Capitol Alert

As California legislative session nears end, leadership drama spikes

Jean Fuller

Amid a rush of negotiations over transportation and health care funding proposals in the final weeks of California’s legislative session, Senate Republicans installed a new leader Thursday, while the Democratic Assembly speaker sought to tamp down jockeying to succeed her.

Senate Republicans ousted Bob Huff of San Dimas, electing Jean Fuller to replace him as minority leader.

The move came months ahead of a scheduled transition in November, and most Republican senators declined to discuss the circumstances of the decision. Fuller, of Bakersfield, declined to provide the vote tally or say if Huff agreed to step aside ahead of schedule.

Fuller said the change was unrelated to any caucus sentiment that Huff could be too amenable to tax proposals now under consideration. Huff issued a statement last week opposing new taxes for transportation funding.

Republicans could play a critical role in whether the Legislature approves new taxes to increase funding for health care and transportation, as Democrats lack the supermajority status needed to pass a tax on their own.

“Republicans do not raise taxes,” Fuller said, though she later teased that, “in politics, nothing is probable.”

“Anything is possible,” she said. “At the last minute, if people compromise and work together and do a good job of working with the facts, sometimes what the people really, really want actually can come true.”

At a news conference, Fuller said the caucus moved up the timeline to maintain focus on its ongoing priorities, including efforts to win additional seats in next year’s state Senate elections.

“I sped up the transition because there’s many opportunities that we need to work on that I need to give my full time to and my full attention to,” Fuller said. “Sen. Huff is running for the L.A. County supervisor. He has a lot to do.”

In the lower house, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, was taking steps to avoid a leadership fight, asking Democrats to wait until next year to vote for a new leader.

When Democrats elevated Atkins to lead the caucus in March 2014, they did so knowing she would be in the position for a limited stretch because term limits will force her from the Assembly after next year. Maneuvering to succeed her began almost immediately.

Atkins has circulated a letter asking Democratic lawmakers, “for the stability of the house,” to commit to voting for her replacement the week of Jan. 5, 2016, ensuring they won’t make a move until after this legislative year ends.

Atkins asked members to sign the letter during separate meetings with her leadership team and with speaker hopefuls.

In a prepared statement Thursday, a spokesman for Atkins said the Democratic leader hopes to ensure lawmakers are not distracted during the final, crucial stretch of the legislative year.

“The speaker has a balancing act – managing the end of session crush, keeping distractions for members to a minimum, and also establishing a time frame for potential successors to mount their efforts and make their cases,” spokesman John Casey said. “Releasing the schedule now for when the caucus will vote for the next speaker covers all those bases and ensures that the people’s business can get taken care of with the maximum attention and focus.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff