SACRAMENTO -- Two months after he voted for new taxes, Assembly GOP leader Mike Villines is still feeling the heat from party conservatives.
The latest salvo came this week from former California Republican Party chairman Shawn Steel, who said on a Modesto radio show that he and other Republicans plan to ask Villines to resign as GOP leader.
"He's hurt the brand, he's hurting our fundraising, he's hurting our registration," Steel told KMPH (AM 840) talk show host Rob Johnson on Wednesday. "It's embarrassing having a Republican support one of the biggest tax increases in American history on the state level."
Villines, of Clovis, had not been approached by Steel or anyone else on the matter as of Thursday morning, his office said. Steel did not return calls for comment.
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On Wednesday, Villines told reporters that "you know, there's just a strong disagreement in our party, but we're a big tent, we're a big-tent party."
In a statement, California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring came to Villines' defense: "There is a diversity of opinion within any party at times, but there is no doubt that Mike has been a great, hardworking leader for our party and every Californian."
Villines has caught the wrath of anti-tax conservatives ever since negotiating a budget deal in February with Democrats and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that includes temporary tax hikes to help close a $42 billion shortfall through June 2010.
Since then, Villines has campaigned hard for several May 19 ballot measures that are needed to complete the deal, including Proposition 1A, which restricts state spending but also extends the tax hikes by a couple of years.
Villines has said that if he did not agree to temporary tax hikes, Democrats would seek to enact a budget that includes permanent tax increases.
Last weekend, Villines went before the state Republican Party's executive committee to urge them to endorse the ballot measures. He was rebuked when party leaders voted to oppose all of them. Steel led the charge against Villines at the meeting.
Villines said: "I believe fundamentally that these reforms and these initiatives are very, very important for California … and Shawn feels differently. So we just have a disagreement, and I guess we'll just have to leave it at that."
Steel, of Palos Verdes, led the party from 2001 to 2003. His tenure was rocky. In 2002, he was censured by party leaders after he threatened to seek the recall of any GOP lawmaker who voted for tax hikes.
Villines has survived one ouster attempt already. In the wake of his tax vote, he thwarted an unorganized coup led by Orange County Assembly Member Chuck DeVore.
On Thursday, several Republicans who voted against the taxes said they are sticking by Villines - for now. One school of thought is that Villines might be in the best position to negotiate the next budget deal this summer because it's unlikely he would agree to new taxes for a second time.
"There's going to be a time and a place for a change in leadership," said Assembly Member Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore. But "that time hasn't happened yet. We're not ready yet for internal warfare within the caucus."