Capitol Alert

California Senate Republicans elect a new leader

Sen. Patricia Bates was elected leader of the Senate Republican Caucus on Tuesday.
Sen. Patricia Bates was elected leader of the Senate Republican Caucus on Tuesday.

California Senate Republicans unanimously elected Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, Tuesday as the new minority leader.

In a closed-door meeting, GOP senators voted for Bates to replace Jean Fuller as the head of the 13-member caucus.

Fuller is termed out of office in 2018 and said she wanted a smooth transition to new leadership, giving Bates ample time to prepare for the next election cycle.

Bates called the new position “humbling.”

“It is no secret that Republicans face a challenging political environment in California,” Bates said in a statement. “But Republicans embrace taxpayers who want a more efficient government, parents who want better schools and safer streets, and citizens who want their constitutional freedoms protected.”

Bates, 77, said she expects that message to attract broad support in California and pledged to spread it to “every part of the state.”

The new leader takes over as the state GOP attempts to rebrand itself in a deep-blue state.

Republicans made up just 26 percent of registered voters before the November election. Democrats secured two-thirds majorities in both houses of the state Legislature at the ballot box.

Bates may have to defend several Republican districts that are likely to become Democratic targets in 2018 – Sen. Anthony Cannella’s 12th Senate District near Modesto; SD 14 in Fresno and Kern counties held by Andy Vidak; and Janet Nguyen’s 34th SD in Orange County.

Conversations about Fuller’s departure began in late December and were first brought up in caucus last week.

Fuller became the first woman to serve as Senate Republican leader in August 2015, several months before her predecessor, former Sen. Bob Huff, was expected to relinquish his position.

Fuller expressed confidence Tuesday that Bates would continue a legacy of leadership through service.

“Over the last two years, I have made it a priority to do what is best for the caucus and for our constituents,” Fuller said in a statement. “I got into politics to do everything I could to improve the lives of my constituents. I am proud of the accomplishments of our Senate Republican Caucus.”

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León called Fuller a poised leader with a serious focus on what matters. Fuller and de León joined the Legislature at the same time, landing seats in the Assembly in 2006.

“As my partner she was always sincere, honest and sought consensus instead of gridlock,” he said. “I’m honored to have served alongside her.”

De León congratulated Bates and said it’s important for her to continue the culture of cooperation between the two parties.

That congenial atmosphere appeared to break down last month after Nguyen was removed from the Senate floor. Led by Fuller, Republican senators pressured de León to launch an investigation into the incident. He appointed a three-person panel to review the situation earlier this month.

“I look forward to having a productive and collaborative relationship,” de León said. “The people of California expect no less.”

De León also terms out next year. When asked if he expected to begin a similar transition of power soon to his yet-to-be-named successor, the pro tem said he’s “stronger than ever.”

“I’m happy and proud to be honored with the support of my colleagues,” he said.

Bates said she’s eager to work with legislators on both sides of the aisle to fix problems plaguing the state, such as housing affordability and roads.

“The leadership role puts you on the front line, and with my social worker background, I’m a great consensus builder and listener,” Bates said.

Bates became the first mayor of Laguna Niguel in 1989 and served on the City Council until her election to the state Assembly in 1998. She served for six years and then joined the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Bates returned the Legislature in 2014 as a state senator.

Taryn Luna: 916-326-545, @TarynLuna