SACRAMENTO — Assembly Republicans ignited a political showdown with powerful Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown on Thursday, but failed in their attempt to revive a bill that would require minors to obtain parental consent or a court order before receiving an abortion.
In what was widely viewed as a challenge to Brown's leadership, the Republicans, led by Assemblyman Phillip D. Wyman of Tehachapi, tried to withdraw the Senate-passed bill from the Judiciary Committee where it was killed in February.
As a consequence, Brown said Wyman would have to resign as chairman of the Constitutional Amendments Committee if he persisted in trying to extract the bill from committee. Wyman refused and said Brown will have to fire him.
"If you have respect for the leadership, then you will work with the leadership to establish the proper due process, not demand that the leadership yield to your blackmail," Brown bellowed in the hushed Assembly chamber at Wyman and at Sen. Joseph B. Montoya (D-Whittier), who authored the measure in the upper chamber.
Afterward, Brown declined to specify how or when he intended to punish Wyman, but he said, "I have made it very clear that Mr. Wyman should resign, and I've given him the opportunity to do that. . . . Let me select someone who does have confidence in my leadership and does support my leadership."
The vote was 32-1 in favor of extracting the bill from the Judiciary Committee, but that was nine short of the majority required in the 80-member Assembly. Republicans cast all the "aye" votes while Brown cast the lone dissent as a "symbolic gesture."
Brown urged fellow Democrats to abstain, and the tactic protected them from having to vote on the sensitive issue during an election year.
As the debate raged, about 500 anti-abortion protesters gathered in Capitol Park for a rally to demonstrate support for the Montoya proposal.
The legislation, similar versions of which have failed in the past, was rejected by a judiciary subcommittee in February. Later, however, as anti-abortion constituent pressure mounted, a full committee hearing was scheduled.
Wyman, meanwhile, threatened to try to extract the bill from the committee and bring it to the floor for a vote--a rare maneuver that is considered a serious challenge to the Speaker's authority and which has not succeeded in more than 25 years.
But after hearing testimony on the bill May 13, Judiciary Committee Chairman Elihu M. Harris (D-Oakland) refused to put the measure to a vote because of the absence of Montoya. Montoya boycotted the session, saying that Brown had reneged on an agreement to let the bill go to the full Assembly.
"Sen. Montoya is a liar," an angry Brown told reporters Thursday.
Asked for comment, Montoya responded, "No, I am not a liar. The problem is the Speaker has reached a stage of being a pathological liar that cannot tell the difference between lying and telling the truth."