SACRAMENTO — Following disappointing results at the polls, Assembly Republicans on Thursday chose a new leader to help them take on a bigger Democratic majority in the legislative battles that lie ahead.
By a unanimous vote, the GOP Assembly members picked from their ranks second-term Assemblyman Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga, who pledged to work with Gov. Pete Wilson and Senate Republicans. There were no other candidates.
Brulte replaces Assemblyman Bill Jones of Fresno, a moderate who stepped down after the party lost at least two Assembly seats and possibly a third in Tuesday's election. Many conservatives blamed the losses on Wilson and Jones.
Assembly Speaker Willie Brown of San Francisco enjoys a 49-31 Democratic majority over the GOP, compared to the previous 47-33 margin in the 80-member house where votes on bills often split sharply along party lines.
Brulte has forged alliances among staunch conservatives as well as Wilson moderates, and on Thursday he pledged to continue doing so inside and outside the combative chamber. "I expect our caucus to be united with Senate Republicans and the governor in working to try to repair the problems of California," Brulte told a news conference.
He added that he believed the so-called "rupture" between the governor and the conservative wing "tends to be overblown . . . and the fact of the matter is that far more unites Assembly Republicans and Senate Republicans and the governor than divides us."
Later, pressed for more detail, Brulte told reporters: "Frankly, I do not want to talk about the differences."
One of his first tasks, the Southern California lawmaker said, will be to try to achieve workers' compensation reform. Wilson also has made changing workers' compensation a major goal, primarily by seeking reductions in its costs to employers.
The governor summoned the Legislature back into special session last month to enact a workers' compensation reform package. But the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Senate quit to resume campaigning in home districts after Wilson said he would veto the package that they intended to send to him.
Brulte indicated that the fight will go on.
"The rest of the nation is coming out of a recession," Brulte said. "We must make California a more business-friendly place so we will not be left out of the economic recovery."
Asked for comment on the new minority leader, Dan Schnur, Wilson's director of communications, said the Administration is "real excited" about Brulte's election.
"We had a strong working relationship with (Brulte) in the past, and we look forward to a stronger relationship in the future," Schnur said. "When you are outnumbered, unity is more important than ever."
Jones, who pledged his support to Brulte, had been considered among Wilson's strongest allies in the Assembly and closer to the governor in political ideology than Brulte.
Jones volunteered to step aside for a new Republican leader, citing his failure to swell the ranks of his caucus. "The bottom line is to add more seats (at election time) and we did not do that," he said. "The buck stops with me on the accountability."
First elected in 1990, Brulte, 36, is one of the youngest members of the Assembly. He had served as a member of the White House advance staff traveling with President Bush. He earlier was an appointee working for the assistant secretary of Defense for the military reserve.
In the Assembly, Brulte has been active in working on automobile insurance and workers' compensation legislation.
Brulte opposes abortion and names among his priorities the desire to streamline state governmental operations to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
He represents the 65th Assembly District, which includes a portion of Pomona in Los Angeles County and the west end of San Bernardino County, including the cities of Ontario, Montclair, Chino and Rancho Cucamonga.
Meanwhile, Assembly Democrats also caucused and--as expected--unanimously nominated Brown to be reelected Speaker at the next legislative session, which starts Dec. 7.