Tuesday, December 4, 2012

California lawmakers hug, joke, put off acrimony for another day

By Jim Sanders and Torey Van Oot
Published: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012 - 9:55 am

For one glorious day, Capitol bickering gave way to bipartisan hugging, dreaming and back-patting Monday as 39 freshmen were sworn into office with the legislative class of 2013.

No California problem seemed too huge nor any deficit insurmountable on a day set aside for merrymaking as wives, children, aides and colleagues cheered for lawmakers' reciting their oath of office.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto reflected the lighthearted nature of the festivities by standing on the Assembly floor with a bib over his shoulder, gently rocking Evangelina, his 2-month-old daughter.

In the Senate, President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg sang merrily while the Sacramento Children's Chorus performed "God Bless America."

In the Assembly, newly elected Democrat Phil Ting said from the dais that he has known openly gay Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez so long that "I can actually remember who his last girlfriend was."

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, in a joking manner, invited members to the front of the Senate chambers to take their oaths of office.

"Senators elect, please proceed to the bar – not the one up the street," Newsom quipped.

"That's tonight," responded Steinberg, lightheartedly.

Spectators Monday included Treasurer Bill Lockyer, Attorney General Kamala Harris, former Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton and various former legislators.

The Legislature this year has its largest class of freshmen since 1966, a Democratic supermajority in both houses, and it is implementing a voter-approved change permitting new legislators to serve up to 12 years in either house.

Monday also marked the first day that lawmakers could unveil new legislation.

Proposals include bills to repeal a new fire prevention fee, regulate the domestic use of drone aircraft, designate how funds from voter-passed Proposition 39 can be spent, and require public disclosure of chemicals used in fracking, a term for a process of extracting oil and natural gas.

Behind Monday's festivities on the Senate and Assembly floors, political tension lingered. When the Assembly took its first official roll call vote, on house rules for the new session, the measure passed on a nearly party-line vote: Democrats yes, Republicans no.

In a routine vote that typically amounts to unanimous acclimation, the incumbent speaker – Pérez – was re-elected to head the Assembly for another two years. Above the chorus of ayes, however, Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly and at least one other dissenter shouted no.

The Assembly Republican Caucus decided Monday to launch a recount challenging the last-minute Los Angeles County victory of Democrat Steve Fox over Republican Ron Smith, whose lead was overcome Friday, ending in a 145-vote defeat.

"Of course I'm disappointed, but more than that I'm shocked," Smith said Monday.

Fox said he's looking forward, adding, "I'm excited and anxious to get to work."

Steinberg openly discussed Democrats' supermajority Monday, while Pérez did not mention it, stressing bipartisanship instead.

Both legislative leaders pointed to coming challenges, from implementation of federal health care reform to improving public schools, making colleges more affordable and restoring key programs decimated by California's budget crisis.

"For those Republicans who are new to the Assembly, I want to state very clearly that your voice is welcome, your contributions are desired, and your active service is needed," Pérez said.

While Californians do not want Democrats to "burst out the gate" seeking a tax hike, Steinberg said he hopes to use Democrats' supermajority in other beneficial ways, such as by placing an overhaul of the initiative process on the 2014 ballot.

Voters don't want Democrats to "overreach," Steinberg said, but "there is an equally compelling danger. It is the danger of being so cautious, so worried about creating controversy that we fail to take advantage of unprecedented opportunities."

Chino Hills Assemblyman Curt Hagman, an Assembly GOP floor leader, adopted a wait-and-see attitude.

"At the beginning of the session, everyone is moderate, they're saying 'kumbaya, work together,' " he said. "It's not until we get into it that we'll find out if that's the case or not."

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Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/12/04/5028573/california-lawmakers-hug-joke.html#storylink=cpy

Mike Gatto is the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the California State Assembly.  He represents the cities of Burbank, Glendale, La Canada-Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Atwater Village, and portions of the Hollywood Hills and East Hollywood.   www.asm.ca.gov/gatto 

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