SACRAMENTO — Sen. Wadie P. Deddeh has reportedly been picked to chair the powerful Senate Transportation Committee next year, giving the Chula Vista Democrat one of the most coveted of all assignments in only his second term in the Legislature's upper house.
Barring an unexpected election upset in November, Deddeh will replace retiring state Sen. John F. Foran (D-San Francisco) as chairman of the transportation panel, sources close to Senate Democratic leaders said Friday.
Sen. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) is reportedly being eyed as the likely replacement for Deddeh as chairman of the Senate Committee on Revenue and Taxation, also a prestigious assignment.
Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti of Los Angeles, who will make the final decision on the plum committee assignments, was unavailable for comment late Friday. Changes in committee chairmanships are usually announced in December of election years.
But Deddeh confirmed that he had discussed the assignment with Roberti and had heard speculation that he had been chosen to replace Foran, a 24-year veteran of the Legislature who has headed the Senate Transportation Committee since 1979.
Deddeh, who was Transportation Committee chairman when he served in the Assembly, added that he would welcome the opportunity to head the panel in the Senate.
"It would be like going home," he said.
Garamendi said he could "neither confirm nor deny" that he would be given the chairmanship of the Revenue and Taxation Committee, but said he too would welcome the assignment if Roberti grants it.
"Revenue and Taxation will be a major assignment in the coming year because of the conformity issue (regarding the federal tax reform)," Garamendi said. "I'm interested in challenging assignments."
Although transit and road project priorities are set by the supposedly non-political state Transportation Commission, legislative committees play a major role in shaping funding bills and setting policy.
Traditionally, Transportation Committee chairmen have been able to deliver major pork-barrel projects to their districts, and the assignment has almost always garnered generous contributions to the campaign coffers of legislative chairmen. Besides the Rules Committee, which screens gubernatorial appointments and oversees the administration of the Senate itself, it is generally considered the most prestigious chairmanship.
Speculation that Deddeh would get that choice assignment has raised few eyebrows here. Although he joined an informal coalition of conservative and moderate Democratic senators last year, Deddeh, 65, has remained unabashedly loyal to Roberti, both publicly and privately. Deddeh was in the Assembly for 16 years before he was elected to the Senate in 1982.
Democratic sources speculated that Deddeh was being given the transportation post as a reward for that loyalty.
On the other hand, the ambitious Garamendi, an unsuccessful candidate for governor four years ago and for controller this year, led an unsuccessful challenge to Roberti's leadership earlier this year. Afterward, he was dumped as Senate majority leader and stripped of virtually of all of his important committee assignments.
The sources suggested that Roberti was using the prestigious tax-law-writing panel to mend fences with the three-term senator.