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Brulte Hopes to Resurface on State Tax Board

At 48, the termed-out Inland Empire senator still has a bright political future, colleagues say.

June 01, 2004|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

When Sen. Jim Brulte left his post as minority leader of the California Senate last month because of impending term limits, he appeared destined for the political pasture.

But don't write his political obituary just yet.

Brulte may be easing out of the limelight, but colleagues and political pundits who have watched the Republican's ascension in the Legislature predict he will continue to be a dominating force in California.

"I cannot imagine Jim Brulte getting out of politics at this point," said Assemblyman John Longville (D-Rialto), a colleague who also must abandon his seat due to term limits. "He is much too young to fade into the sunset."

Term limits are catching Brulte, 48, at the height of his influence and at a time when his party controls the governor's office and the White House. Because Brulte is still relatively young and in his political prime, his next step is a hot topic of discussion in political circles.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 02, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Brulte profile -- An article about state Sen. Jim Brulte in Tuesday's California section mistakenly referred to the White House Correspondents' Assn. as the White House Correspondence Assn.

Brulte refuses to speculate on his future other than saying he will run for the Board of Equalization in 2006. The five-member board panel rules on individual tax claims and state tax policy. Brulte has already amassed nearly $1 million for the campaign. The only other person to open a campaign committee for the board is Michelle Park Steel, wife of attorney and Republican fundraiser Shawn Steel.

Meanwhile, Brulte said, he will continue to support the state's Republican Party and work to reelect President Bush this fall. "I'll always be a party man," he said.

Brulte stepped down as minority leader seven months early to make the transition easier for his successor, Sen. Richard Ackerman of Irvine. "It's time to let others take the lead," Brulte said.

Still, his political allies say he is too ambitious to be content serving on a relatively obscure tax panel.

"I don't see Jim Brulte sinking into the woodwork," said Assemblyman Robert Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga), who is vying to fill Brulte's Senate seat, which represents parts of San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

If elected to the Board of Equalization, Brulte will advise the state's Republicans on legislative and political matters and help raise funds for the next crop of GOP candidates. But he could also use his position on the board as a layover until he should decide to run for controller, treasurer or another statewide post.

"I'd be surprised if Jim does not return to elected politics in some form," said Republican political consultant Allen Hoffenblum.

Because of his close ties to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and President Bush, Brulte also would be a logical choice for a governor's or White House appointment.

Brulte's close relationship with Bush was demonstrated in early May when he spent the night at the White House after attending the annual White House Correspondence Assn. dinner. But Brulte has told friends that he is not interested in a Washington job because it would take him away from his elderly mother, who lives with him.

Brulte's name has also been bandied about as a candidate to be the first full-time chairman of the state Republican Party, a job that Chairman Duf Sundheim now holds on a volunteer basis.

"I expect to see Jim Brulte move to a bigger, better office in the future," said San Bernardino County Supervisor Bill Postmus, head of the San Bernardino County Republican Party.

Brulte, a bachelor who lives in Rancho Cucamonga, is a career pol who began as an aide to Sen. S.I. Hayakawa, an advance man for Vice President George H.W. Bush and chief of staff to Charles Bader, the Republican assemblyman he succeeded in 1990. He was California's co-chairman of George W. Bush's first presidential campaign.

Brulte spent six years in the Assembly, the maximum allowed under term limits. During his third year, he was elected Assembly Republican leader and helped his party gain a 41-seat majority in the lower house. But Assembly Speaker Willie Brown negotiated several backroom deals with Republican members to deny Brulte the speakership.

Brulte was elected to the state Senate in 1996 and took over as the Republican Party leader in 2000 when Sen. Ross Johnson of Irvine stepped down.

As party leader, one of Brulte's charges has been to help elect more Republicans to the Legislature. To that end, he has raised and contributed nearly $250,000 to GOP candidates and to the party since 2001, according to state campaign statements.

But Brulte will probably be remembered most for threatening to campaign against any Republican who broke ranks and supported a tax increase to close a $38-billion budget gap during last year's budget negotiations. Then-Gov. Gray Davis claimed Brulte's warning prolonged the budget standoff, but lawmakers from both parties credited Brulte and Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) with drafting the accord that finally led to a budget deal.

Brulte is not expected to face such dramatic conflicts if he is elected to the Board of Equalization.

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