Certainties, uncertainties in 2014 elections

The new year is an election year — by no means the most important one in California history, but one that has interesting and perhaps significant aspects.

We can be certain about some outcomes.

We know, for instance, Democrats will retain control of the Legislature and the state’s congressional delegation. We are reasonably certain Gov. Jerry Brown will be re-elected to a fourth term and that his fellow Democrats will continue to dominate other statewide offices.

But within those parameters, there is some uncertainty.

It’s uncertain, for instance, whether the historic “supermajorities” that voters handed Democrats in both houses in 2012 will survive. There’s roughly a 50-50 chance that Republicans will regain enough seats to once again make them relevant on matters that require two-thirds votes, such as taxes and constitutional amendments.

The possibility that Republicans might rebound in legislative elections creates another uncertainty — whether Democratic leaders will use their supermajorities this year before they might lose that clout. Placing constitutional amendments on the November ballot is the most likely use, if Democratic leaders could get enough of their members to go along.

The current leaders, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, must step down this year because of term limits, and there’s great uncertainty about who will succeed them. Personal ambitions, geographic balance and a huge number of first-term legislators in the Assembly are factors.

There’s also a chance that Republicans could pick up a congressional seat or two this year, when voter turnout is likely to be much lower than it was in 2012, a presidential election year.

And there’s a possibility, albeit an outside one, that Republicans could see a comeback at the state level with Pete Peterson, who is running for secretary of state.

The biggest election action, in terms of money and other campaign implements, likely will be found in ballot measures.

Several dozen initiatives are pending, and a fair guess is 10 or so will make the statewide ballot, possibly dealing with such issues as pension reform, cigarette taxes and repeal of a new law expanding rights of transgender school students — plus measures the Legislature places before voters.

One of the latter might be a much-revised water bond issue linked politically and financially to Brown’s very controversial plan to bore twin water tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The twin tunnel plan likely will face a go or no-go moment this year, as will Brown’s other pet project, a north-south bullet train. For now, both lack the tens of billions of dollars they would need to proceed, and both face high political and legal hurdles.

Dan Walters covers state politics for the Sacramento Bee.

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