Walters: Regional balance of power in flux

September 2, 2013 

When Bob Filner, facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment, stepped down as mayor of San Diego, he touched off complex maneuvering over who will succeed him.

Very quickly, Toni Atkins, the state Assembly's Democratic floor leader, took herself out of the running. And that was very quickly interpreted by Capitol insiders to mean that she is confident she will become speaker of the Assembly next year when the current speaker, John A. Pérez, steps down, probably to run for state controller.

Term limits will compel both Pérez and Darrell Steinberg, the president pro tem of the state Senate, to leave their leadership positions next year.

With a run for statewide office, Pérez probably would be compelled to relinquish the speakership no later than June, after assumedly becoming the Democratic candidate for controller in the primary election.

Steinberg, who professes to have no ambition for another office, is likely to remain as Senate leader through the end of the 2014 legislative session — but how long could be a factor.

It's widely assumed that Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, is in line to succeed Steinberg, but there is some uncertainty.

One reason is an unwritten practice of dividing the Legislature's two top leadership positions between the state's two mega-regions — a recognition that many burning political issues, such as water, are more regional than ideological.

In recent years, Los Angeles Democrats have owned the Assembly speakership while the Senate's top position has been held by someone from Northern California — and until Sacramentan Steinberg came along, someone from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Were she to become speaker, Atkins would break L.A.'s hold on the Assembly post, but she still is from Southern California and it's an open question whether northern senators would accept having their leader come from the southern region as well. The regional rivalry could be an opening for Concord's Mark DeSaulnier.

Still another factor is whether one of those former speakers from Los Angeles, Bob Hertzberg, will be angling to become Senate president pro tem when he, as now seems certain, captures a Senate seat next November.

Hertzberg has never lacked for ambition, although he could conceivably keep his aspirations, if any, in check for a while since term limits would also limit the reign of de León or DeSaulnier.

Were Steinberg to cede the position before the November 2014 election, de León's or DeSaulnier's chances would be enhanced, but were he to wait until later, the situation could be more complex.

Atkins also would be just a one-term speaker, but due to recent modifications of term limits, her successor and the Senate leader after could enjoy much-longer tenures in the Legislature's most powerful positions.

 

Dan Walters writes for The Bee's Capitol bureau. Email: dwalters@sacbee.com; mail: P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852.

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