Democrats relieved at outcome of Senate GOP fight

Amid Monday’s swearing-in festivities, a lot of people looked lost. Uncounted guests and visitors swarmed the Capitol. Phil Angelides wandered by, looking for the Assembly floor. Meanwhile, a small cadre of reporters huddled outside Senate Leader Dick Ackerman’s office outside the Senate gallery as they awaited word on the political fate of the Senate leader.
After two hours of deliberation and “several votes,” Ackerman once again fended off a challenge from Sen. Jim Battin, R-La Quinta. But it wasn’t just a victory for Ackerman. It was also a victory for Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland.
Perata actively sought Ackerman’s re-election. Sources close to the pro tem say Perata was engaged in the machinations of the GOP leadership struggle, directing staff to keep him up on the latest gossip and plot twists in the fight to oust Ackerman.
Those sources also expect there to be some retribution and rewards when it comes time for committee assignments. Committee chairmanships will be announced this week, and Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, who cast the swing vote for Ackerman, is expected to be rewarded with a chairmanship.
Though Ackerman did not punish Battin for trying to oust him last year, there is an expectation that Battin will lose his vice-chairmanship of the powerful Senate Rules Committee, and that other Battin loyalists could lose out on plum committee assignments when they are announced in January.
Maldonado, meanwhile, is in line to become chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, a post previously held by Battin supporter Jeff Denham, according to Senate sources.
Maldonado reportedly cast the deciding vote in a leadership fight, sitting out the initial vote before deciding to cast his lot with Ackerman.
Through his chief of staff, Maldonado refused to comment on the caucus vote.
Perata was on a retreat of Senate Democrats and could not be reached for comment.
Monday’s showdown marked 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 declined to elaborate on the vote, saying “caucus decisions stay in the caucus.” But he said he understands the caucus’ concerns about last year’s budget. “The budget was more of an election-year budget, as we talked about. It was more status quo. This year is not an election year, and we’re going to take a harder line on the budget. Our entire caucus is dedicated to that.”
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 senators Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks and Denham of Salinas, 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.
Senators Mark Wyland, Dave Cogdill, Sam Aanestad and Tom Harman also sided with Battin.
Ackerman’s critics also are unhappy with the position by the Republican leadership to support much or all of the $42.7 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.

Anthony York, Malcolm Maclachlan, John Howard and Daniel Macht contributed to this report.

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