When former Republican state Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth introduced a bill eight years ago to add a few more names to the governor’s line of succession, he was worried about a cataclysmic event wiping out California’s top leadership.
Little did he know it would turn out to be the Democratic National Convention.
In a chain of events straight out of an episode of “The West Wing,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson is poised to take the helm as acting governor at some point in the next week when Gov. Jerry Brown and nearly all of his statutory replacements head out of state to their party’s convention in Philadelphia, which makes them constitutionally ineligible to serve as governor.
SB 1530, Hollingsworth’s obscure law approved in 2008, added the teacher-in-chief to the long chain of command that begins with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and ends with the Chair of the Board of Equalization, Fiona Ma.
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Torlakson is eighth in line, but the first seven — including Newsom, Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León, House Speaker Anthony Rendon, Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Kamala Harris — are all scheduled to speak at the convention, which takes place next Monday to Thursday.
It’s likely Brown and Newsom will be out for the majority of the week. De León and Padilla are expected to leave on Sunday followed by Rendon and Harris on Monday. Treasurer John Chiang is expected to leave Monday, and State Controller Betty Yee, who is just before Torlakson in line for the governor’s job, is expected to leave Saturday.
Though the schools chief is a nonpartisan role, Torlakson is a longtime Democrat. Robert Oakes, a spokesperson for his office, said the superintendent is not attending the convention due to a number of previously scheduled events. Those events include a fundraiser in Fresno Thursday for Proposition 51, a $9 billion school construction bond measure.
Oakes said it was “a good civics lesson” for California’s 6.2 million public school children about the line of succession. Although the Governor’s Office has not yet confirmed if and when Torlakson will assume the office, Oakes said the superintendent was made aware of the possibility and was “ready to fulfill his constitutional duty if called upon.”
Previous acting governors have made such monumental decisions as declaring the avocado the state fruit and honoring Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully. No word yet on what Torlakson may do with his newfound gubernatorial authority.