Capitol Alert

Democratic campaign battle brewing for California Senate seat

Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins, D-San Diego talks with Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles before Gov. Jerry Brown is sworn in to office on Jan. 5, 2015 at the state Capitol in Sacramento.
Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins, D-San Diego talks with Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles before Gov. Jerry Brown is sworn in to office on Jan. 5, 2015 at the state Capitol in Sacramento. hamezcua@sacbee.com

An intraparty Democratic campaign battle could rupture relations in the Legislature, pitting Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, against a Senate colleague whom Atkins believes vowed to stand down.

In Atkins’ telling, Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, promised in 2012 that he would step aside and allow Atkins to seek the 39th district Senate seat he occupies when she termed out of the Assembly in 2016. Now she says he is reneging on that deal.

“I made a decision to run for the Senate four years ago when Marty approached me and made this promise, so I’ve stayed true to that. I have never wavered. When people asked me to run for mayor twice, I said ‘I know what I intend to do,’ ” Atkins said. “I thought I would be running against someone now. I just didn’t think it would be Marty Block.”

Not so, contends Block. He said that he and Atkins discussed the idea of his giving up his seat but he never made a commitment.

“I trust the speaker thinks she heard what she thinks she heard, but like a lot of people in this state and this country, I’ve had to change my retirement plan,” Block said. “There was never any guarantee.”

Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León has already endorsed Block, calling him “an extraordinary senator” in a statement sent to The Bee Saturday.

“He deserves to be re-elected, and Senate Democrats are resolutely united behind him,” de León said.

Atkins, set to be replaced as leader of Assembly Democrats early next year by Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, said she tried not to let the simmering conflict disrupt legislative business.

“This has been playing out for quite a while in terms of my conversations with Marty as I realized he was not going to honor his promise, and I did not let it affect the end of session,” Atkins said. “I know it creates a potentially difficult situation, but I have all the faith in the world in Kevin de León’s professionalism.”

Block was less optimistic.

“For the speaker from one house to attack a member of another house, another Democrat, is unprecedented,” he said.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert

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