State Senate to Elect New Leader

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
For the last six years, the Pro Tem has been San Francisco’s legendary John Burton, who first was elected to the California legislature 40 years ago and is now being forced out by term limits. Burton is renowned for not being shy about making his feelings known, as was evident last month when he read to reporters an excerpt from Governor Schwarzenegger’s just released California Performance Review. CUT: Burton08 :08 The implementation of these thousand recommendations will result in a 32 billion dollar savings over the next five or seven years – gimme a break! The next Pro Tem will be whoever can win support from a majority of the Senate’s 25 Democratic members. Tim Hodson is the director of the Center for California Studies at CSU Sacramento and was an advisor to President Pro Tem David Roberti in the 1980s. He says it’s much more than an honorary office. CUT: Hodson19 :19 The President pro tem of the Senate as arguably the second most powerful legislative leader will have the duty and the inevitable task of being a counterpoint to the governor. The other important role is to manage the house and help the Speaker manage the entire legislature. Among the Pro Tem’s jobs will be to go toe to toe with the governor on everything from the budget to the proposed massive reorganization of the state bureaucracy. Three Democratic Senators are in the running to be Pro Tem. Two are women and, if elected, would be the first to lead the Senate. Martha Escutia of East Los Angeles says she’s perfectly comfortable taking on the role, and dealing with Governor Schwarzenegger. CUT: Escutia19 :19 Yes, he’s a very charismatic person. He’s a very strong, strong personality. But you know what I’m not chopped liver. I don’t consider myself a wallflower, so I’m definitely ready to engage the governor in a dialogue, but I’m also ready to stand up for what I believe in. Senator Sheila Kuehl of Santa Monica is the other female contender. Kuehl is a former TV actress who co-starred in 50s sitcom “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.” She's also the legislature’s first openly gay lawmaker. Kuehl says she can fulfill all the roles a Pro Tem must play. CUT: Kuehl15a :15 I feel as though administratively I have the greatest strengths. Policy matters I have the greatest strengths. And I‘ve been very involved in a lot of statewide campaigns and I also am a proven fundraiser. The third candidate is Don Perata, of Oakland, a former teacher with a long career in elected local government and the legislature. Perata says he’s a moderate problem-solving pragmatist. But he points out that both Governor Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez hail from Southern California, and that a balance is needed. CUT: Perata11 :11 If I’m not the pro tem, all three leadership positions will be in Southern California. That is just frankly not healthy and it’s also within my memory unprecedented. Democrats will vote August 24th to select their new leader. Capitol insiders say right now Perata is the leading candidate. Current Pro Tem John Burton says when the time comes he’ll vote if necessary to choose his successor, but right now he’s not taking sides. CUT: Burton15 :15 They’re all competent people. They’re all friends and supporters of mine. My theory is basically is that if the only way any one could get the election is with a big push from me, then they’re gonna have a hard time leading when I’m gone. Once the Democrats pick their champion, the full Senate will meet in open session to confirm the choice, with the fourteen Republican members expected to offer their votes good naturedly to make it unanimous. But it will still be another ten weeks before the victor takes over the ornate President Pro Tem's office at the Capitol. John Burton has made it clear he wants to stay on through the November election before relinquishing power. SOC