Dan Walters

Dan Walters

Dan Walters: California Legislature's leadership positions now in play

Published: Tuesday, Sep. 3, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Sep. 3, 2013 - 10:43 am

When Bob Filner, facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment, stepped down as mayor of San Diego, he touched off complex maneuvering over who will succeed him.

Very quickly, Toni Atkins, the state Assembly's Democratic floor leader, took herself out of the running. And that was very quickly interpreted by Capitol insiders to mean that she's confident she'll become speaker of the Assembly next year when the current speaker, John A. Pérez, steps down, probably to run for state controller.

Term limits will compel both Pérez and Darrell Steinberg, the president pro tem of the state Senate, to leave their leadership positions next year.

With a run for statewide office, Pérez probably would be compelled to relinquish the speakership no later than June, after assumedly becoming the Democratic candidate for controller in the primary election.

Steinberg, who professes to have no ambition for other office, is likely to remain as Senate leader through the end of the 2014 legislative session – but how long could be a factor.

It's widely assumed that Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, is in line to succeed Steinberg, but there's some uncertainty.

One reason is an unwritten practice of dividing the Legislature's two top leadership positions between the state's two mega-regions – a recognition that many burning political issues, such as water, are more regional than ideological.

In recent years, Los Angeles Democrats have owned the Assembly speakership while the Senate's top position has been held by someone from Northern California – and until Sacramentan Steinberg came along, someone from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Were Atkins to become speaker, she would break L.A.'s hold on the Assembly post. But she's still from Southern California, and it's an open question whether northern senators would accept having their leader come from the southern region as well. The regional rivalry could be an opening for Concord's Mark DeSaulnier.

Still another factor is whether Bob Hertzberg, one of those former speakers from Los Angeles, will be angling to become Senate president pro tem when, as now seems certain, he captures a Senate seat next November.

Hertzberg has never lacked for ambition, although he could conceivably keep his aspirations, if any, in check for a while since term limits would also limit the reign of de León or DeSaulnier.

Were Steinberg to cede the position before the November 2014 election, de León's or DeSaulnier's chances would be enhanced, but were he to wait until later, the situation could be more complex.

Atkins also would be just a one-term speaker. But due to recent modifications of term limits, her successor and the next Senate leader could enjoy much longer tenures in the Legislature's most powerful positions.

Call The Bee's Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

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Read more articles by Dan Walters

Dan Walters, political columnist

Dan Walters

Dan Walters has been a journalist for more than a half-century, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. At one point in his career, at age 22, he was the nation's youngest daily newspaper editor.

He joined The Sacramento Union's Capitol bureau in 1975, just as Jerry Brown began his first governorship, and later became the Union's Capitol bureau chief. In 1981, Walters began writing the state's only daily newspaper column devoted to California political, economic and social events and, in 1984, he and the column moved to The Sacramento Bee. He has written more than 7,500 columns about California and its politics and his column now appears in dozens of California newspapers.

Email: dwalters@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1195
Twitter: @WaltersBee

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