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Moderate Cruz Bustamante, D-Fresno, picked by the new Democratic majority to be the fourth Assembly Speaker since Willie Brown stepped aside in 1995, was conciliatory and pledged to work with Republicans "to do good things for the citizens of this state." He had campaigned for the leadership post for nearly a year.
At press time, the final make-up of the legislature remained uncertain, with two races still undecided. Dem-crats will hold either 42 or 43 seats in the 80-member Assembly and 23 or 24 seats in the 40-member Senate.
With majority status comes political power, including control of the makeup of committees as well as selection of the speaker. By appointing majorities to committees, the party can determine the fate of thousands of bills.
Last year, after settling a fight over the speaker's position, Republicans won passage of scores of bills that might have died under Democratic control. They included providing tax breaks to business and banning same-sex marriage, which was later blocked in the Senate.
Bustamante and other Assembly Democrats said they will concentrate on creating a new welfare system as required by federal law, continuing a strong economy, improving education and controlling crime.
Republicans said they will continue to push for smaller government, job creation and crime control.
It seems likely that with the new Democratic majority, committee structures will be overhauled.
The early front-runner for the Assembly Judiciary Committee chair is attorney Martha Escutia, D-Huntington Park. A former senior research attorney for the Los Angeles Superior Court, Escutia also was legal director for the national council of La Raza.
The governor spent much of the fall campaigning for Republican candidates and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for them. He contributed $1 million from his own campaign funds and helped GOP candidates raise an additional $1 million, according to Assembly GOP leader Curt Pringle.
But state Democrats saw the election as a repudiation of Republican policies, particularly what they characterized as the extremism of House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
"They (voters) saw two years of fairly extreme politics and decided to give Democrats another chance," said Bustamante.
One clear outcome of last month's election was the loss of almost 400 years of legislative experience in both houses as a result of term limits. Thirty-five new members joined the Assembly in the last two years, and this election brought 32 new faces in the lower house.
But with term limits, most predictions about the Assembly are nothing more than speculation. Bustamante's reign, for instance, can last no longer than two years because this is his last term in the Assembly.
A political moderate, Bustamante has worked since his election to the Assembly four years ago to become a key player on legislation, especially issues that affect the multibillion-dollar agricultural industry -- the dominant economic and political force in the Central Valley he represents.