SACRAMENTO — A legal opinion advising that either house of the Legislature has the power to deny confirmation of Gov. George Deukmejian's nominee to replace the late Jesse M. Unruh as state treasurer was issued Wednesday by Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp.
The Republican governor later said he disagrees with Democrat Van de Kamp's opinion. But a Deukmejian spokesman added that the governor believes that the issue would be moot because both houses of the Democratic-controlled Legislature would confirm his nominee.
Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) requested the opinion to clarify an ambiguity in the confirmation process, which has never been used before.
The confirmation process was approved by voters in 1976 when they adopted an amendment to the state Constitution. The amendment required confirmation by the Legislature of any person nominated by the governor to fill a vacancy in a statewide elective office. Before that voter action, a governor could fill such a vacancy on his own without legislative approval.
If the governor's nominee is neither confirmed nor rejected by both legislative houses within 90 days of the time the nomination is submitted to the Legislature, the person automatically takes office anyway. But if the 90-day period ends during a legislative recess, the confirmation deadline is extended until the sixth day after the Legislature reconvenes.
Some legal experts had argued that the wording of the amendment required approval of both houses before a nomination could be confirmed. But other experts contended that a nomination would be approved unless both houses specifically rejected it, which, in effect, would allow one-house ratification.
Van de Kamp concluded that the voters understood that they were being asked to vote on a two-house confirmation system. Although not binding, an attorney general's opinion is generally considered the last legal word on an issue unless somebody decides to take the matter to court.
Kevin Brett, Deukmejian's press secretary, said, "We disagree with the opinion (but) we are confident that this whole issue will be moot because we expect that both houses will approve whichever well-qualified individual the governor selects."
Meanwhile, Brett said, the governor still has not decided whom he will nominate to replace Unruh, who was first elected to the state post in 1974 and died of cancer Aug. 4.
The spokesman noted that recently "the governor indicated he had approximately six individuals on his mind (as possible nominees)."
Donna Lucas, the governor's deputy press secretary, said Deukmejian probably will announce his selection toward the end of this month.
Those mentioned most often include U.S. Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Long Beach), Sens. Ken Maddy (R-Fresno), Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights), Robert G. Beverly (R-Manhattan Beach) and John Seymour (R-Anaheim) and Tom Stickel, a San Diego financier.