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Ailing senator's return is awaited

Inglewood's Ed Vincent was out for most of this session; Democrats have missed his backing. Aide says he'll be back soon.

March 29, 2007|Jordan Rau | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — In a Capitol where term limits mean that faces change often, state Sen. Ed Vincent has been one of the closest things to a constant.

Passionate about horse racing -- the Hollywood Park track is in his district -- Vincent, a 72-year-old former Inglewood mayor and onetime Los Angeles Ram football player, has been a reliable Democratic vote since 1996, when he was first elected to the Legislature.

But sidelined by illness, Vincent has been mostly absent in the Capitol this session, a touchy subject for his Democratic colleagues who are both sympathetic to his plight and in need of his vote at critical times. Vincent, whose term lasts until the end of 2008, has missed many sessions in past years because his wife has been ill. But this year he has attended only one Senate session, in January.

"He has his family illnesses, both his and his wife's, and he needs to be home," said state Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles).

Vincent has sponsored only six pieces of legislation this year, when the average number of bills sponsored by a state senator is 26. All of Vincent's bills -- technical changes to the state's gambling laws, an adjustment of rules governing criminal records and a call for a study of school districts that don't provide health benefits to retired teachers -- were suggested by staff or outside groups, said Carolyn Robinson, one of his aides.

Robinson said the senator's attendance has not been necessary to move the legislation along, and she said one of his bills passed an initial committee on Tuesday.

But in January, Vincent's absence helped doom the confirmation vote of Joe Nunez, a teachers union activist, to the state Board of Education. Facing Republican opposition, Nunez fell two votes short of the two-thirds needed.

Vincent was officially excused from sessions while recuperating from surgery last November to replace his right knee. His doctor has been submitting notes testifying to his ailment to Senate leaders, per legislative protocol.

"He's got a number of different ailments," said Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys), who was an aide to Vincent when the senator was in the Assembly. "I know he's having some serious health issues, and his wife is very ill right now. He's got some knee issues, he's had some heart issues."

Vincent has had heart surgery.

Vincent declined a request for an interview, relayed through his office. Robinson said her boss' recovery was nearly complete.

"He's fine," she said. "He would be returning on Monday if it weren't recess."

The Legislature starts its Easter break Friday. Robinson said Vincent would be back April 9, when the break ends.

Political complexities due to a lawmaker's illness are nothing new. Several legislators have had prolonged absences while recovering from cancer, heart problems and other ailments. In 2004, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent a military jet and a 15-person team to Brazil to retrieve then-state Sen. John Vasconcellos, who was having heart problems. The mission cost taxpayers $147,187.

"Through the years in the Legislature, accommodations have been made for members when they are having significant health problems," Levine said.

Vincent is popular among lawmakers. "He's a beautiful ... guy," said former Senate President Pro Tem John Burton. "His word is his bond, he causes no trouble, he's a solid Democrat."

An Ohio native, Vincent was the third draft choice of the 1956 Los Angeles Rams. He played in several games before injuries forced him out of football, according to his official Senate biography.

Vincent served in the Army until 1959 and then spent 35 years as a Los Angeles County probation officer.

He served on the Inglewood City Council from 1979 to 1983, when he became mayor. He held that job until 1995 and then was elected to the Assembly.

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