to secure EJ Champions for the long haul that will advance the equitable policies that will protect and benefit low-income communities and communities of color. Our candidate endorsements, combined with our strategic advocacy and grassroots organizing, combine to create a set of coordinated strategies that we believe can help continue pushing California’s legislature to pass more equitable climate, environmental and social justice policies, while building the power of communities of color across the state.