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Assembly Democrat stripped of committee chairmanship after voting against gas tax increase

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Gov. Jerry Brown discusses the "arrangements" he made with California lawmakers to secure passage of a bill that raises the gas tax for road repairs on April 6, 2017.
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Gov. Jerry Brown discusses the "arrangements" he made with California lawmakers to secure passage of a bill that raises the gas tax for road repairs on April 6, 2017.

Nearly two weeks after breaking with fellow Democrats to vote against a bill raising California fuel taxes, Assemblyman Rudy Salas of Bakersfield has lost the chairmanship of a prime legislative committee.

On Monday, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon announced that he had removed Salas from his position heading the politically lucrative Assembly Business and Professions Committee, which handles consumer regulations, occupational licensing and product labeling bills.

Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, will take over as the committee chair, while Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, will get Salas’ vacancy. Salas was moved to the Assembly Rules Committee, which assigns bills to relevant policy committees and makes other decisions to administer the house.

Rendon, who called Salas “a very good friend of mine, a longtime friend of mine, a very valuable member of our caucus,” did not directly address the connection between Salas’ vote and the committee changes.

“We’ve had a lot of success and I wanted to make sure we continue to have success,” Rendon said. “Obviously, it’s my prerogative to make changes from time to time.”

Salas, one of the more centrist Democrats in the Assembly, was the sole member of his caucus to vote against Senate Bill 1, which will increase the gas tax and add a new vehicle registration fee to pay for road repairs, public transit and other projects. His defection momentarily caused chaos in the chamber, as the measure stalled short of passage and colleagues rushed to convince several wavering members to vote for the plan without Salas.

Discussing his vote publicly for the first time, Salas said in an interview that he opposed SB 1 because of a campaign promise that he would not support any new taxes unless they went before voters for approval.

“Mr. Speaker respected my commitment to my families and I told him I’d respect his decision,” said Salas, who shared a hug with Rendon on the Assembly floor Monday. “I can deal with someone being upset. I'm more worried about what the families in my district will have to endure now.”

Punishment is not uncommon for legislators who cross their party leadership. Former Assemblywoman Nicole Parra, D-Hanford, was famously booted to an office across the street from the Capitol after abstaining on a budget vote in 2008. In 2011, then-Assemblyman Anthony Portantino of La Cañada Flintridge accused the then-speaker of slashing his office funding for being the lone Democratic holdout on the budget.

So far, Sen. Steve Glazer of Orinda, the sole Democrat to vote against SB 1 in the Senate, has avoided similar retribution from Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León.

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 2:50 p.m. April 17, 2017 to add comment from Speaker Anthony Rendon. This post was updated at 3:58 p.m. to add comment from Assemblyman Rudy Salas.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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