Redevelopment an issue in Senate GOP leadership fight?

Senate Republican leader can be a hard job to hold onto in Sacramento. In recent years, the GOP Caucus has tossed aside leaders for issues ranging from a budget vote to fundraising. But a new factor appears to have made its way into the latest leadership battle: redevelopment.

The fight over redevelopment agencies, or RDAs, doesn’t appear to have anything to do with why current leader Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, is reportedly on his way out. That’s happening because Dutton told his caucus last week that he’s exploring an Assembly bid, although the Republicans’ frustration at getting so little out of the budget negotiation may also play a role.

But the RDAs may determe Dutton’s successor.

For months, eyes have been on Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, as Dutton’s likely replacement. But, according to Capitol sources, discomfort about Huff’s wife’s role in protecting RDAs has given a boost to a new challenger, Sen. Joel Anderson, R-El Cajon.

Huff’s wife, Mei Mei Huff, has been working as a consultant to developer Ed Roski Jr. The revelation, first reported in the Los Angeles Times, came from Sen. Huff’s financial disclosure forms filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Roski wants to build a 75,000-seat NFL stadium in the City of Industry. The controversial project would be located next to an enterprise zone, where RDA money could be used to renovate nearby businesses and infrastructure, providing an indirect benefit to the project if it got off the ground.

Sen. Huff has been one of the staunchest defenders of RDAs in the Legislature. The vice chair of the Senate Budget Committee has pushed a compromise to Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to save about $1.7 billion by eliminating state support for RDAs, and has been keeping a couple of placeholder bills alive for the purpose.

This has led some to say that there is the appearance of a conflict of interest involving Sen. Huff. However, a spokesman for Roski’s firm, Majestic Realty, said Mei Mei Huff Consulting LLC was not involved with the company’s redevelopment-related projects.

Huff spokesperson Bill Bird also said there was no conflict of interest. “He’s never hidden his support for redevelopment. All but two cities in his district have redevelopment components.”

“He drew a line that didn’t exist,” Bird said. I have a stack of letters here from cities saying ‘don’t go there.’”

For his part, Anderson’s spokesperson refused to talk about the leadership fight.

“Senator Anderson is a strong supporter of Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton,” said Jim Kjol.

Republican lawmakers have traditionally defended RDAs, although there are exceptions. The most outspoken critic of RDAs in the Legislature is Assemblyman, Chris Norby, R-Fullerton.

Oddly, sources say that the majority of senators supporting Anderson also support redevelopment. The issue wasn’t Huff’s position on the agencies, but rather the potential appearance of a conflict.

Dutton’s announcement came during a caucus meeting last week. Dutton terms out of the Senate next year, but still has two two-year terms available to him in the Assembly if he can win a seat in next year’s redistricted elections.

The move appeared to push Huff to shore up his support, with a decision on a new leader likely coming sooner than he had expected. But, according to sources, some senators approached Anderson because of their discomfort with Huff’s wife’s business.

The Republican Caucus has a history of looking to its more conservative members for leaders, at least over the last two to three years. After a period of relatively more moderate leaders like Dick Ackerman and Dave Cogdill — who was ousted after providing a key vote for a compromise Feb. 2009 that included some of the same temporary tax increases that Brown has been trying to extend — the caucus turned to Dennis Hollingsworth.

A conservative Republican who focused on hot-button issues like partial birth abortion, Hollingsworth had a contentious run as leader that coincided with a sharp drop in fundraising by the California Republican Party. The Senate leader is usually seen as a key fundraising figure, and that was reportedly part of the reason they turned to Dutton. That change was announced in January of last year, but didn’t take place until October, just before Hollingsworth termed out, and unusually long transition.

Hollingsworth’s vacant seat was won by Anderson, a two-term Assemblyman who had the distinction of being one of the few legislators who was arguably even more conservative. He might be best-known for a bill to force California’s public employee pension system to divest from any business in Iran.

Early last year, he was the one sitting legislator to record an endorsement for Better Courts Now, a group formed by late Chula Vista-based Pastor Don Hamer to elect conservative judges to fight same sex marriage and abortion. Last August, he was the only legislator to vote against AB 2199, a bill to remove homosexuality from a list of “mental illnesses” to be researched by the State Department of Mental Health.

In any case, RDAs appear to be dead, at least in their current form. According to sources, a major Democratic supporter of RDAs, Sen. Rod Wright, D-Los Angeles, had been preparing a compromise bill that would save some of their funding.

But, according to an email sent out Tuesday night by supporters of RDAs, the bills to abolish them are about to be signed by Gov. Brown. They were passed by Democrats in both houses on Tuesday, as part of the majority vote budget agreement announced by Brown and Democratic legislative leaders on Monday afternoon.

“We’re deeply disappointed that slim majorities in the legislature passed this budget that relies on the illegal extortion of revenues from redevelopment agencies that will never materialize,” wrote John Shirey, executive director of the California Redevelopment Association, in a statement. “If the Governor signs the redevelopment trailer bills (AB x1 26/27), we’ll quickly file a lawsuit to prevent these unconstitutional measures from becoming law.”

Shirey continued: “We thank Senator Rod Wright and Senator Bob Huff for their leadership throughout this process, as well as Senators Michael Rubio, Leland Yee, Lou Correa, Assembly Member Anthony Portantino and the many Republicans who refused to vote for this illegal and fiscally reckless proposal.”

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