GOP gathers in wake of divisive budget vote

Anyone who doesn’t think there are political implications for Republicans who support the deal reached by legislative leaders last week, just talk to Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Fresno.

After months of negotiation, Cogdill’s decision to go along with a budget package that included more than $14 billion in tax increases cost the Fresno Republican his leadership post. In the Assembly, Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, made a motion over the weekend to strip that house’s Republican leader, Mike Villines, R-Clovis, at the urging of conservative radio shock jocks John and Ken.

The political shock waves from the budget stand-off, still ongoing as of this writing, are being felt throughout Republican California. And as the party faithful prepare to gather in Sacramento this weekend, some are out for blood.

“There are moves afoot to try to censure members who support the tax increase,” DeVore said. But perhaps surprisingly, DeVore does not think censure is a good idea.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for the convention,” he said. “This is a political dispute. It’s not like there’s any moral shortcoming” among supporters of the budget deal.

But that hasn’t stopped some from launching fledgling recall efforts against would-be supporters of the budget deal. DeVore said there has been talk among a conservative group called the Atlas PAC about bankrolling potential recall campaigns against Republican lawmakers.

Atlas PAC’s chairman, Lee  Lowrey, said recall efforts were ready to go. And his group has Anthony Adams in its sites.

“We’ll be the leaders on that,” he said of a potential Adams recall. “He’s a brand-new Assemblyman, and as far as we’re concerned he’s going to be gone.”

Lowrey said holding the line on taxes is about all that’s left for Republicans’ political identity in California. “All of us can understand that as Republicans we can disagree on abortion or even gay marriage. But if we can’t all agree on taxes, what’s the point of the party?”
But the fear of repercussions is in the air. Republican lawmakers this week said a vote for the budget plan was akin to political suicide. When word leaked out that Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, was considering a vote for the budget, a group in Camarillo went out and registered the Web address

This threat is not going unnoticed by lawmakers. During the budget stalemate Monday, Maldonado’s lap top on the Senate floor was open to the John and Ken Web site, a meeting group for the most vehement conservative opponents of the budget deal.

So far, only five of the Legislature’s 44 Republicans have indicated they would vote for the budget deal reached last week. In the Assembly, Assemblymembers Roger Neillo, R-Sacramento, and Anthony Adams, R-Hesperia, have indicated they would vote for the deal along with Villines. In the Senate, Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, is expected to support the deal along with Cogdill.

But now that the Republicans have ousted their leader, insiders say all bets are off.

The budget has become radioactive among Republican activists, who rail against the new taxes that are part of the package. But statewide surveys show more of an appetite for increased taxes. A January poll from the Public Policy Institute of California shows voters are evenly split over a temporary sales-tax increase. The survey also showed they supported an increase in the vehicle license fee by a 58-41 percent margin.

Both levies are part of the deal hammered out by lawmakers last week.

But the statewide survey has done little to sway most Republican elected officials. This week, both of the major Republican candidates for governor, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former eBay executive Meg Whitman, spoke out against the budget proposal this week.

Poizner suggested lawmakers scrap the current blueprint and start over. In an interview with the Sacramento Bee, Poizner criticized the budget deal for hitting the middle class the hardest.

“They don’t have the guts to raise taxes on rich people because rich people have lobbyists and rich people are mobile and rich people will leave,” he said.

This is really the most disgusting, terrible thing I’ve heard in a long time – the idea of raising $14 billion of taxes on working class people who are about to lose their homes.”

Poizner suggested the Legislature pass an emergency six-month package to inject the state with enough cash to survive the current budget year.

“Californians can no longer afford the government they have,” Whitman said at a speech in San Jose this week. She said if she were governor, she would not support the deal worked out with Gov. Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders.

“California’s middle class is being taxed to the point where they just can’t afford to live here anymore. I love California too much to let it fail, and I refuse to sit by and watch it happen.”

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