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Shouting Match Spurs Embargo, Demand for Apology : Peace and His Bills Taboo in the Senate

Times Staff Writer

When a Senator decided not to ask his colleagues to vote Wednesday on a bill he co-authored with Assemblyman Steve Peace (D-Chula Vista), there was a roar of laughter in the usually decorous upper house of the state Legislature.

The reason for their amusement was the unannounced, but well-known, plan to kill or stall any bills written by the feisty San Diego County Democrat until he somehow makes amends with powerful Senate Appropriations Chairman Alfred E. Alquist (D-San Jose) for a loud, name-calling confrontation in a Capitol corridor on Tuesday.

Shortly after the shouting match, in which the two legislators exchanged angry words and Alquist threatened to have Peace arrested, the Senate Tuesday retaliated by voting down a bill by Peace that would have required telephone companies to study the feasibility of having distinctive dial tones to alert customers when they are making local calls for which there is a charge.

On Wednesday, the embargo continued. Alquist, 77, the oldest member of the Legislature, told reporters, “I think Mr. Peace will have a very difficult time with any of his legislation in the Senate . . . . I’m afraid the rest of his bills will continue to have difficulty.”

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Peace, however, tried to downplay what the upper chamber was doing to his legislation during the waning days of the current session. He said he had nothing pending in the Senate “that the world is going to come to a stop over.”

But a check of legislative files showed that Peace has 19 bills pending in the Senate, and two others are expected to be sent there from the Assembly within in the next few days. Several are aimed at pressing governmental problems within his district, which includes southern San Diego County and all of Imperial County.

Meanwhile, the debate over what was said during the shouting match continued Wednesday when Peace sent a letter to Alquist, but it was not the outright apology that Senate leaders say is due the senior legislator.

Peace, who maintains the shouting was started by Alquist, said he wrote to the senator to give his version of what had transpired “while the exact comments are fresh in my mind.”

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Peace said he was disturbed by what he insists were erroneous reports that he had called Alquist a “senile old pedophile.” To correct the record, Peace said he wanted to confirm that he really called Alquist “a pitiful little creature.”

“At no time did I refer to you in a profane manner,” Peace wrote. “I should not have referred to you as a ‘pitiful little creature,’ but those were the strongest terms I used, irrespective of what you thought you heard.”

Peace also said in the letter that he suspected that Alquist held a grudge against him because of his opposition to making an Imperial County site, within Peace’s district, the state’s first low-level nuclear waste dump.

Alquist responded to Peace’s letter with a two-sentence reply:

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“You obviously have some very severe problems. I would suggest you immediately seek psychiatric help.”

Alquist sent copies of his letter to Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) and Senate President Pro Tempore David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), who has said that Peace owes Alquist an apology.

The shouting match began Tuesday after the Senate Appropriations Committee shelved, at least until next year, a $3-million appropriation sought by Peace to equip school buses for handicapped children. Peace said he asked Alquist why the bill had been stalled in his committee and Alquist began shouting at him.

He said Alquist told him he was lucky the bill had not been killed outright and added, “If there is a 14-karat asshole in the Assembly, you are it.”

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“On hindsight,” Peace said Wednesday, “maybe I should have just let him call me an asshole and walked away.”

Legislation that Peace had hoped to get out of the Senate during the final two weeks of the session include bills that would:

- Provide a $240,000 bail-out for the Imperial County Fair, which lost money in its first mid-winter horse racing session.

- Ensure that the state Public Utilities Commission has access to records and books of all telephone company subsidiaries.

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- Give $15,000 to the Jacumba Water District for emergency repairs to its tiny dilapidated waterworks system in eastern San Diego County.

- Give the San Diego County Water Authority more financial flexibility by allowing it to borrow money by means other than issuing revenue bonds.

- Require telephone companies to block, for a $5 charge to any customer that requests it, any unwanted “976" recorded telephone messages.

- Prohibit insurance companies from canceling homeowner policies merely because the homeowner operates a day-care center. (The measure is still pending in the Assembly.)

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- Require future San Diego County grand juries to have a racial and sexual makeup that mirrors the county’s population.


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