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Bergeson Loses Panel Vote on Nomination : Politics: Assembly committee, with Democrat majority, splits on party lines in refusing to recommend her confirmation as state public schools chief.


SACRAMENTO — An Assembly committee Monday recommended against confirming the nomination of Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) to replace Bill Honig as state superintendent of public instruction.

On a straight 8-6 vote along party lines, the committee sent the matter to the full Assembly floor, where Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), an ardent Bergeson foe, will lead the opposition. The floor vote is expected on Thursday.

A parade of 20 witnesses testified against Bergeson during the nearly five-hour hearing before the special committee hearing the nomination. They argued that she wasn't dedicated enough in fighting for more state school aid or helping minority students get a better education. They also said she was "too close to the religious right."

Eleven witnesses spoke in Bergeson's favor, calling her well-qualified, a "positive influence" for the education of all children and someone who was "always willing to listen."

A former teacher and school board member, Bergeson, 67, was picked by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson to succeed Honig after he was convicted of conflict-of-interest charges and had to quit his state post in January.

Speaker Brown said he wanted a Democrat to get the nonpartisan job before Bergeson was even named. As for Bergeson, Brown said he was opposed to her for several reasons, among them that she had a religious agenda and didn't vote for him when he first became Speaker in 1980.

The Orange County senator blamed Brown's objections on "partisan politics" and insisted that she is not a "weirdo creationist."

The nomination will fail if Bergeson is rejected by either house. If confirmed, however, she would become the first woman to serve as state schools chief.

Bergeson's confirmation requires 41 votes in the 80-member Assembly, which includes 47 Democrats and 31 Republicans. There are two vacancies.

This means that she must obtain votes from at least 10 Democrats who are willing to buck the Speaker, who has the power to punish members in various ways such as the assignment of bills, committee posts, staff and office space.

After Monday's committee hearing, Bergeson said: "We have an uphill battle, but it's doable. I can get up to eight (Democratic) votes at the present time (in the Assembly) and hope to get to 10."

If the nomination gets to the Senate, she should have an easier time. Bergeson needs 21 votes from her colleagues for confirmation in the upper house, made up of 22 Democrats, 14 Republicans, and two independents. There are two vacancies.

In her closing statement, Bergeson told the Assembly committee: "There will never be anyone quite like Bill Honig in the superintendent's office. When Joe DiMaggio retired from the New York Yankees, people felt he couldn't be replaced. But I don't think Mickey Mantle let them down."

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