LOS ANGELES - Two years after the California Democratic Party gained supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature for the first time in more than 100 years, California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton said Friday that maintaining the position is not a priority, in part because Democratic lawmakers have been unwilling to use the power to raise taxes.
"They haven't done anything with it, because the only thing it allows them to do is raise taxes, and I don't see them raising taxes," Burton told reporters as the party opened its annual convention here this weekend.
Burton said the "main goal is really to try to pick up two or three more congressional seats." In the state Legislature, he said, a "supermajority is not as important as it used to be" since voters in 2010 lowered the threshold for budget passage to a simple majority.
The California Republican Party believes it has a chance to undo the Democrats' two-third majority this year, and it has made pick-ups in the Legislature a priority. If Burton was seeking to lower expectations in his remarks to reporters, he told delegates on a patio at The Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites that the party will work to keep two-thirds majorities in the Senate and Assembly "just to prove we can keep them and two years ago wasn't a fluke."
The Legislature's Democratic leadership comes into the convention with fresh controversies over two senators, Rod Wright and Ron Calderon, who are on paid leave of absence while dealing with legal problems. Wright, of Baldwin Hills, was convicted of eight felonies related to lying about where he lived, while Calderon, of Montebello, has been indicted on corruption charges.
Burton said Republicans hammering Democrats on the subject "have to jump on something, because they've got nothing" else. While acknowledging the seriousness of the charges against Calderon, Burton suggested Wright's crime was less than heinous.
"As a Catholic," he said, "I think that would be more a venial sin than a mortal sin."
PHOTO: California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton addresses delegates at the party's annual convention in Los Angeles on March 7, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders