SACRAMENTO — A battle between Democrats and Republicans over affirmative action goals being inserted into an Orange County-sponsored transportation bill led to passage of the measure Thursday--over the objection of its author and the Assembly GOP Caucus.
The bill by state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) would allow Caltrans, for the first time, to contract with private firms for design and engineering work in a bid to speed up highway projects that face delays of one to two years, stemming from Caltrans' staff shortages.
The bill was approved on a partisan vote of 41 to 32 and sent to the state Senate for concurrence in amendments, but only after an emotionally charged floor debate involving a bizarre series of parliamentary maneuvers.
Earlier, after Assembly Republicans tried first to bar the vote and then defeated the bill, an angry Assembly Speaker Willie Brown confronted Bergeson on the Assembly floor and accused her of reneging on an earlier "deal" to let the bill take its chances with affirmative action goals included in it.
Encircled by hostile Republicans, Brown told Bergeson, "I don't know whether I can trust you on anything."
A Democratic caucus followed, during which Brown rounded up the 41 votes he needed to reverse the previous outcome.
The bill was lobbied heavily by Orange County business and civic leaders who believe contracting with private firms will speed up construction of new freeways planned for southern Orange County. Among the most active players: The Irvine Co., whose representatives talked with Brown's staff and Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda) before to the floor action.
Bergeson said Brown had originally given her until Tuesday to work out a compromise, but she was later forced to agree to a Thursday afternoon vote. "I asked Mr. Katz for more time because I felt there was still room for negotiation, but he refused," Bergeson said.
Katz said he simply believed there was no reason to delay further.
"Some Democrats would not vote for contracting out (to private firms)," he said. "Affirmative action is what makes it palatable to them."
As passed, Bergeson's bill calls for 15% of the Caltrans' contracts to go to minority-owned firms and 5% to companies owned by women.
The same formula was approved by Gov. George Deukmejian in negotiations over legislation supporting the super-collider nuclear research project, Democrats argued, so they felt no obligation to retreat on Bergeson's bill.
"It's a shame it happened this way, because I think the governor is sure to veto it," Bergeson said after the vote. "The governor will not sign the bill if all Republicans are opposed to it."
Bergeson had previously described the affirmative action goals as laudable but unattainable and unrealistic, and had said they were a "poison bullet" designed to embarrass Republicans and force a veto.
The entire Orange County delegation voted against the bill, except for Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Cypress), who was present but did not vote.
Republicans said the fracas involved Brown's effort to win on three fronts:
- He can say he supported a transportation bill strongly supported by Orange County business interests.
- If the governor vetoes the bill, as expected, Brown can tell the California Employees Assn., which opposed the legislation, that he forced the governor's hand.
- Brown has an issue to use against two GOP assemblymen in next year's elections: Wayne Grisham of Norwalk and Richard Longshore of Santa Ana.
Democrats agreed that this might be the result of Brown's strategy, but they denied that this was the motive of their caucus.
"We had tried a compromise last week that the Republicans rejected," Katz said. "They had a chance to do better."
Katz said the GOP members had refused to accept Caltrans' affirmative action performance on construction contracts in 1985-86.
The affirmative action issue has stalled a large number of bills, including an Orange County-sponsored measure allowing tolls on new highways.