SACRAMENTO — Orange County emerged from a major shake-up in the state Senate on Thursday with more legislative clout.
No Orange County senator has held a standing committee chairmanship since 1981. Now, for the first time, two county senators will hold chairmanships at the same time.
Sens. Marian Bergeson and Paul Carpenter on Thursday were named to committee chairmanships in a reshuffling touched off by a San Francisco senator's party switch.
Bergeson, a Newport Beach Republican elected to the Senate in 1984, was named chairwoman of the Local Government Committee, a post held for the last 14 years by Sen. Milton Marks of San Francisco.
Carpenter, a Cypress Democrat, was named Thursday to head the Senate Elections Committee.
While the Elections Committee is not considered an influential post, the Local Government Committee is among the powerful legislative positions because the committee reviews nearly all major bills affecting cities, counties, school boards and special districts.
The chain of events was set in motion when Marks switched two weeks ago from the Republican to the Democratic Party. He was immediately named to replace Carpenter as Democratic Caucus Chairman. Carpenter wanted a less demanding assignment so he could concentrate this year on running for the state Board of Equalization.
Carpenter said the Elections Committee will be a less time-consuming assignment than chairing the party caucus, and it will allow him more time to campaign for the tax board.
"I guess I took the chairmanship (of the Elections Committee) to accommodate (Senate President Pro Tem) David (A. Roberti)," Carpenter said.
Bergeson, who had never chaired a committee during her short time in the Senate, said she considers the Local Government panel "a very important committee."
"I'm gratified to have the opportunity to chair it," Bergeson added.
In all, five new Senate committee chairs were named by the Rules Committee on Thursday.
The committee's deliberations were closed, and Roberti, a Los Angeles Democrat, was unavailable for comment Thursday after the changes were announced.
But sources close to Democratic leaders said the fact that Orange County had been without a committee chairman for nearly five years was a factor, particularly in the selection of Bergeson.
Bergeson was the only Republican and only woman involved in Friday's changes.
Sources said several other legislators--including Sens. Newton R. Russell (R-Glendale), Dan McCorquodale (D-San Jose) and Becky Morgan (R-Los Altos Hills)--had either sought or been under consideration for the coveted Local Government panel.
Although the committee does not automatically bring large campaign contributions to the chairman, it is still a sought-after assignment. The panel acts on bills on annexations, property taxes, major capital improvements and other matters of special interest to local governments.
"This (Bergeson's appointment) is a real coup for Orange County," said Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim). "She will be in a pivotal position to guide and support legislation favorable to the county."
The last Orange County representative to chair a Senate committee was former Republican Sen. John Schmitz of Newport Beach, who chaired the Constitutional Amendments Committee in 1981.
Carpenter had chaired the Senate Education Committee in 1979 and 1980, before becoming chairman of the Democratic Caucus.
A decade earlier, Schmitz had chaired the Local Government Committee in 1968 and 1969.
Both Seymour and Carpenter have chaired the caucuses of their respective parties this year. But caucus chairmen are largely political operatives who have a much smaller role than committee chairmen in shaping legislation.