Allen Recall May Not End Speakership Fight : Politics: Many think Pringle will snag top Assembly post. But current occupant Setencich vows to hold onto the position with help from some disgruntled Republicans.
In the bitter world of California politics, the recall of Orange County Republican Assemblywoman Doris Allen would seem to finally settle all the old scores.
As many in the party see it, Allen’s ouster gives a “real Republican,” Assembly GOP Leader Curt Pringle of Garden Grove, the votes needed to assume the speakership and thus control the lower house’s policy apparatus and financial purse strings.
But not so fast. This is, after all, the fractured California Assembly.
While Pringle boosters vow to push their man into the Speaker’s chair when the Legislature reconvenes in January, the post’s current occupant--Brian Setencich, a freshman Republican from Fresno--has boldly predicted that he will hold onto the seat with the backing of up to a dozen disgruntled GOP lawmakers and all the Democrats.
Setencich’s confident bluster may be grounded in reality. He traveled the state during the interim recess to lobby his party colleagues. And behind the scenes, there is talk in the Capitol that the 33-year-old Speaker could indeed win support from the handful of Republicans who retained cordial relations with both Setencich and Allen during a legislative year that often resembled a fraternity food fight.
Allen, who became a recall target after she vaulted to the speakership in June by striking a deal with the Democrats, stepped down under pressure in September and handed the job to Setencich, who tapped into the same Democrat backing to beat Pringle 41 to 39.
The only other Republican who voted for him then was Allen, but now Setencich is being eyed by several GOP cohorts as a palatable alternative to Pringle, who helped lead the Allen recall and is considered by many of the budding dissidents to be an overzealous practitioner of power politics.
None have come forward to pledge their vote to Setencich in the struggle, preferring to wait at least until after Wednesday’s deadline for challengers to pull nomination papers for the Republican primary election in March. Many could stay in the shadows until January, fearing the possibility of being pressured by a Republican establishment that has grown bitter over an inability to cement full control of the Assembly.
The issue is expected to be among the more heated topics when Assembly Republicans gather today at an Indian Wells resort for golf, good food and three days of planning in private for the coming legislative year.
“I think people will be starting to firm up their positions this week,” said Assemblyman Brett Granlund (R-Yucaipa), who considers himself Setencich’s friend but has yet to make any public commitment to vote for him.
Granlund predicted that both Setencich’s and Pringle’s futures will depend on what they promise. If Setencich, for instance, can woo certain members by appointing them to plum committee chairmanships or push through rule changes giving Republicans a larger share of the Assembly pie, he might be hard to beat.
“Lots of members have said that they’ll wait and see what Brian does,” Granlund said. “If he does the right things, they’ve said they’ll support him. He has a chance to endear himself to them.”
As for Pringle, Granlund said, “Curt has not had a chance to . . . lay out his vision and what he intends to do.
“I think everyone is waiting to hear that as well.”
Pringle’s boosters, meanwhile, argue that anyone who stands with Setencich and his bloc of Democratic votes will only end up as a GOP pariah.
That’s an argument with precedence. Allen, who was rejected by nearly a 2-to-1 margin Tuesday in her Cypress-based district, is the second Republican recalled this year because of a deal with Democrats that kept the GOP from seizing full control.
“I believe that Republicans are very concerned that we select a Speaker with a majority of the Republican caucus, not with the backing of Democrats,” Pringle said. “This isn’t just about who becomes the Speaker. It’s about the Republican Party, the conservative movement, the future of our ideas.”
Pringle will probably get lots of help from on high. Gov. Pete Wilson and state GOP Chairman John Herrington are said to be prepared to lobby waffling Republican lawmakers. National Republican Chairman Haley Barbour is also expected to be tapped for similar duties to drive the message home.
Some insiders in the Setencich camp say threats have already been floated, among them suggestions that any maverick will not receive reelection help from the party. In the realm of politics, that would be a critical snub: Even incumbents count on funding from the party and other lawmakers to ease the financial strain around campaign time.
But some of the lawmakers leaning toward Setencich have noted that Pringle and several other GOP leaders will be out of the Assembly by 1998 because of term limits. With that in mind, they have suggested they might be able to survive the 1996 election and work to shift the focus of the Republican Party toward a more “tolerant” platform by 1998.
“It’s the strength of ideas and personalities that get people to support someone for the speakership, not the strength of recalls and threats,” said Emma Suarez Pawlicki, Setencich’s press secretary.
Pringle has a ready retort: “There’s no term limits to party memory.”
His supporters have privately suggested that Pringle might be able to coax away enough Democratic votes to overcome any Republican defections to Setencich. With Assembly Democrats showing signs of fragmenting heading into 1996, Pringle has focused on making inroads with the party’s Latino caucus.
But the fatal flaw to that strategy may be in Pringle’s past. During his election in 1988, Pringle was accused of helping plant uniformed guards at the polls with signs in Spanish warning non-citizens not to vote. Pringle denies any role in placing the guards, but the incident looms as a black mark among many liberals and Latinos.
Setencich, meanwhile, could have trouble coaxing enough concessions from the Democrats to make a good case for staying on top. One top Democrat said privately that the party would be willing to concede on many issues, but would not give up its equal footing on the pivotal Assembly Rules Committee, which controls the financial operations of the house.
The strange calculus of the Assembly also could come into play.
Republicans currently outnumber Democrats 41 to 39, but that is expected to change. Assembly Democratic Leader Willie Brown is heavily favored to become mayor of San Francisco in a Dec. 12 election and would assume office the first week of January. Short of some political sleight of hand allowing the longtime Democratic kingpin to retain both jobs, Brown’s anticipated departure would leave his Assembly seat vacant for several months, seemingly increasing the odds for the Republicans.
Yet even if Pringle can muster as many as 40 votes--a working majority in the 79-member house that would be left if Brown became mayor--the Orange County lawmaker could still face formidable constitutional questions while bidding to unseat Setencich.
Pringle argues that Setencich could be toppled with 40 votes, citing the election of Brown and Allen earlier this year with that bare majority at a time the house was reduced to 79 members.
Setencich and his supporters, however, contend that Brown and Allen both assumed the post with “the consent of the chair,” meaning there was no need for a vote beforehand to throw out a sitting Speaker, which Brown said requires 41 votes.
“Come Jan. 3, Speaker Setencich will be able to organize a bipartisan house,” Pawlicki predicted. “The speakership [was not] decided in Orange County on Tuesday, as much as some would like to believe that.”