Amid sarcastic barbs by Democrats against bankrupt Orange County, the Assembly rejected a resolution Monday asking National Football League owners to block the Los Angeles Rams' plans to abandon Anaheim and move to St. Louis.
The resolution authored by state Sen. John R. Lewis (R-Orange) fell one vote short of passage in the Assembly, 40 to 25, but later in the day Lewis won unanimous voice-vote approval for a Senate resolution.
Although the Rams resolution is largely symbolic, Assembly Democrats jumped on it as an opportunity to bash conservative Orange County, its financial woes and the raft of Republican-backed recovery bills that have already proved unpopular with Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) and other Democrats.
Assemblyman Louis Caldera (D-Los Angeles) sarcastically proclaimed that the Rams resolution was "an important part of the Orange County legislation" and wondered aloud just "how big a part does it play in plugging the hole?"
Added Caldera: "Some of us from Los Angeles felt jilted when the Rams left the first time and think they should keep going."
Assemblyman John Burton (D-San Francisco), one of Brown's top lieutenants and an inveterate liberal, turned the ideological tables by suggesting that Orange County's conservatives had abandoned their beliefs about keeping government out of private enterprise.
"I'm shocked to see free enterprise telling people they can't do something with their money," Burton said.
Brown, who has repeatedly bludgeoned Orange County verbally since the bankruptcy, suggested that some other team might replace the Rams. But he later told reporters that Orange County wouldn't be the destination he would choose.
"I don't think anybody ought to go to Anaheim," Brown said. "They can't pay their bills there."
Lewis discounted the Democratic assault as "puffery" and suggested "they had other motives at heart."
"Willie Brown was sending a signal that he intends to do anything humanly possible to block any assistance for Orange County, regardless of what form it might be in," Lewis said. "It's just a shame that the speaker is so petty."
Brown chalked up the resolution's failure in the 80-member Assembly, where a 41-vote majority was needed for passage, to a combination of flawed content and the identity of its author, Lewis.
As an assemblyman, Lewis was a prime political strategist in the GOP's endless assault on Democratic candidates. In the process, the unabashed conservative made many enemies among the opposing party.
The defeat in the Assembly was the second loss for the resolution this month. The Assembly rejected it 32 to 13 two weeks ago, but backers got permission for a second attempt, a customary courtesy extended to lawmakers in the California Legislature.
Lewis said the resolution could play a helpful role when NFL leaders meet in Phoenix next month to decide the fate of the Rams. The resolution says the move would hurt Orange County and notes the region's financial troubles after suffering $1.7 billion in investment losses last year.
Rams boosters in Orange County reacted with dismay over their treatment at the hands of Assembly Democrats.
"The effort to save the Rams has nothing to do with the county's fiscal problems," said Wayne Wedin, Orange County Economic Development Consortium chairman. "It's just unfortunate those are being connected, because they're totally unrelated."
Wedin said the effort to keep the Rams "isn't partisan, it's about jobs." He noted that all the resolution asked was for the Legislature to write a letter to the NFL owners, calling it a "service to the citizens."
"We certainly would have enjoyed the partnership of the Assembly," Wedin said. "We appreciate what the Senate has done. We're moving forward in any event with our efforts to maintain business in the state. I certainly hope our efforts in the future could be less partisan."