SACRAMENTO — Thrusting themselves into the Assembly speakership fight, key state Senate Democrats on Wednesday turned up the heat on a Republican foe of Willie Brown to take a seat in the Senate quickly or face possible disqualification.
Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee prevailed on a 3-2 partisan vote to adopt a new rule setting deadlines for newly elected senators to take their seats in the upper chamber, including any who hold a dual "incompatible" seat in the Assembly.
The target of the proposed new rule, Assemblyman Richard Mountjoy (R-Arcadia), was simultaneously elected Nov. 8 to both the Assembly and the Senate. He has refused to quit the Assembly because doing so would give Democrat Brown the margin he needs to regain the speakership. Brown and GOP leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga are tied 40-40 for the powerful post.
After the Rules Committee adopted the deadline rule, which is subject to approval by the full Senate, Mountjoy told reporters that his reading of the action could have the effect of ousting him from the Legislature altogether.
"They're ruthless," Mountjoy said of Rules Committee Chairman Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward) and his Democratic allies in the Senate. Mountjoy suggested that the Rules Committee acted at the behest of Brown, an assertion denied by Democrats.
The Democrats, including Senate leader Lockyer, initially claimed that the proposed rule was advanced for reasons of good government and was not aimed at pressuring Mountjoy, a staunch conservative and long-time political foe of Brown.
But as partisan debate burst forth in the usually bipartisan Rules Committee, Lockyer and Sen. Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles), the measure's author, conceded that the new rule was aimed at Mountjoy. One provision cites for disqualification anyone who has been elected to the Senate in a special election and takes an oath for an "incompatible" Assembly office.
Mountjoy, elected to fill the unexpired term of former Sen. Frank Hill (R-Whittier), took the oath of office for the Assembly on Dec. 5 and did not show up for the Senate swearing-in ceremony.
Lockyer charged that Mountjoy's refusal to join the Senate was an "embarrassment" to the senior chamber. He accused Mountjoy of being more committed to "partisan games" in the Assembly than in "coming to the Senate and fulfilling (his) constitutional duties."
There is no legal deadline for a successful election candidate to take his or her seat in the Legislature, although most take the oath of office within a couple of weeks of winning or soon after their election is officially certified.
The new rule would require Senate election victors to take the oath of office within 30 days of the election or within seven days of being certified as the winner.
But Republican Sen. John Lewis of Orange, a member of the committee, objected that the rule also could disqualify Mountjoy from serving in the Senate at all. Lewis said that theoretically, under the rule, it was possible that as soon as Mountjoy took the Senate oath he would automatically be presumed to have resigned from the Assembly. Lewis warned that Mountjoy could then be disqualified from the Senate by majority Democrats because he had taken the Assembly oath earlier.
In such a case, Lewis said, Mountjoy would find himself holding no legislative seat. "Gee, what a shame," Lockyer said to Lewis. But later, he said he would oppose using the rule to oust Mountjoy.
Mountjoy did not attend the hearing, but told reporters that "John Lewis was on the right track. This (action) makes it impossible for me to go to the Senate."