Senate Picks New Pro Tem As Jockeying Intensifies for Assembly Speaker and Senate GOP Leader

Senate Democrats have selected Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, as the next leader of the California State Senate. 

In a closed-door caucus Thursday morning, the liberal, pro-labor lawmaker was picked by the upper house’s 25 Democrats to succeed Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata, D-Oakland. 

Perata’s state political career ends this year because of the defeat of the term limits initiative, Proposition 93, on Tuesday’s ballot. 

The official vote for Steinberg is scheduled for August 21. He became the consensus candidate to succeed Perata after Sen. Alex Padilla, a Los Angeles Democrat, dropped his bid for the post. 

“I have been in the legislature for seven years and I know from watching Sen. Perata and many speakers what a difficult and challenging job this is,” Steinberg said at an afternoon press conference. 

Stenberg, 48, was elected to the Assembly in 1998 and came to the Senate in 2006 allowing him the possibility of leading the 40-member body until 2014. 

An affable problem-solver with a genuine commitment to helping the state’s least fortunate, Steinberg currently is chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

He said on the budget his goal was to ensure “people without a voice are the ones who are not hurt.” 

Who succeeds Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez is far murkier. 

As always happens in leadership struggles, hearsay and calumny abound. Competitors feint and parry. The real deal hovers just out of sight. 

The Wednesday rumor du jour was that Nunez tried to make book with the Assembly’s 32 Republicans to elect Assemblywoman Karen Bass speaker. Nunez needed GOP support to do so since Bass doesn’t have the 25 votes necessary in the Assembly caucus to win, the rumor went. 

The strategy, so the rumor contended, was for Bass to be speaker for a short while until she runs for Senate, clearing the way for Nunez’s pal, Kevin De Leon to step into the breach. 

Both the Assembly GOP caucus and the Speaker said the rumor is somewhere north of nonsense and trending strongly toward preposterous.

Most likely, the whisper campaign was begun by another Speaker wannabe in an effort – potentially successful — to thwart Bass’ quest for the job. 

What is true is there are at least 10 contenders for the job. 

As one Assembly insider said Thursday, “We have 10 Lilliputians with one vote apiece trying to toss grappling hooks over a relatively giant and warm body.” 

The 10, who vigorously object to such a characterization, are, in no particular order: De Leon, Anthony Portantino of Pasadena, Hector de la Torre of South Gate, Alberto Torrico of Fremont, Charles Calderon of Montebello, Fiona Ma of San Francisco, Mike Feuer of Los Angeles, Joe Coto of San Jose and Ed Hernandez of Baldwin Park who, it is alleged, has more than his own vote. 

Nunez said a speakership vote would be scheduled for March 11, thus firing the starter pistol on three weeks of chaos during which the lower house must act on a series of budget reductions the GOP governor seeks for the current fiscal year.  

State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who experienced four leadership fights during his 25-year legislative career, including the one that made him leader of the Senate, said that such struggles routinely bleed into the everyday operation of the house. 

Votes on legislation can change sharply as alliances form or crumble. Or a lawmaker may use a vote to punish an adversary. 

An interesting wildcard is that 10 members of the Assembly Democratic caucus — not counting Nunez — are termed out this year. Three of whom — Lloyd Levine of Van Nuys, Loni Hancock of Berkeley and Lois Wolk of Davis — are candidates for the Senate. 

Nunez said Thursday that regardless of whom his caucus decides will succeed him, he would remain as speaker until the end of the legislative session, just as Perata said he would in the Senate. 

That model, in which the leader-designee waits in the wings for a few months, hasn’t worked well in previous attempts in the Assembly but may prove more successful in the smaller, more convivial Senate. 

The 15-member Senate GOP caucus also must elect a leader to succeed termed out Dick Ackerman of Fullerton. 

Dave Cogdill of Fresno appears to be the leading candidate. George Runner of Lancaster is also a contender and emerging as a dark horse is Dennis Hollingsworth of Murrieta who has earned a reputation as hard-working problem solver among both Democrats and his own caucus for his work as budget committee vice chair. 



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