SACRAMENTO — Senate leader David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) said Monday that some Democratic senators are agitating for the removal from committee chairmanships of four Democrats who voted to confirm Republican Rep. Daniel E. Lungren as state treasurer.
Immediately after Lungren's narrow rejection last week by hard-core Senate Democrats, reports flashed through the Senate that dissident Democrats who favored Lungren had jeopardized their chairmanships and might lose them.
At the time, Roberti brushed aside questions about possible punishment of the four Democrats who lined up with Gov. George Deukmejian and cast "aye" votes for Lungren, a Long Beach congressman. The Assembly, however, voted to confirm Lungren, thus setting the stage for a probable state Supreme Court fight.
Asked about removing the four Democrats from chairmanships, Roberti insisted on Monday that "no decisions have been made."
Democrats who opposed Lungren "have been talking about it to me," said Roberti, who declined to identify the senators. Roberti chairs the Senate Rules Committee, which must approve any changes in committee assignments. He indicated the issue would be submitted soon to the committee, whose two other Democratic members are close associates of Roberti.
The four Democrats who voted for Lungren--Sens. Robert B. Presley of Riverside, Wadie P. Deddeh of Chula Vista, Joseph B. Montoya of Whittier and Ruben S. Ayala of Chino--are members of the informal six-member "conservative caucus."
Caucus members frequently split with other Democrats on liberal vs. conservative issues. The two other members, Sens. Rose Ann Vuich of Dinuba and Daniel Boatwright of Concord, voted against Lungren.
Roberti, who fiercely opposed Lungren, indicated in an interview that perhaps not all four Democrats would face loss of their chairmanships. He said some may be exempted from punishment if they represent conservative districts and face tough reelection battles.
"For some reason, this (Lungren) vote took on a character all of its own," Roberti said. "I didn't anticipate that and I don't think anyone anticipated that in November when the governor announced the appointment . . . but as the fight, or debate, developed, it became more and more intense."
Shortly after the vote was cast on Lungren last week, Senate speculation focused chiefly on Deddeh, who chairs the Transportation Committee, and Montoya, who chairs the Business and Professions Committee.
Not a Religious Issue
Montoya, a maverick on just about any issue and an outspoken enemy of abortion, infuriated Roberti, an anti-abortion Roman Catholic, when he asserted that so-called pro-choice opponents of Lungren wanted him defeated because he is "a pro-life Catholic."
"We don't vote for anyone because of his or her religion," Roberti lectured Montoya. "You don't vote against a person because of religion. The same people who voted against Dan Lungren voted for me for Senate president pro tem."
There is speculation that freshman Sen. Quentin Kopp (Ind.-San Francisco), who cast a key vote against Lungren, might replace Deddeh as chairman of the Transportation Committee.
Asked about that possibility, Deddeh told reporters he had not heard the speculation but added with a shrug of the shoulders that "everything is possible around here."
For his part, Kopp denied that any deal was offered in exchange for his vote.
"There was no deal," he said. "But I'll tell you this, from the day I had gotten here I wanted to exercise as much responsibility as I could. If somebody wants to make me a committee chairman, I'll take it. If someone wants to make me the chairman of two committees, I'll take that too."
Montoya said his "aye" vote reflected the sentiment of his Latino and Catholic constituents, many of whom oppose abortion. He said he is "not prepared to give up (my chairmanship). I'm prepared to fight."