Communications snafu fueled dispute between McClintock, Ackerman

A breakdown in protocol caused two Republican senators to miss last Wednesday night’s important floor session on bonds. The incident has led to a contrite sergeant at arms and a discussion over the ubiquity of Blackberry wireless devices in the Capitol.

More importantly for Republicans, it caused a spat between Senate minority leader Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine, and Senator Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, the party’s candidate for lieutenant governor.

It all started last Wednesday afternoon as Senators were waiting for an announced Wednesday night session to try to work out a compromise on the infrastructure bond. Shortly after 5 p.m., Secretary of the Senate Greg Schmidt sent out an email to senators and staffers saying that the night’s session had been cancelled. At approximately the same time, Senate Sergeant at Arms Tony Beard announced the same thing over the loudspeaker to Senate offices.

However, after emerging from a Big Five meeting with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senate Leader Don Perata, D-Oakland, decided to call the session after all, for 8:30 p.m. Beard said that he had a short, face-to-face meeting with Senate Republican Leader Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine, at a location near the Capitol.

Beard said, and Ackerman’s office confirmed, that Ackerman said he would contact all the Republican members. Normal procedure would be for Beard or one of his sergeants to call every senator on their cell phones or whatever number they had specified when they needed to be reached urgently.

Instead, Ackerman’s office sent out an email to all Republican chiefs of staff at 6:46 p.m. The email did not go to any members or other staff members. McClintock told Capitol Weekly that he carries a Treo wireless device and would have received an email. He also said that he sent his staff home around 6:30, after double-checking Schmidt’s and Beard’s offices and finding them empty.

Unlike most high level staffers in the Capitol, McClintock’s chief of staff, Kirk Hutson, does not carry a Blackberry wireless device–and he did not get the message. McClintock, who said he prides himself on rarely missing votes, said he did not discover that session had been held until he showed up for work the next day at 8:30 a.m. He said he promptly had a “spirited discussion” with Ackerman, whom he described as “apologetic.”

“I don’t think it was malicious,” McClintock said.

Beard declined to blame Ackerman, saying he should have instructed his staff to make the customary calls.

“It was my responsibility,” said Beard. “It will not happen again.”

Another Republican senator, Roy Ashburn of Bakersfield, also missed the session due to miscommunication. He said he was traveling by car by to his district when he got a message from Ackerman asking him to call. The two men called back and forth at least twice before connecting, at which time Ackerman told him of the session. However, Ashburn said he had traveled too far at that point to make it back in time.

“It was a confusing situation, but I do think Senators should rely on the official channels: Tony Beard or Greg Schmidt,” Ashburn said.

Meanwhile, four Democrats missed the Wednesday night session. Richard Alarc

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