The next generation

Now that Proposition 93 has been rejected by voters, the races to replace the two legislative leaders are officially under way.
Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, was the first to publicly announce his candidacy to replace Senate leader Don Perata on Wednesday.

“It’s no secret that I’m going to run for the position and I’m going to run hard,” Steinberg said. “Obviously, it’s a decision for the caucus to make, and I know this: Whatever happens, the election will be amicable, something that reflects the congeniality of the senate. That is the tradition. I expect it will be that way.”

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, also is a contender to succeed Perata. Conversations with several senators indicate that Padilla is actively seeking votes. Steinberg has been the prohibitive front-runner for the job since his election in 2006. Padilla, a former president of the Los Angeles City Council, is said to have been waiting for a formal OK from Perata to begin seeking votes.

That decision to wait may have benefited Steinberg, who many say is still the most likely caucus choice to succeed Perata. But the timing of any vote or actual power change has yet to be formally worked out.

“The pro tem has encouraged the caucus to follow to model set by (former Pro Tem) John Burton,” said Perata spokeswoman Alicia Trost. “That would be a vote in August and a handoff after the general election. And honestly, with this current budget, I can’t imagine that anyone would want to accelerate that timeline.”

Ironically, perhaps, the lack of consensus in the Assembly is likely to help current Speaker Fabian Núñez retain his hold on power — at least for now.

“There have been plenty of whispers, but nobody’s really had those conversations,” said one Capitol staffer about the race for the speakership. “It takes several conversations to convince somebody to actually go in and punch a green button for a speaker, and those conversations are just beginning now.”

Even the fundamental questions in the speaker’s race are unsettled. Núñez was elected as a freshman Assemblyman and made a convincing case that a leader with longer tenure could bring more clout to the house. But Núñez was no ordinary freshman. He had political training as Miguel Contreras’ political director at the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and was intimately familiar with Sacramento politics before his election.

There is no clear head of this year’s freshman class. A number of candidates have been mentioned as potential speaker candidates — among them Anthony Portantino, Fiona Ma, Kevin de Leon and Mike Feuer. Another often-mentioned name is Chuck Calderon, who served in the Assembly before term limits were in effect, and can serve for another five years in office. Calderon tried to displace then-Speaker Willie Brown in the late-1980s as the leader of the Gang of Five, seeking backing from Assembly Republicans.

But there are some formidable sophomores on the list as well. Karen Bass, the Assembly majority floor leader, is considered a favorite in the race. But she has also been mentioned as a candidate for either Los Angeles City Council or the state Senate, depending on who wins the race for supervisor between councilman Bernard Parks and Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Also on the list are South Gate Democrat Hector De La Torre and Fremont Assemblyman Alberto Torrico. Torrico has a committee open to run for Alameda County supervisor in 2008, and De La Torre is said to be weighing the effect the job would have on his family before throwing his hat into the ring.

Part of the speakership consideration is a financial one. Among the potential candidates, De Leon has proven to be the most prolific fundraiser, and the best saver. De Leon raised more than $334,000 in the last six months of 2007 and has $541,000 in the bank — more than any other Assembly Democrat besides Núñez.

The second-highest fundraising total for the period was turned in by Fiona Ma, who raised more than $294,000. But Ma made more than $100,000 in political contributions, including a $45,000 donation to Proposition 93, and $30,000 to the California Republican Party. She currently ranks 10th among all Democrats in the cash-on-hand column with just over $162,000 in the bank.

Portantino, D-La Canada, raised $330,000 in the last period, and has banked more than $402,000, placing him third in the cash count, about $10,000 behind Torrico.

Then there’s the issue of the speaker’s money. Núñez has about $5.1 million in his personal account, according to records from the secretary of state’s office. He has about $1.2 million in another committee, the Committee to Protect California’s Future, which he controls.

In the Senate money tally, Steinberg and Padilla are among the most prolific fundraisers, with about $515,000 and $507,000 in cash on hand respectively. They are trumped only by Chino Democrat Gloria Negrete McLeod’s $588,000 and Carole Migden’s $970,000, but Migden’s money will be used for her Senate primary against Mark Leno.

For the year, Steinberg raised about $675,000, while Padilla raked in $495,000.

Perata also has some money in the bank. He has about $2.3 million in committees that he controls, including his officeholder account, his legal defense fund and an account to promote a water bond.

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