SACRAMENTO — State Sen. Bill Greene missed more votes than any other senator during the 1989-90 legislative session, but the Los Angeles Democrat shrugged off the importance of this ranking by saying half the bills that reach the Senate floor are "not worth five cents."
Greene, whose district includes much of Compton, Huntington Park, Cudahy and South Gate, failed to vote 58% of the time in the two-year session that ended last month, according to records compiled by Legi-Tech, a computerized bill tracking service based in Sacramento.
In contrast, the records show that on average, Senate members missed 15% of the votes.
Greene cited his decision last year to seek help for an alcoholism problem and a heart attack he suffered this year as major reasons he missed nearly four times more votes than the Senate average.
Ruth Holton, a lobbyist for the self-styled public interest group Common Cause, said that even while allowing for Greene's health problems, "58% is a lot of votes being missed. That's being very part-time . . . The position is full-time legislator."
When legislators do not vote on bills, "their constituents have lost a voice," she said.
Greene, however, rejected the contention that his constituents had suffered in any way from his missed votes.
In an interview last week, he characterized half the legislation that reaches the Senate floor as "hassles between government agencies. It's not worth five cents."
As a result, Greene said, "There are many times when votes come up on the floor (of the Senate) and I'm sitting right there and refuse to vote." And he insisted that no bill "was defeated because of the lack of my vote."
An aide to Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti (D-Los Angeles) said, "I've got no reason to dispute that."
In a rare admission for a lawmaker, Greene last year acknowledged that he was an alcoholic and missed the end of the 1989 session while completing a treatment program at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage.
Greene said he now goes to meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous three or four times a week and expects to attend the sessions the rest of his life.
Greene said he has speculated that his previous drinking habits may have contributed to the heart attack he suffered last February. While recuperating, Greene was away from his Senate duties for several weeks.
Once he returned, Greene still missed many votes--including nearly half the floor votes in the climactic final month of the session, when many high priority issues are decided.
But Greene insisted that if there is an issue crucial to the Senate leadership, Democratic Party officials or his constituents, he is present to cast a vote.
According to the Legi-Tech records, recent bills on which he did not cast a vote included landmark oil spill legislation designed to protect the coastline, a pro-union crane safety measure introduced in the wake of a fatal San Francisco crane accident, and a major environmental proposal to promote recycling of 60 million gallons of used motor oil disposed of annually in the state.
The oil spill and crane safety bills were signed into law by Gov. George Deukmejian; the recycling measure was vetoed by him.
The Legi-Tech records show that during the 1989-90 Senate session, Greene was followed in missed votes by Sen. Wadie P. Deddeh (D-Bonita) and Sen. William A. Craven (R-Oceanside). Deddeh missed 43% of the session's votes, Craven missed 35%.
A large portion of the votes Deddeh missed occurred in the final week of the session, when he stayed home and entertained relatives in advance of his son's wedding. Craven, meanwhile, suffered periodic bouts of flu and pneumonia.
The Senate itself keeps track of absences from the floor by its members, but does not keep a tally of how many votes they miss.
For the 1989-90 session, Senate records show that Greene had the second-worst attendance record, missing 59 days. Deddeh missed 60 days.
Missing votes is not new for Greene. In the 1987-88 session, Legi-Tech reported that Greene failed to vote about one-third of the time, the second-highest total in the Senate.
First elected to the Senate in 1975, Greene, 58, is regarded as a staunch advocate for the poor and, as chairman of the Senate Industrial Relations Committee, an expert on labor issues. A former labor union activist, he easily won reelection two years ago in the heavily Democratic 27th Senate District.
Greene said he is gradually regaining his strength in the wake of his heart attack, but he left open the possibility that he might not seek another four-year term in 1992. Said Greene: "If two years from now, I'm not in a better state of health, I would step aside."
A prospective successor is Assemblywoman Teresa P. Hughes (D-Los Angeles), whose district overlaps part of the area Greene represents.
Hughes acknowledged she would like to run for Greene's seat, but only if he decides to retire. "I think the battle against an incumbent is too difficult," she said.
Times staff writer Ralph Frammolino contributed to this story.
State senators with the most missed votes during the 1989-90 legislative session:
Senator (District) % of missed votes Bill Greene (D-Los Angeles) 58% Waddie Deddeh (D-Bonita) 43% William Craven (R-Oceanside) 35% John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) 25% Alan Robbins (D-Tarzana) 23%
Percentage of missed votes by other local senators:
Charles M. Calderon (D-Whittier)*: 21%
Frank Hill (R-Whittier)*: 19%
Ralph C. Dills (D-Gardena): 8%
Robert Beverly (R-Manhattan Beach): 6%
Cecil Green (D-Norwalk): 5%
* Elected in 1990.