The fate of Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to put tax increase extensions on a June ballot appears to lie in the hands of five Republican senators.
The self-described "GOP 5" emerged as key players in the budget negotiations this week, releasing a letter signaling they'd support Brown's plan if Democrats agree to a substantial list of demands. Changes they are seeking include overhauls of the state regulatory and pension systems, and a long-term cap on state spending.
The five were among seven Senate Republicans who opted not to join an unofficial "Taxpayers Caucus" formed to oppose an election on taxes. Four of the five are serving their first term in the Senate, with just two up for re-election in 2012.
As talks continue behind closed doors, the five have repeatedly declined to elaborate on their proposals or why they are willing to buck conservatives and anti-tax activists already railing against the prospect of a tax vote. Here's a look at them:
Tom Berryhill, Oakdale
Experience: Berryhill has long ties to his Central Valley district and the Capitol. He represented an overlapping seat in the Assembly for three terms. His brother and late father have both served in the state Legislature. Berryhill, who was stripped of a rare GOP committee chairmanship for saying the budget was the Democrats' problem, emphasized the importance of working across the aisle in his Senate campaign. His angle: Like Cannella, Berryhill doesn't have to worry about re-election until 2014. Population shifts are expected to make his district less Republican dominated. His predecessor, former GOP Senate leader Dave Cogdill, voted for taxes in the 2009 budget.
Sam Blakeslee, San Luis Obispo
Experience: As a former Assembly Republican leader, Blakeslee is no stranger to budget talks. He won election to his Central Coast district one of the state's few swing seats in a special election last summer. His angle: Majority Democrats courted Blakeslee by giving him a chairmanship and staff for a select committee the newly created Select Committee on Recovery, Reform and Realignment. Democrats have a registration advantage in his district, which was previously held by moderate Republican Abel Maldonado, who voted for the 2009 tax increases.
Anthony Cannella, Ceres
Experience: Cannella's election in an open Central Valley district, in which Democrats have a double-digit percentage registration advantage, was one of the most competitive legislative races of 2010. The former Ceres mayor, who talks often of the balanced budget he helped the city achieve, supported a half-cent sales tax to fund public safety during his time on the Ceres City Council. His angle: Cannella, son of former Democratic Assemblyman Sal Cannella, is one of two Republicans in the Senate who has not signed the Americans for Tax Reform's anti-tax pledge. He is the sole Republican to hold a standing committee chairmanship in the Democratic-controlled Senate. A rookie under the dome, Cannella won't have to worry about re-election until 2014.
Bill Emmerson, Hemet
Experience: Emmerson, a member of the budget conference committee, served three terms in the Assembly before being elected to a vacant Senate seat in a 2010 special election. His angle: Emmerson has called for major changes to the budget process in the past and has left the door open to voting for tax extensions, telling the Press-Enterprise of Riverside County, "I want to see what the fixes are." The area surrounding his district, which is overpopulated and expected to shrink considerably in redistricting this year, has seen an increase in Latino population and Democratic voter registraton.
Tom Harman, Huntington Beach
Experience: The former assemblyman won election to the Senate after narrowly defeating a more conservative candidate in a 2006 special primary. He ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for attorney general in 2010. His angle: The Huntington Beach Republican was widely considered a moderate during his six years in the Assembly, and works closely with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg as the ranking Republican of the Senate Rules Committee. Future election challenges may not be a concern to Harman, who turns 70 this spring and is termed out of the Legislature in 2012, but a future gubernatorial appointment may be attractive.