GOP lawmakers pick fiscal conservative as new leader
Assembly Republicans picked Sam Blakeslee as their new leader Thursday, choosing a coastal lawmaker known as a fiscal conservative with environmental leanings to lead them through what could be a long season of budget talks.
The 53-year-old Blakeslee, from San Luis Obispo, will replace Assemblyman Mike Villines (R-Clovis) on June 1. Villines came under fire from fellow Republicans for helping push through a February budget deal that included a $12.5-billion tax hike.
Blakeslee was selected as state budget analysts announced that California is facing a mounting cash crisis and a deficit that could balloon to $14 billion or more.
“California is at a great crossroads. . . . The time for business as usual is over,” he said. “We will reform this state. We will balance this budget.”
Even before Blakeslee won the post during a two-hour GOP caucus meeting, some conservative bloggers were questioning his credentials.
Jon Fleischman of Flash Report.com said that although Blakeslee is a devout fiscal conservative, “there is no doubt that in a number of policy areas he is more centrist than most Republicans.”
He said Blakeslee has cast “some disturbing votes” on environmental issues, citing the lawmaker’s support of the effort to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.
Blakeslee called himself a “principled fiscal hawk” and vowed that any solutions to the impending budget deficit will not include more taxes.
“Raising taxes would be moving backwards,” Blakeslee said. “My record speaks for itself. I’ve always been someone who believes the first job we have is to make sure we make government more affordable, more efficient.”
Blakeslee has never been part of the Capitol’s high-level budget negotiations. But Assemblyman Roger Niello (R-Fair Oaks) called him a “quick study” who will represent his fellow Republicans well during such talks, in policy debates and as a strategic leader in next year’s legislative races.
Villines said his departure from the leadership post came as much from a desire to spend more time with his wife and children as from any pressure over the February budget deal and tax hikes.
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