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Republicans Replace Assembly Leader in Bid for New Strength

Capitol: Dave Cox takes over for Bill Campbell, who was accused of reacting too quietly to the energy crisis.

March 27, 2001|MIGUEL BUSTILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Assemblyman Bill Campbell of Orange County was unanimously ousted as Republican leader by his GOP colleagues Monday, becoming the most high-profile political casualty of the energy crisis.

Republicans replaced the soft-spoken, conservative Campbell with scrappier, more moderate Assemblyman Dave Cox, a former municipal utility board member from the Sacramento suburb of Fair Oaks.

The coup--sudden if not unexpected--came amid mounting criticism by Republican lawmakers that Campbell had been too timid in his response to the power crisis and too reluctant to take on Gov. Gray Davis and the Democrats who run the Legislature.

Republicans were worried that his nonconfrontational approach would continue during state budget deliberations and the vital redrawing of legislative seats for the next decade, which will take place this year.

Campbell, who joined in the vote for Cox but appeared shaken by his ouster, did not elaborate on the reasons for his removal or the different direction Republicans planned to pursue, saying only, "You'll have to ask Dave."

Cox declined to discuss how his tenure would be different, saying only that he planned to be "more proactive" on energy issues. He said that he would present a detailed Republican solution to the energy crisis--a response to criticism by Democrats that the GOP has done nothing but knock down their efforts to forge a solution.

"The majority determines who the leader is," Cox said. "I am not going to assess Mr. Campbell's strengths and weaknesses."

Assembly GOP leaders are notoriously short-lived--Cox becomes the fifth in the last four years--and rumors of a leadership challenge had swirled around Campbell almost since he won the job last November.

Republicans have for years been engaged in a debilitating internal conflict between conservative and moderate factions in the lower house, and now hold just 29 of its 80 seats. But Campbell's ouster had nothing to do with ideology, fellow Republicans said--it was leadership style and probably would have occurred sooner or later, regardless of the energy crisis.

Nonetheless, it was clearly the energy crisis that became Campbell's undoing, as he acknowledged.

"The Legislature was trying to do the leadership job that the governor should have been doing," Campbell said. After the November elections brought a dozen new GOP legislators to the lower house, "we [Republicans] were all in a crisis mode without having a chance to develop the relationships."

When he was one of only two Republicans in January to initially vote for the Davis-backed bill that placed California in the electricity buying business--legislation the rest of his flock unified against--the speculation intensified that Campbell would be the latest leadership victim. But he survived.

However, Campbell's response last week to legislation dealing with alternative energy producers that was opposed by Republicans was apparently the final straw. Detractors saw it as the latest example of Campbell "playing nice" with Democrats where more forceful--and partisan--leadership had been required.

GOP lawmakers, who scuttled the alternative energy bill by Democrat Fred Keeley (D-Boulder Creek) last week, met Monday morning and again in the afternoon to debate Campbell's leadership, and eventually elected Cox as his successor.

Cox, a former Sacramento Municipal Utility District board member, named Assemblyman Tony Strickland of Moorpark, another rumored suitor to the leadership throne, as caucus chairman.

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