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Two New Senators Adjust to Life in the Slower Lane : Politics: Ex-Assemblymen Charles Calderon and Frank Hill have settled into the 'more methodical, less partisan' atmosphere of the Senate.

July 08, 1990|MARK GLADSTONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — As state assemblymen, Charles M. Calderon and Frank Hill were known as ambitious legislators eager to climb the political ladder and capture higher office.

The lawmakers, both of whom live in Whittier, fulfilled their dreams in April, winning highly prized promotions to the state Senate in special elections that attracted statewide attention.

They quickly moved into new offices, assumed new duties and readied new legislative initiatives. But they have found that their new environment required an adjustment. For both, the initial rush of spring has turned into a summertime waiting game.

Republican Hill described the 40-member Senate as "slower . . . more methodical, less partisan." He acknowledged that he is having to "adjust to a different atmosphere, a different style."

Democrat Calderon said he is going through the same process. He described the Senate's pace as more deliberate than the 80-member Assembly in which he and Hill had served since 1982. The Senate is composed of 25 Democrats, 14 Republicans and 1 independent.

Calderon said one thing that distinguishes the two houses is voting procedure. In the Assembly, members push buttons to immediately record their votes. The Senate, meanwhile, clings to a drawn-out, 150-year tradition of recording votes by lengthy voice roll calls.

Another wrinkle, Calderon noted, is that unlike Assembly members, senators who miss a vote cannot later add their names to the roll call.

Although their Assembly backgrounds give Hill and Calderon some advantages, there is a limit to the use they can make of these roots. Sen. Bill Leonard (R-Big Bear), who in 1988 jumped from the Assembly to the Senate, said senators frown on being advised about the way the Assembly handles legislation. "I would never say, 'This is how the Assembly does it,' " Leonard said.

Leonard said his two new colleagues "are fitting into their roles of representing their districts" and appear to be making a smooth transition.

For Calderon and Hill, elevation to the Senate is just one of a number of similarities in their careers. They were both elected to the Assembly in 1982 and are considered relatively young senators--Hill is 36, Calderon 40.

Further, in each of their special Senate elections, the ongoing FBI investigation into political corruption in the Capitol played a role in the campaign.

Hill has been one of the targets of the probe since his Capitol office was among those raided by the FBI nearly two years ago.

Even so, Hill easily won his bid to replace former Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights) in the 31st Senate District. The heavily Republican district includes La Habra Heights, La Mirada, Walnut, nearly all of West Covina, most of Whittier, part of the City of Industry, Diamond Bar, Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights in Los Angeles County, as well as a section of Orange County.

In the 26th Senate District, Calderon won the seat held by former Democratic Sen. Joseph B. Montoya, who resigned in February after his conviction on political corruption charges stemming from the FBI investigation. The district includes Alhambra, Baldwin Park, El Monte, La Puente, Monterey Park, Montebello and Pico Rivera.

Calderon disclosed that after his victory, Montoya called to wish him well. "He told me to work hard and get to know the senators" because maintaining cordial personal relationships is a more important ingredient to legislative success in the Senate chamber than in the Assembly.

In the Assembly, Hill was a member of the GOP leadership team that joined Gov. George Deukmejian for weekly lunches. Hill fretted that in the Senate, "It would take me a while to work my way back up."

However, Hill said he believes he is gaining influence in the Senate quicker than he anticipated, noting that he was recently named to a seat on the influential Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee. Further, he noted that Deukmejian tabbed him to carry the governor's proposal to require 90% of California homeowners to obtain earthquake insurance policies covering $15,000 in damage to their homes and personal property.

Committees that Calderon was named to include the health and housing panels. He also was named chairman of the lower-profile Veterans Affairs Committee, even though he did not serve in the military.

In the Assembly, Calderon established a reputation for independence. He was one of five members, collectively known as "The Gang of Five," who sought to topple the leadership of Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco). And already in the Senate, he has not hesitated to cross swords with one of its veteran members, Art Torres (D-Los Angeles).

After winning his Senate seat, Calderon supported one of his top aides, Marta Maestas, in her unsuccessful bid to succeed him in the Assembly. She was defeated by Xavier Becerra, whom Torres backed.

One Democratic Senate staff member suggested that the campaign split has spilled over into legislative politics. He cited a recent Senate debate over a Torres proposal to put the state in the business of operating its own passenger airline. In one of his first Senate speeches, Calderon attacked the bill.

"It's cute to discuss the issue, but we ought to consider addressing some of the more serious problems facing the state," he told Torres.

Torres, whose bill was defeated, dismissed suggestions of a rift with Calderon, citing his resignation from the health and housing panels to make room for his new colleague. "I've tried to do everything I can to make sure his presence is felt," Torres contended.

Calderon is expected to win a full four-year term in the November election in the heavily Democratic district. Hill is not up for reelection for another two years.

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