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GOP Attempt to Take Wright Off Committee Fails

Times Staff Writer

Assembly Republicans on Thursday failed to oust Assemblywoman Cathie Wright from her seat on the powerful Rules Committee, mustering only 25 of the required 41 votes.

GOP lawmakers have sought to remove the Simi Valley Republican since early last month when she failed to join them in supporting the candidacy of a dissident Democrat challenging Assembly Speaker Willie Brown of San Francisco.

The Assembly floor vote Thursday was 25 to 1 to replace Wright on the committee with Assemblyman Robert C. Frazee (R-Carlsbad). Wright was the only member to oppose Frazee, with 54 lawmakers, including all 46 Democrats, either not voting or absent.

Wright has steadfastly refused to relinquish her seat on the Rules Committee, which oversees the housekeeping operations of the lower house and assigns bills to committees. After the vote, she declared the matter “closed. The vote has been taken. That’s it.”

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Disappointed by Move

Wright, 59, who was elected to a fifth term in November, said that she was disappointed by the action of her colleagues but vowed that “it doesn’t change my philosophy.”

The dispute has had a widening political impact. On the local level, it has publicized the split between Wright and neighboring Assemblywoman Marian W. La Follette (R-Northridge), who launched the effort to remove her GOP colleague.

Wright maintained that her refusal to resign from the committee also sparked opposition Thursday to her bill to allow the Simi Valley Unified School District to raise its bonded indebtedness, as sought in a $35-million bond issue on the March 7 ballot. As a result, Assembly floor action on the bill was postponed until next week.

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In the Assembly, lawmakers suggested that the Wright controversy is an example of how the lower house has become bogged down in internal housekeeping matters because of differences between Brown and new Republican Leader Ross Johnson (R-La Habra).

Democratic Defense

During the sometimes angry debate, Democrats defended Wright, a staunch conservative. For example, Assemblyman Tom Bane (D-Van Nuys), chairman of the Rules Committee, praised Wright as “an excellent member of the Rules Committee.”

The Republican action is “one of punishing her . . . because she refused to vote for a Democrat for Speaker,” Bane said.

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When the Assembly began its current session, Wright abstained from voting for a new Speaker, claiming that she had told her constituents she would not vote for a Democrat. Most of her Republican colleagues supported Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Whittier), a member of the “Gang of Five” that challenged Brown’s leadership last year.

Johnson denied that the move to remove Wright was an effort to punish her for not supporting Calderon. He said that the central issue is whether a majority of the GOP members have a right to decide the Republican membership on committees.

He maintained that traditionally members of one party went along with Rules Committee choices of the other party. “That tradition for the first time has been broken,” Johnson said. That assertion was later denied by Bane.

Johnson also expressed hope that the bitterness over Wright’s Rules Committee seat “was not an indication of the kind of house we’re going to have for the next two years.”

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That prompted Assemblyman Elihu M. Harris (D-Oakland) to shout an expletive at Johnson, yelling “It’s up to you.”

In response, Johnson said: “Well, Mr. Harris, it’s up to all of us. It’s up to all 80 of us. . . .”

Compromise Choice

Earlier this month, the Republican caucus agreed to remove Wright from the committee. However, neither La Follette nor several other challengers could muster a majority of votes in the caucus to take the matter to the floor. On Thursday, Frazee emerged as a compromise choice to replace Wright.

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In the meantime, Wright maintained that she encountered opposition to her Simi Valley schools bill because of her refusal to step down.

Wright said that the legislation was identical to a bill that passed last year allowing the Simi Valley school district to extend repayment of state loans if local voters approved general-obligation bonds. As a result, school district officials were able to advertise that a vote for the bond was a vote for a tax-rate decrease.

Nonetheless, voters defeated the bond measure for renovations on existing school structures. The issue is scheduled to go before voters again in March. To again boost its chances, Wright has introduced similar legislation.

Assemblyman Steve Peace (D-La Mesa) branded the measure a “horrible piece of legislation.”

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Because of the controversy, Wright agreed to delay action until next week.


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