Saying he was fed up with "innumerable special elections" that have kept the Legislature below capacity throughout the current session, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he will propose a constitutional amendment giving the governor the power to fill legislative vacancies.
Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he is concerned by the expense of low-turnout special elections and the fact that the vacancies leave some voters with no representation in Sacramento for months at a time.
(Unmentioned was that the special elections also can have undesired outcomes, such as the July 23 ballot in the Central Valley's 16th Senate District that reduced the size of Steinberg's caucus. And Assembly Democrats nearly lost specials in the 45th and 52nd Assembly districts.)
"I'm going to introduce a flier here, an idea, a constitutional amendment, that suggests that vacancies in the Legislature should be filled by appointment by the governor," Steinberg told reporters Thursday. "I don't know how this will go over. I'm just frustrated with the amount of money spent on special elections and we have these gaping vacancies for a long period of time."
Steinberg said his proposal likely would include a provision requiring that the governor's appointees be approved by the house that has the vacancy to be filled. He noted that California governors already fill vacancies on boards of supervisors and in the U.S. Senate.
A Republican member of the Assembly elections committee called the proposed bill a power grab.
"After a couple of elections didn't turn out their way, Sacramento's liberal majority now wants to end fair elections and take away the right of the people to choose their own representatives so they can institutionalize their one-party rule at the State Capitol," Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Marysville, said in a statement. "We would expect this kind of thing in Cuba or North Korea, but not in a state like California with a proud tradition of direct democracy."
Here's a list — so far — of legislative vacancies in the 2013-2014 session:
- 4th Senate District (resignation of state Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, after election to Congress)
- 32nd Senate District (resignation of state Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, after election to Congress)
- 40th Senate District (resignation of Sen. Juan Vargas, D-Chula Vista, after election to Congress)
- 16th Senate District (resignation of Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, after taking a job with Chevron)
- 80th Assembly District (resignation of Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, after election to 40th Senate District)
- 52nd Assembly District (resignation of Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Pomona, after election to 32nd Senate District)
- 26th Senate District (resignation of Sen. Curren Price, D-Los Angeles, after election to Los Angeles City Council)
- 45th Assembly District (resignation of Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills after election to Los Angeles City Council)
- 54th Assembly District (resignation of Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, after election to 26th Senate District)
- 23rd Senate District (resignation of Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Redlands, who later took a job with the California Hospital Association)
Editor's note: This post was updated at 4:30 p.m. to include Logue's statement. It later was changed to reflect the fact that Logue is a member of the elections committee, not its vice-chairman.
PHOTO: State Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, resigned earlier this year to take a job with Chevron. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, won the special election to replace him. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.