SACRAMENTO — GOP Assembly Speaker Doris Allen took control of her new domain Thursday during a surprisingly uneventful floor session as Republicans backed away from vows to put the maverick lawmaker's loyalty to the test.
But the Capitol remained rife with palace intrigue as Allen continued to work behind the scenes to consolidate her power while some Republican colleagues pressed her to return to the GOP fold.
During a 90-minute closed-door meeting with the new Speaker, Republicans agreed to temporarily delay a planned guerrilla war against Allen. In turn, she promised to reconsider some of the lower house's internal rules she cemented with the help of former Speaker Willie Brown and the bloc of Democrats who vaulted her to power Monday. All 39 Democrats voted for her, while she received a lone GOP vote, her own.
The operating rules guarantee that Democrats will chair a dozen committees and will have their legislative budgets and staff protected through the elections next year, giving them fund-raising clout and campaign resources. On Thursday, Republicans pressed Allen to change the rules so that the GOP has more control.
"The whole idea was to give everyone a chance to cool down and maturely talk about this," said Assemblyman Jan Goldsmith (R-Poway). "Hopefully we can resolve things."
Allen, who faces a recall threat from Republicans, said she would first consult with the Democrats who helped put her in power before she backed away from the rules.
"I am willing to talk it over with the other side . . . the Democrats who elected me," Allen said. "You don't just give your word and walk away, ever. I don't. If I were recalled I would still keep my word. I don't think you're worth your salt, I don't think you're worth anything, if you give a commitment . . . and then back out on it."
Allen claimed to have the backing of "six or seven" Republicans, but did not "have a list." Later, Allen said that she expected Goldsmith to become Speaker pro tem and that she has already appointed Assemblyman Charles S. Poochigian (R-Fresno) budget chairman.
Allen also promised that once the GOP gets 41 votes in the Assembly she will ensure that one more Republican is added to each committee.
The Assembly's new operating guidelines give Allen the appointment powers she needs to woo Republicans to her side and to keep the Democrats on an equal footing with the GOP.
Democrats predicted that Allen would stand by them.
"The rule changes they want would empower the anti-Allen portions of the Republican caucus," said Assemblyman Phillip Isenberg (D-Sacramento). "I can't see that."
Indeed, Allen's actions demonstrated that she has already begun to consolidate her hold on the speakership.
On Thursday, she dumped Assemblyman Fred Aguiar (R-Chino) from the powerful Rules Committee and replaced him with the Assembly's newest member, Republican Bob Margett of Arcadia. Aguiar said he would have difficulty abiding by the rules Allen worked out with the Democrats.
Like several other Republicans, Assemblyman Jim Cunneen of Cupertino was taken aback that Margett accepted the Rules Committee assignment at the expense of Aguiar--especially given Aguiar's standing as one of the most hard-working and honest GOP lawmakers in the Capitol.
"I, for one, would not take a position of another Republican without talking with the other Republican," Cunneen said.
Margett was elected Tuesday, sworn in Wednesday, and appointed to the Rules Committee on his very first day as a freshman, which is a rare occurrence. Margett then joined with Allen in a Rules Committee meeting before the floor session to replace Mark Watts as the chief Republican staffer to the committee, a $129,096-a-year post. In his place, they named Morgan Staines, who was Allen's aide on health issues.
"The new broom sweeps clean," said Watts, who was told that he was being fired Wednesday night. "No hard feelings."
"I am going to help [Allen] pull things together," Margett told reporters, adding he felt that the caucus meeting "was excellent and showed a lot of solidarity."
Margett was effusive about Allen, saying she should be lauded as the Republican who brought about the end of Brown's 14 1/2-year reign as Speaker.
The status of Assemblyman Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga) remained cloudy. He is the GOP Assembly leader who engineered Election Day victories in November that vaulted the Republicans into control of the lower house. But after failing to become Speaker, Brulte stands to lose most under Allen.
On Thursday, Brulte was not talking. "Watch and learn," Brulte said. "Come back next week. . . . Today, I'm going to be a sphinx."
Several Republicans who are close to Brulte also anticipate demotions under Allen. One, Trice Harvey of Bakersfield, said he has heard he may be replaced as Agriculture Committee chair, and has requested a meeting with Allen.