By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Hertzberg, Kathleen Clark
Villaraigosa, Slobodan Dimitrov
It was one of those moments in which the shifting currents of power and allegiance were suddenly forced to the surface, and for those present, it signified a sea change in the Democrat-dominated state Assembly.
The scene unfolded at a meeting of the Appropriations Committee, chaired by Democrat Carol Migden. With the vigorous support of Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, the Community Reinvestment Act (AB 869), which would pressure insurance companies to invest their cash resources in commercial developments and businesses within low-income neighborhoods, was expected to pass quickly through the Appropriations Committee and move on to a floor vote.
Van Nuys Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg had other ideas. Despite serving on Villaraigosa’s leadership team and understanding that the Democrat-controlled Insurance Committee had put its stamp of approval on the bill after a raucous debate with industry lobbyists, Hertzberg abstained from the vote. With three other business-friendly Democrats following Hertzberg’s lead, the bill stalled.
The next day, in a show of political muscle, Villaraigosa vowed, "I’ll jam it through," according to the Capitol newsletter Political Pulse. His solution: simply use his clout to remove the offending parties for a day, paving the way for a decisive vote. At a June 2 Appropriations Committee meeting, supportive legislators had been substituted for Hertzberg and crew, and the bill passed on to the Assembly floor. Party moderates were alienated by the speaker’s show of force, however, and rallied against the bill. Sensing the rebellion, the sponsors of AB 869 never brought it to a vote. In a meeting with insurance-industry lobbyists last Monday, sources present say, Villaraigosa was humbled, lacking the leverage of a majority to demand a compromise.
As Political Pulseput it, "Every lobbyist who was watching closely concluded, by the fate of this bill and others, that the power in the Assembly had shifted." Or as one of those lobbyists described it to the Weekly, "It was like the speaker’s power in the caucus was declining right in front of our eyes."
Despite presiding over dramatic gains for Assembly Democrats and the passage of billions of dollars in education bonds in last fall’s elections, Villaraigosa is under mounting pressure in the Capitol. He is contemplating a run for mayor of Los Angeles, prompting several rivals to vie for his job as speaker. Even were he to stay in Sacramento, Villaraigosa would be termed out by November of the year 2000, rendering him a lame-duck speaker in either the short or the midterm. The upshot: He’s having trouble passing legislation despite presiding over a significant majority in the Assembly.
Much of the heat is coming from a contingent of centrist Democrats on Villaraigosa’s ideological right flank. Besides AB 869, Villaraigosa failed to pass two other pieces of legislation he championed this month. One would have significantly raised the cap on awards in medical-malpractice suits; he was forced to settle for a minimal increase tied to the rate of inflation. The other, a high-profile measure authored by Sheila Kuehl of Santa Monica to protect students from gay bashing, lost by a single vote. "The speaker is still fighting the good fight," said a progressive lobbyist, "but right now it’s not working."
Ironically, the Democratic moderates are being led by Hertzberg, an old friend of the speaker. Hertzberg, who refers to himself as Villaraigosa’s consigliere, served as treasurer in Villaraigosa’s first campaign and helped him win the speakership last year. The two men even share a house in Sacramento. But Hertzberg has made no secret of the fact that when Villaraigosa steps down as speaker, he intends to make a bid for the job.
Despite Villaraigosa’s recent setbacks, which some credit Hertzberg with orchestrating, both deny there is a rift in their relationship. "The speaker and Mr. Hertzberg continue to be good colleagues, friends and roommates," said Elena Stern, Villaraigosa’s director of communications. "Their personal friendship transcends political gossip."
The pair underscored their friendly relations by co-authoring an op-ed piece in the TimesMonday, and Hertzberg plans to host Villaraigosa at a Valley function this weekend.
But according to high-ranking members of the Assembly, while Villaraigosa’s job is not in imminent danger, all is not rosy in the Statehouse. "Relations are not good at all between the speaker and Mr. Hertzberg," said a member of the Democratic leadership. A pol in Los Angeles says that Hertzberg said he and Villaraigosa were not speaking after Hertzberg was removed from the Appropriations Committee. Hertzberg denied the account and countered by listing a number of times the men have met recently, including a social occasion last weekend between the men’s families.
Of course, with all the jockeying for position, the comments of almost any member of the Assembly are colored by the politics of succession.
"Some people have an ax to grind," Hertzberg said in an interview. "They want to create public uncertainty in my relationship with the speaker to improve their own chances. It’s the nature of politics." Among those seeking consideration as speaker are Democrats Migden, Tony Cardenas of Panorama City and Fred Keeley of Boulder Creek.