In an apparent move to enlist GOP help in squelching attacks from dissident Assembly Democrats, Speaker Willie Brown on Tuesday removed a fourth maverick Democrat from a committee chairmanship and gave the job to a Republican.
Assemblyman Rusty Areias (D-Los Banos) was ousted as chairman of the Governmental Efficiency and Consumer Protection Committee and replaced by Assemblyman Stan Statham (R-Oak Run).
Areias is a member of the so-called "gang of five" Democrats who have been challenging Brown's leadership. The most recent attack came last week when Areias and two other members of the rebel group challenged Brown's authority by serving notice that they will try to withdraw three pigeonholed bills from committee for showdown floor votes. The challenge could come as early as Thursday. Areias said he expected to lose his committee post for that action.
Asked why the Speaker removed Areias, Brown's press secretary, Susan Jetton, said: "If you don't want to play by the rules of the game, you can't expect to be the captain of a team."
Statham said he did not make a "deal" with Brown to obtain the committee chairmanship. He also declined to say how he would vote on the proposed bill withdrawals.
"I don't make deals," he said. "I will make up my own mind on that. Sometimes I vote for those motions and sometimes I don't. I haven't made any arrangement on that."
But Assemblyman Larry Stirling (R-San Diego), the only other Republican to chair an Assembly committee, said he will back the Speaker and vote against withdrawing the pigeonholed bills.
"I understood when I took the committee chairmanship that part of my obligation was to sustain the committee system," said Stirling, who heads the Public Safety Committee. "As long as I am a chairman, I will vote to sustain the committee system."
It takes 41 yes votes to withdraw a bill from committee. Assuming no other Democrats break ranks with Brown, the "gang of five" will have to corner all 36 GOP votes to win. A successful motion would be a political embarrassment for Brown. But such a motion has not passed in the lower house in the last 25 years.
Meanwhile, Assembly GOP caucus chairman Dennis Brown of Signal Hill said "no deals" have been made with the Speaker in exchange for Republican votes to help keep him in power.
Some critics have charged that Republicans agreed to back Brown in exchange for lower-house confirmation of Gov. George Deukmejian's nomination of Rep. Daniel E. Lungren of Long Beach as state treasurer to replace the late Jesse M. Unruh. "That's absolute nonsense," Brown said.
Areias' firing leaves Assemblyman Gerald R. Eaves (D-Rialto) the only member of the "gang of five" who has not been disciplined by Brown for challenging Brown's authority. Eaves said he expects to be punished soon. He currently serves as assistant majority floor leader, chairs a subcommittee on unemployment and disability insurance, and sits on the Ways and Means, Finance and Insurance, Transportation and Utilities and Commerce committees.
Other dissident Democrats who already have lost prize committee assignments are Assemblymen Gary A. Condit of Ceres, Charles M. Calderon of Alhambra and Steve Peace of Chula Vista.