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Lawmaker leaves Democratic Party

A moderate assemblyman cut ties with the Democratic Party on Tuesday and became an independent, a move that could throw an unexpected curve into the state’s budget fight.

Fresno Assemblyman Juan Arambula, who has frequently clashed with Democratic leaders, re-registered as decline-to-state. If he does not vote with Democrats on the state budget, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) will have to procure an additional Republican vote -- an uphill battle -- to achieve the required two-thirds majority in her house.

Democratic leaders expressed confidence that Arambula would ultimately side with them to push through budget changes needed to overcome a $24-billion deficit. The Legislature is expected to vote today on a Democrat-backed package.

“I don’t think this will change anything,” said Assemblywoman Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa). “Juan’s always been a very independent thinker, and I don’t think his political designation will make a bit of difference in how he votes.”

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Arambula did not return phone calls seeking comment, but his unhappiness with Democratic leaders on several fronts has been no secret in the Capitol.

In a Fresno Bee column published Sunday, he expressed dismay over the Democrats’ deep ties to labor unions and said that “the special interests have a lot to say about what goes on in both parties.”

With a strong connection to the state’s agricultural heartland, Arambula also expressed disappointment over the state’s inability to solve water supply problems. And he chafed at the push by liberal Democratic leaders to curb the deficit by raising taxes without deeper cuts, using what he characterized as gimmicks and “phantom money.”

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eric.bailey@latimes.com


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