SACRAMENTO — When the state Legislature reconvened Monday, Republican Cathie Wright of Simi Valley could have supported the reelection of Democrat Willie Brown as Assembly Speaker.
She could have joined 29 of her GOP colleagues who voted for Democratic Assemblyman Charles M. Calderon of Alhambra. Or she could have joined three other GOP lawmakers who pushed for the election of Republican Assembly Leader Ross Johnson of La Habra.
Instead, Wright was the only one of the Assembly's 78 members present who did not vote for anyone. Brown narrowly won reelection as Speaker with the minimum 40 votes required in the lower house.
Wright, who as a newly elected member in 1980 joined other Republicans in helping Brown of San Francisco become Speaker, said that since 1982, she has repeatedly told voters in her district, "I would never vote for another Democratic Speaker."
In an interview, Wright said that any time Brown's opponents have a majority of votes to oust him, "I'll go for it."
Wright said she regarded a vote for Johnson as a "cop-out" because he "didn't want it." Johnson had urged Republicans to join five dissident Democrats, known as the "Gang of Five," to support Calderon because he would support reform of the Assembly's rules.
One Democratic lawmaker privately suggested that Wright's action was aimed at signaling to Johnson that he could not automatically count on her support. Johnson said he was disappointed by Wright's action but referred other questions to the assemblywoman.
One Republican legislator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, suggested that Wright hoped the Speaker would reappoint her to the Assembly Finance and Insurance Committee because she did not vote against him.
Wright acknowledged that she is seeking reappointment to the committee. But she denied that her decision Monday had anything to do with her wish to be reappointed.
Before the Assembly vote, another GOP lawmaker suggested that Brown was courting Wright's support. That lawmaker maintained that Brown had intervened on Wright's behalf in a personal matter.
Wright denied the suggestion but acknowledged that Brown had referred her to a lawyer to advise her 24-year-old daughter. When her daughter received a number of traffic tickets in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, Wright said she sought referrals from other legislators. "I didn't know who to turn to," she said.
Other San Fernando Valley-area lawmakers lined up along party lines Monday. Democratic Assemblymen Tom Bane of Van Nuys, Terry B. Friedman of Tarzana, Richard Katz of Sepulveda and Burt Margolin of Los Angeles voted for Brown.
Republican Assembly members Marian W. La Follette of Northridge and Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks went along with most of the other GOP lawmakers and voted for Calderon.