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Bill Campbell to Lead GOP in Assembly

Legislature: Orange County conservative has a tough job ahead. His party's share of the chamber's 80 seats was cut to 30 in this week's elections.

November 10, 2000|MIGUEL BUSTILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — It's become the political equivalent of coaching the Los Angeles Clippers, but someone had to be chosen leader of the California Assembly's Republicans this week after Tuesday's election reduced their number to 30 in the 80-seat lower house.

So Orange County Assemblyman Bill Campbell emerged from the Rules Committee after a six-hour closed-door meeting Thursday as the unanimous choice to try to lead the Assembly GOP back to respectability.

"We are going to have to enunciate Republican policy in a way that resonates with California," said Campbell, a 57-year-old conservative who refuses to vote in favor of the state budget because it contains money for abortions. "And it's going to be positive things, not just opposing things all the time."

Term limits are forcing Scott Baugh of Huntington Beach, minority leader since the tumultuous ouster of Assemblyman Rod Pacheco of Riverside last year, to leave the Assembly. Under their own rules, that meant Assembly Republicans had to select a new minority leader within two days of Tuesday's election.

Complicating matters, many of the lawmakers hardly knew one another. A full third of their 30 members were newly elected and had never served a day in Sacramento. Three others were either moving from the Senate to the Assembly or returning to politics after a hiatus.

The job of heading the fractious Republican caucus is notoriously difficult; one leader, current state Sen. Ross Johnson of Irvine, once described it as "walking through the minefield, juggling hand grenades and herding cats."

And the new leader will have to fill the considerable shoes left by Baugh, who not only managed to survive his leadership stint but also was respected as an effective conciliator by Republicans and Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) and other Democrats.

Nonetheless, there were several potential takers. The three finalists were Assemblyman Dave Cox of Fair Oaks, a former Sacramento County supervisor; Assemblyman Tony Strickland of Moorpark, the youngest member of the Legislature; and Campbell, a wealthy businessman who owns a chain of Taco Bell franchises.

After an unusually lengthy question-and-answer session, the ultra-conservative Strickland and the more moderate Cox ceded ground, and Campbell emerged victorious. There was only one formal vote.

"The gray smoke has gone up and Mr. Campbell has been elected leader," Cox said as he exited the meeting, adding that he withdrew his name after it became clear that he lacked sufficient support.

Cox was expected to be the strongest challenger to Campbell, but moderate Republicans took a drubbing in this week's elections, limiting potential new supporters for his leadership run. Conservative Republicans, split between Campbell and Strickland, ultimately united behind Campbell.

Campbell, who can serve only two more years in the Assembly under term limits, said some of the questions put to him during the negotiations dealt with whether he could represent the Republicans' position in the annual budget battle, given his refusal to vote for it.

He said that those questions were cleared up, although he didn't say how, and that members were strongly supportive of his top priorities: working to win back seats and protect incumbents in the coming redrawing of legislative and congressional districts, which will be dominated by the ruling Democrats. That critical process will set the battle lines for political warfare in California for the next decade.

"I think it's very clear that our members understand that [reapportionment] is our biggest political priority," Campbell said.

Campbell, a small, soft-spoken man who tends to deliver long answers, said his personal style will be different from Baugh's quick-witted, high-energy approach. He said he did not know who will make up his leadership team, but beside him as he spoke were Assembly members Dick Dickerson of Redding and Bill Leonard of San Bernardino. Leonard is a former Assembly Republican leader.

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