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Candidates emerging to replace Senate GOP Leader Dick Ackerman

The unofficial campaign to replace Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman is under way. Senate GOP sources expect Ackerman to step aside after this year’s budget is settled. Among the front-runners to replace him are Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, and Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Fresno. Caucus insiders say both have privately expressed an interest in the position, although neither is commenting publicly.

Runner, who as GOP caucus chairman is viewed as an Ackerman lieutenant, is considered by some in the 15-member caucus as a likely successor to Ackerman, R-Irvine. A former Assemblyman, Ackerman has fended off two earlier coup attempts led by Sen. Jim Battin, R-La Quinta. Insiders say Ackerman is liked within the caucus, but that he has become weakened by term limits; Ackerman is in the midst of his second, final Senate term.

Senate insiders say Runner, whose wife is Assemblywoman Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, could be handicapped by his closeness to Ackerman–depending on how much Senators want a change. Runner is known to the public for his role in authoring Jessica’s Law, which targets sexual predators of children.

“We have a leader in Senator Ackerman and Senator Runner supports Dick Ackerman,” said Runner spokeswoman Jana Saastad. “In the future, if an opportunity for leadership presents itself, then Sen. Runner would consider his options.”

Cogdill is a Senate rookie, but is seen as a quick study who can negotiate with the governor’s office–which also was one of Ackerman’s strengths. Cogdill, for example, is carrying the governor’s proposal to build two new dams. Before getting to the Senate, Cogdill spent six years in the Assembly, including five years in leadership.

There was no immediate comment from the offices of Ackerman, Runner or Cogdill.

The Senate Republican leader leads the caucus, representing the caucus’ views before the governor. The leader is also largely responsible for fundraising and election strategy for the Senate Republican Caucus.

While there are limited election opportunities, or risks, Republicans will have to hold the seat currently held by Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks. Former Assemblyman Tony Strickland is expected to seek the GOP nomination for the seat. Democrats Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, and former Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson are among the likely Democratic candidates.

Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, could potentially face a stiff Democratic challenge in 2008.

Republicans will also make a run at the seat being vacated by Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden.

Sources say the decision on Ackerman is likely to come after the 2007-08 budget is approved. Under the constitution, the Legislature-approved budget is supposed to be sent to the governor by June 15. That deadline has not been met, as lawmakers continue negotiations.

Depending on the timing of the budget’s passage, the soonest that the leadership vote could take place is before July 20, when the Senate begins its summer recess. The Senate returns Aug. 20 and stays until Sept. 14, when it adjourns for the year.


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