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CAPITOL JOURNAL

Legislators Try Something New: Action

September 13, 1993|GEORGE SKELTON

SACRAMENTO — A quickie look at some winners and survivors of the 1993 legislative session:

But first, some light analysis for context. The session that ended in a haze of yawns at 5:10 a.m. Saturday clearly was the most productive in years. The product's value, of course, is debatable. Is it mostly substantive or symbolic? Is it a giveaway to business or doesn't it give enough to business?

At least this time the debate is over giveaway, not gridlock. The combatants compromised. Democrats cooperated with business, Assembly Republicans were civil, Gov. Pete Wilson sheathed his Marine saber, childish games were kept to a minimum and, generally, policy took priority over politics.

The politicians restudied Civics 1-A: Good policy makes good politics . Why did they? Because these are tough times and disgusted voters have been in their faces with negative poll ratings, demanding action--some action, anything. More precisely, the politicians have studied the polls.

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The big winner? Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco). For many voters, Brown symbolizes the Legislature at its worst--overly partisan and petty. But this was a very good year for the Assembly dean, his best ever.

Brown began by focusing the Capitol's attention on California's business climate with a showcase economic summit-- preempting Wilson, who had been considering a similar extravaganza but moved too slowly. Later, he teamed with the Republican governor to ramrod an unpopular budget through the Assembly in time for enactment by the deadline, thus avoiding another summer stalemate. He also dropped his resistance to reform of the bloated workers' compensation system and helped pass an overhaul. In the end, Brown pieced together the session's major package of business tax breaks and assured Assembly passage of it and other "economic recovery" bills.

More winners:

* Assembly Minority Leader Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga). The little-known second-termer, a former White House advance man, united the fractious GOP caucus while learning to deal with Brown. He's the first Assembly Republican leader in years to finish a session without colleagues plotting a coup.

In the wee hours Saturday on the Assembly floor, Brown and Brulte praised each other profusely--something that hasn't happened between party leaders of this house in a very long time.

* Sen. Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward). The combative 20-year legislative veteran locked up enough Democratic commitments to succeed Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys) as the powerful president pro tem when Roberti steps down early next year. Showing colleagues that he is willing and able to joust with Brown, Lockyer forced the Speaker to substantially pare back his proposed business tax breaks. Then he wisely backed away from a confrontation he would have lost and did not attempt to block final passage.

* William Campbell, president of the California Manufacturers Assn. The jovial former Senate Republican leader prodded Wilson into pushing for workers' compensation reform two years ago and kept fighting for it. He persuaded Brown to sponsor what became the business tax break package. And, breaking with other business interests who demanded more concessions from environmentalists, he helped negotiate and secure passage of important changes in the California Environmental Quality Act. More than any other lobbyist, Campbell was responsible for the final "economic recovery" package.

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And some survivors:

* Wilson. Actually, just surviving a legislative session unscathed for the first time was a victory. Another disastrous session for the governor would have buried any reelection prospects. Now, he can claim credit for the "economic recovery package," although--except for workers' compensation--he had little direct involvement in its passage.

* Roberti. He took on big battles with powerful adversaries--the Los Angeles school district breakup, gun control--and got beaten but survived as Senate leader despite pressure to step aside as his term limit nears in 1994. As with Brown, Roberti played crucial roles in assuring passage of the budget and tax break package. Next year he plans to run for state treasurer.

* Senate Minority Leader Ken Maddy (R-Fresno). For now, he has survived a budding right-wing rebellion led by freshman Sen. Rob Hurtt (R-Garden Grove). Meanwhile, he remained Wilson's most loyal ally and the Republican most skilled at dealing with Democrats.

A year from now, as voters get ready to cast ballots in the 1994 general election, they rightly will be asking politicians: What have you done for me lately? Perhaps, for a change, there can be some honest answers.

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