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PD Editorial: Lawmakers face added accountability

Assemblyman-elect Marc Levine takes office when the Legislature reconvenes on Monday.

The Press Democrat
Published: Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 30, 2012 at 6:42 p.m.

A new California legislative session begins Monday, with Democrats in full control of state government for the first time since 1883.

They must wield their new power wisely, as Golden State voters have new tools for holding elected officials accountable.

This Legislature is the first elected in districts drawn by an independent commission. It’s also the first elected using the top-two primary system.

For new members serious about promises of change in a Legislature with dreadful approval ratings, new term-limit rules offer a chance to develop policy expertise instead of reaching for the next rung on the political ladder.

All of the above are results of voter-approved reforms that already are changing the Capitol.

When the 80-member Assembly convenes on Monday, there will be 34 new members — the largest freshman class since 1934. Among them are Democrats Marc Levine of San Rafael, Richard Bloom of Santa Monica and Sharon Quirk-Silva of Fullerton.

They’re especially notable because they unseated incumbents — the first time in 12years that even a single Assembly incumbent lost a re-election bid.

Levine, whose victory over Michael Allen wasn’t sealed until the final votes were counted Friday, is a product of the reforms, and he is someone to watch for clues about how far they will reach.

A first-term city councilman in San Rafael, Levine defied Assembly Speaker John Pérez and other party leaders by running at all. His challenge would have ended in June if not for the top-two primary. Allen finished first, and under the old rules he would have skated to re-election against a little-known and underfunded Republican challenger. Levine gave voters in the heavily Democratic district a choice.

He ran as a moderate, unbeholden to the legislative leadership and its allies in organized labor — much like Joe Nation and Kerry Mazzoni, past Assembly representatives of the North Bay.

Much has been made of the Democrats’ new supermajorities, which allow them to pass urgency legislation, propose constitutional amendments and raise taxes without Republican votes. But it will require all 54 Democratic votes in the Assembly to do so, making it unlikely that Levine will be ostracized as punishment for challenging Allen.

During the campaign, Levine reached out to Democrats, Republicans and independents. We hope he fosters those ties and avoids the temptation to become predictably partisan to avoid a re-election challenge of his own.

As they begin their careers in Sacramento, Levine and other first-term legislators stand to benefit from new rules that retain a 12-year limit on service but allow them to stay in the Senate or Assembly.

Taken together, these reforms offer lawmakers a chance to better fulfill their responsibilities to 37 million constituents. If not, this election showed that voters can make changes of their own.

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