In the wake of a bruising fight over a bill to abolish the RTD, state Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys) on Tuesday said he may bolt the Democratic Party and re-register as an independent.
If he took the unusual step, lifelong Democrat Robbins would join Sen. Quentin L. Kopp (Ind-San Francisco) as one of only two members of the state's 40-member upper chamber who decline to state a party affiliation.
"At the current time, what I'm thinking about is the prospect of becoming an independent," Robbins said in a telephone interview. "It's an idea I'm thinking about and I can't be any more candid than that."
Robbins, known as generally nonpartisan on most issues, maintains that switching his registration "would allow me to concentrate my energies on Valley-related issues. . . . It would let me stay out of partisan fights and partisan obligations."
Though some of his colleagues questioned whether the threat was real, Robbins put the word out that he was considering leaving the party after the intense struggle over the transit bill in which he played a central role.
Earlier this month, Robbins suffered a rare setback when the bill was rejected in the Senate, in part because of opposition from Democrats. At that point, the bill would have created a seat on a new transit board for a legislative appointee from the San Fernando Valley. Robbins had admitted that he wanted the seat.
The measure later passed, with the legislative seat provision removed from the bill. The legislation, if signed by Gov. George Deukmejian, would abolish the RTD and the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission and set up a single agency with expanded powers.
Delights in Publicity
If he makes good on his threat, Robbins, 44, who delights in being in the spotlight, could face the loss of the chairmanship of the Senate Insurance, Claims and Corporations Committee and a much-coveted spot on the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee.
Those seats are assigned by the Democrat-controlled Rules Committee chaired by Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles). If Robbins leaves the party, the action would be regarded as a slap at Roberti's leadership in the Senate, where the lineup now stands at 24 Democrats, 15 Republicans and Kopp, the one independent.
Kopp welcomed Robbins as a potential ally, citing "a growing disenchantment on the part of some members of the Senate with the (increasingly partisan) way the Senate does business."
Tangled With Robbins
Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), who tangled with Robbins over the RTD bill, said he was unaware Robbins was considering a change. "I'm disappointed to hear that. . . . I think it would have a major impact on his assignments on budget and policy committees. And I don't know why Alan would want to give up all that," Torres said.
Other legislative sources scoffed at the suggestion Robbins would leave the Democratic Party, saying he may have raised the option merely as a way to extract favors from Roberti. Others said Robbins would cool down by the time the lawmakers return to the Capitol in January.
One Democratic senator, who asked not to be identified, said he views the possibility of Robbins re-registering as "a ruse and therefore Robbins is trying to send a message to David Roberti that he was unhappy about the way he was treated."
Roberti 'Very Nervous'
"David is very nervous and tends to respond when people make noises of disaffecting," the senator said, adding that if Robbins became an independent it would be "an indirect challenge" to Roberti.
For Democrats to unseat an independent Robbins in his Valley district, it would take a strong candidate and a bundle of money. Robbins easily won reelection last year to the seat he has held since 1973.
Roberti, whose mother died this week, was in mourning and could not be reached for comment. A spokesman said "this is not the time to be considering political questions."
One Senate source said that about two weeks ago Robbins approached Roberti and threatened to become an independent because of the uproar his Democratic colleagues were causing by opposing the transit bill.
Robbins said he has considered leaving the party in the past but the thought was partially rekindled by the bitter battle to reorganize RTD. "That was a tough battle," he said, "which brought some discussion of it to the surface."
Robbins cited several other factors prompting him to consider re-registering. They included: his Valley supporters, many of whom are Republicans or not registered with either major party; policy differences with liberal Democrats on such issues as the death penalty, which he supports; and seeing Kopp manage to perform his duties without being a member of a major party.
A legislative staffer familiar with the situation suggested that Robbins will stay put after he considers his options. "The fall will provide a cooling-off period," the staffer said.