Ackerman retains leadership of Senate Republicans

Senate Republican Leader Dick Ackerman fended off an attempt by colleague Jim Battin to oust Ackerman from the Senate’s top GOP post. It marks the second time in a year that Battin has sought to dump Ackerman as leader.

“Our caucus has made a decision that Dick will continue on as leader,” Battin said immediately after the closed-door vote in the Capitol that followed a two-hour meeting. Battin described the final vote as “razor-thin,” but declined to elaborate.

“There were “several votes,” he added. “And we had a long discussion on how the leaders should act with the governor.”

Ackerman was not immediately available for comment.

Battin’s latest challenge came to a head at a closed-door Republican retreat last week in Newport Beach. The Senate Minority Leader runs a 15-member caucus and, among other duties, coordinates the caucus’ political posture, helps with fund-raising and negotiates with the governor’s office on behalf of the Senate GOP members.

Although Republicans are in minority in the Senate, the GOP has influence on critical issues, including the state budget, which requires a two-thirds vote in the 40-member house for passage. There are 25 Democrats and 15 Republicans in the Senate, which means that any Democrat-backed budget must obtain at least two Republican votes to reach the 27-vote, two-thirds threshold.

In considering Battin’s selection, the Senate pondered a change similar to that made by the Republican leadership last month in the Assembly, and it appeared to signal a partisan hardening among Republicans.

Going into today’s meeting, Battin had collected seven votes, one shy of the eight votes needed to oust Ackerman; and Ackerman had collected four. The results remained in doubt, however, because several members did not attend the Newport Beach retreat. The vote was delayed until a full gathering Monday in Ackerman’s office in the Capitol, on the day that new members of the 2006-07 Legislature were scheduled to be sworn in.

Battin’s challenge was fueled by several factors.

One is the view of Senate conservatives, led by Sens. Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks and Jeff Denham of Salinas, is that Ackerman has not been sufficiently aggressive in representing their views to the governor in budget negotiations. The view is similar to that held in the Assembly against former GOP Leader George Plescia, R-San Diego, who was ousted earlier this month.

Ackerman’s critics also are unhappy with the position by the Republican leadership to support much or all of the $43.7 billion infrastructure package on the November ballot, which fiscal conservatives in the GOP caucus believe dangerously increases the state’s debt load and is likely to lead to pork barrel projects for Democrats.

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