Blakeslee becomes new Republican leader of the Assembly

Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, a Central Coast Republican in his third term in the Assembly, was chosen to succeed Assemblyman Mike Villines as the GOP leader of the lower house. The move to replace Villines came less than two weeks before the May 19 special election, in which voters will be asked to approve a controversial mix of taxes and cuts to help shore up the state budget.

The 29-member Assembly Republican Caucus selected Blakeslee in a closed-door meeting that lasted more than an hour. He is expected to formally take over on June 1.

The caucus had become restive in recent weeks amid Republicans' unhappiness with the state budget agreement negotiated in February by legislative leaders and Gov. Schwarzenegger. Villines helped negotiate the compromise and supported the budget, but rank-and-file Republicans were displeased with the document, in part because of new tax increases.

Even as Blakeslee was selected, the outlook for the state budget deteriorated dramatically.

Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor, who advises the Legislature on fiscal issues, estimated that the state suffered an immediate $23 billion cash-flow problem. Meanwhile, a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California reported that the budget-linked propositions appeared to be losing.

A half-dozen controversial ballot propositions intended to balance the out-of-whack current state budget as well as future spending plans. The measures include new taxes and nearly $6 billion in borrowings and transfers, and generally are opposed by the conservative wing of the Assembly caucus. Villines, as one of the legislative leaders who negotiated the budget deal, favors the propositions.

Already, conservatives have spoken up against a Blakeslee promotion. FlashReport publisher Jon Fleischman wrote, "The odd and curious part is that while Blakeslee is widely respected for being an honorable man and a fair broker, there is no getting around the fact that on the issues, if you exclude the recent budget deal, Blakeslee is the least conservative member of the caucus."

Blakeslee, in a prepared statement released by his office, said he hoped to work with the governor and described his priorities as education, streamlined government, law enforcement and business development.

"We will fight for fiscally sound state government so that we can withstand the lean times and prosper in the good times," he said.

Blakeslee has an unusual background for a member of the Legislature. He grew up on the Central Coast and attended San Luis Obispo High School and Cuesta Community College, then attended UC Berkeley, where he received a Bachelor's degree and Master's degree in geophysics. He later obtained a Ph.D. from UC Santa Barbara for his research into seismic scattering, micro-earthquake studies and fault zones. He also worked for Exxon, where he was responsible for budgeting.

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