SACRAMENTO — B. T. Collins, the feisty new head of the California Youth Authority, will step aside to run for the state Assembly at the request of Gov. Pete Wilson.
Collins, 50, a Green Beret combat veteran who served as chief of staff for Democratic Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., will run as a Republican to fill a vacancy in a Northern California Assembly district.
"I realized I had to either fish or cut bait," Collins said. "You can't just sit around and make fun of elected officials. You've got to be either part of the problem or part of the solution."
Collins, who lost an arm and a leg in Vietnam, earned a reputation as an anti-bureaucrat while turning another agency he headed, the California Conservation Corps, from a warehouse for troubled youths into a military-style organization that got things done.
During the Mediterranean fruit fly scare of the early 1980s, when corps members said they wouldn't pick fruit that had been sprayed with malathion, Collins publicly drank a glass of the diluted insecticide to show that it was safe.
Collins said he was asked by Republican Gov. Wilson and Assembly Republican leader Ross Johnson to run in a mid-July special election for the 5th Assembly District, which includes portions of northern Sacramento County and southern Placer County.
Collins said he will take a leave of absence from his CYA job beginning July 1.
"I guess I'll have to learn to be a politician and watch my mouth," said Collins, who is known for his blunt comments. "That's going to be a killer."
A Republican, Collins has served in appointed positions for three successive administrations. He was Brown's chief of staff from 1981 to 1983, the last years that the Democrat was governor.
From 1989 to 1991, Collins was chief deputy state treasurer.