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Senate panel supports governor filling legislative vacancies

Senate panel supports governor filling legislative vacancies
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) during a recent Senate session. He proposed that the governor be allowed to appoint legislators to fill vacancies rather than holding costly special elections. (Hector Amezcua / Associated Press)

SACRAMENTO -- Alarmed by the cost of holding special elections whenever a vacancy occurs in the Legislature, a state panel on Tuesday endorsed putting a measure before voters that would allow the governor to appoint people to fill empty seats.

Los Angeles County has held 20 special elections since 2008 at a cost of $27 million, County Clerk Dean Logan told the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee. Turnout in many special elections is as low as 12%.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) proposed legislation that would allow the governor to make appointments to fill vacancies with a requirement that the appointee come from the same political party as the official being replaced. Also, the house from which the lawmaker comes would have 21 days to veto an appointment.

"Districts go without representation for a longer period of time, but it's really the cost issue that motivates me," Steinberg told the committee.

However, the committee's chairwoman, Sen. Norma Torres (D-Pomona), and Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) said they won election in special elections and they don't believe they would have been appointed to the positions had the decision been left to the powers in charge.

"I don't know whether you can put a price tag on democracy," Padilla added. He voted for the bill as a courtesy to keep the debate going. Torres did not vote on the bill.

The measure was opposed on the grounds that it would deprive the voters of a chance to chose their representative by officials including Jeffrey Hewitt, the mayor pro tem of the city of Calimesa and an unsuccessful Libertarian candidate in a recent special election in the Senate..

Having 15% of voters turn out to select a legislator "is still more democratic than … one executive making that decision," Hewitt said.

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