In the 1st Senate Seat Race, Leadership Is As Leadership Does (Click More)


In the recent mailer from Assemblyman Ted Gaines, a Roseville Republican, Gaines says in the third paragraph that California lacks “leaders willing to make tough decisions, stand up to the special interests and do what’s right.”

California can be fixed — presumably not like a pet dog or cat — through “leadership and common sense,” says Gaines, who seeks elevation to state Senate District 1 formerly occupied by the late Dave Cox, also a Republican.

Also seeking the sprawling seat, which contains nine rural counties and stretches up the eastern side of California to the Oregon border, is Assemblyman Roger Niello, a Carmichael Republican.

Apparently Gaines sees Niello as his chief rival, devoting a mailer to contrasting two of his actions in the Legislature with those of Niello.

Here’s the front of that mailer. Gaines couldn’t be more right — except not in the way he intends.


Here’s the back of the anti-Niello mailer.


Stripping out the adjectives and heavy-breathing, Gaines is largely right.

He does not say the increase in vehicle license fees, what he calls the “car tax,” from 1.15 percent to 1.65 percent of a vehicle’s value, the 1 percent increase in the sales tax and the .25 percent surcharge on state personal income tax are all temporary and expire next year.

However, it is true Niello voted for both the 2007 and 2009 budgets, which speaks directly to Gaines’ assertion about the need for leadership.

Former Senate President Pro Tempore John Burton, now chair of the state Democratic party, was fond of saying you can never get in trouble voting “no” on a “big bill,” an act made significantly easier when sitting on the sidelines.

During 2007 and 2009, Niello was the vice-chair of the Assembly Budget Committee. That made him the fiscal and budgetary expert as well as point-man for the GOP caucus.

After his election to the Assembly in 2004, Niello quickly became conversant in the byzantine mechanics of state operations and budgeting. A task not suited for the timid or slow-witted. As vice-chair of the budget committee, he disagreed with any number of proposals by the majority Democrats but did so politely and without rancor.

During both years cited in Gaines’ mailer, Niello was a member of the special two-house conference committee that stitched together a final spending plan. He routinely voted “no,” on Democratic proposals to increase spending and taxes.

Niello, along with the Assembly GOP leader and his counterpart from the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee, fought to create as good of a budget package as possible given the control of both houses by Democrats.

Niello wasn’t a big fan of either of those two spending plans. In private, he expressed both reservation and irritation at a number of the components, particularly the tax increases although he and his fellow Republican budget negotiators succeeded in making them temporary.

But when the fighting was over and it was time to vote, Niello — quoting Burton again — “took a bite out of the shit sandwich.”

For better or for worse, he helped construct the final product and,he took responsibility for his actions.  He recognized that politics is the art of the possible and, at some point, it’s necessary to embrace a solution. While flawed, the budgets passed those two years were less awful, from a GOP perspective, than they would have been had Niello not participated.

That sounds very much like someone “willing to make tough decisions.” Countless elements in both budgets were opposed by a phalanx of interest groups. Being one of his caucus leaders and voting for something he helped negotiate, without regard to possible political fallout in the future, seems perilously close to doing “what’s right.”

And with all respect to Ted Gaines, who is both genial and decent, NIello’s actions don’t sound like leadership — they are leadership.


Filed under: Venting


  1. good story. that is why I agreed to co=chair democrats for Neillo. He did what needed to be done and took responsibility for his actions. He is a leader and we do need leadership. I am glad it is a special because the top two allows me to actually vote for him.

    Comment by barbara o\'connor — 10.08.2010 @ 4:16 pm

  2. I do not completely agree with this blog. Roger Niello might have shown leadership by “embracing a solution” in finalizing the bill and taking responsibility. Now is the time to take responsibility. We all know that the Democratic leadership in the Assembly and Senate have driven California into this mess where thousands of families and businesses are leaving the state to elsewhere. “Embracing solutions” by compromising with these kinds of politicians will just make you part of the political elite who does not understand the basic principles of saving this State.

    In my opinion, I strongly object to this blog’s conclusion that by voting on difficult matters in the wrong direction makes you a leader… It might make you a bad leader at most…. Sorry Roger!

    Comment by Concerned CA resident — 10.10.2010 @ 9:08 am

  3. “Voting on difficult matters in the wrong direction…. might make you a bad leader at most…” Well, here’s the problem. There are only two legitimate ways to deal with a budget that is out of balance – reduce costs or raise revenues. I would have respect for some of those who oppose all new taxes, IF they would put forward a budget that cuts enough to achieve balance. They haven’t done that. Instead, they’ve chosen a third path, which I believe is wholly illegitimate and contrary to the California Constitution, namely borrowing. How is that consistent with conservative principles?

    Roger Niello, whom I don’t know well, basically refused to kick the can down the road for someone else to deal with. He upheld his oath of office and he tried to solve the problem.

    It’s easy to sit back and say “I’ll never vote to raise your taxes,” but until I see the Republicans put forth a “cuts only” budget that does not rely on borrowing, they are just lying to the public. What they are really saying is “I won’t raise your taxes, but of course your children will pay more.”

    Good luck Roger.


    Comment by Dan Richard — 10.11.2010 @ 8:07 am

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