Long Beach businessman Randal Hernandez has become the fourth member of the state community colleges board to step down in the year since the panel angered Republican lawmakers by endorsing legislation giving illegal immigrants access to student financial aid.
Just two days before his reappointment was to be heard by the Senate Rules Committee, and having been warned by Republicans that his appointment was in trouble, Hernandez notified Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday that he was withdrawing his application to serve another term.
Sen. Jim Battin (R-La Quinta), vice chairman of the committee, confirmed Wednesday that he had told Hernandez that he and other Republican lawmakers had concerns about the college board's unanimous vote in 2007 to endorse provisions of the proposed state "Dream Act."
"I told him he probably would have some issues with my caucus," Battin said.
Sen. Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga), another member of the committee and Republican Caucus, said the concerns remain from last year, when Senate Republicans blocked confirmation of the governor's appointment of Colleges Board President Katherine Albiani and board members Rose Castillo-Guilbault and John Koeberer. Commissioners must be confirmed within a year of their appointment.
The Democratic-majority Senate voted 23 to 13 along party lines for Albiani's confirmation, but it needed 27 votes, or two Republicans to join the Democrats, to be approved. The same rules would have applied to Hernandez.
The 17-member California Community Colleges Board of Governors angered Republican lawmakers when it voted to support state legislation by Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) that would have allowed illegal immigrants, under certain conditions, to qualify for student financial aid and community college fee waivers.
"It was like they were voting a political agenda as opposed to doing their job. That was the concern," Dutton said Wednesday. "I felt there was too much emphasis being placed on people who were in this country illegally and not enough for people who are here legally."
Hernandez, an executive with Bank of America, was appointed by the governor in 2006. He did not return calls for comment.
There was resistance to his appointment by GOP lawmakers, even though Hernandez is a Republican and is the former appointments secretary for Schwarzenegger. Hernandez's resignation says as much about Schwarzenegger's lack of sway over Republicans in the Legislature as it does about the volatility of the debate over illegal immigration in California, some state officials said.
Cedillo said the Republicans' use of the illegal immigration issue as a litmus test for service on the board will have a chilling effect on the free speech rights of its members.
"It's unfortunate," Cedillo said. "We need to get away from hate politics."
Battin said he expects that the concern of Republicans will have a positive effect on the behavior of the college board in the future.
"I don't think that the community college board will decide that they are going to be so political," Battin said. "I think maybe they will focus on their mission, which is provide the best education they can to the students at the community colleges."
Schwarzenegger, through a spokeswoman, shrugged off Hernandez's decision to withdraw.
"The governor appoints the best and most qualified individuals to serve the people of California, and Randal certainly falls into that category," said spokeswoman Rachel Cameron.
"The governor thanks Randal for his service and we will begin the search for his replacement," Cameron said.