Ascent through Assembly

GLENDALE — Two state assemblymen who represent Glendale — each just elected to his second term in the Legislature — are moving up California’s political leadership ladder.

Democratic Assemblyman Paul Krekorian, of the state’s 26th District, has been tapped by Speaker Karen Bass to be the party’s assistant majority floor leader, while Republican leader Mike Villines asked Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, of the 38th District, to chair his party’s caucus.

Krekorian and Smyth are poised to help set their parties’ agendas in the coming legislative year at a particularly vulnerable time for the state.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a fiscal emergency Monday, triggering a special session of the Legislature to develop a viable spending plan he hopes will reduce California’s ballooning debt.

Krekorian and Smyth separately praised each other Tuesday as they looked toward what is already a busy 2009-10 term. Although the term does not officially begin until January, representatives have been toiling since Schwarzenegger’s declaration this week.

As assistant majority floor leader — one of the top spots behind Bass — Krekorian, 48, will help lead Democrats by ensuring party continuity among the 80 Assembly members and working with Republicans to advance Democratic legislation.

The rise of Krekorian, an attorney by trade and former Burbank school board member, has been marked by a high number of bills passed and high-profile appointments to a number of committees.

The Burbank resident completed his first term earlier this year in the Legislature with the most bills signed into law of any freshman member of the Assembly. In November, he was appointed to serve on the special session’s Banking and Finance Committee, formed to fix the $27.8-billion hole projected for the next 19 months, and served on the influential Appropriations Committee during his first term.

“I think that was a great decision by the speaker to move Paul into a leadership spot,” Smyth said. “Being classmates, we have a real good relationship.”

As caucus chairman — the second-highest-ranking Republican position in the state Assembly — Smyth will act as a liaison between Villines and the 32 Assembly members of his party.

Smyth has risen through the Republican ranks partly on the strength of his environmental platform, which he plans to continue as caucus chair.

Smyth, first elected in 2006, vice-chaired the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee during his first term.

Last year, Smyth helped to establish the Republican E3 Task Force, which aims to create additional renewable energy resources and new incentives for environmentally friendly innovations and generate green jobs.

“I spent the last two years really working hard in getting into policy and showing that I’m a team player and willing to take on tough issues,” he said.

Smyth’s ascension was made possible by the departure of former Assemblyman Bob Huff, who was elected to the state Senate on Nov. 4. The transfer of power from Huff, whom some considered a hard-line Republican, to what many view as the more moderate Smyth pleased Krekorian, who said he looks forward to working across the aisle with the Santa Clarita representative.

“I hope it will be an indication that the Republican Caucus is looking to be more moderate in dealing with the budget,” Krekorian said. “They need to be part of a good faith effort to resolve this budget crisis. Right now, the Republican Party and their caucus has been absentee. They’ve been complete nonparticipants in the urgent effort to try and resolve California’s budget crisis.

“I hope that a thoughtful and moderate member like Cameron Smyth will be able to influence their caucus to deal with the budget in a good faith way that doesn’t involve holding California hostage to . . . the extreme right wing of the [Republican] party.”

The promotion of Smyth, insiders said, could be a stepping stone for the assemblyman toward the top post as Villines will be termed out in 2010. Smyth is eligible to serve through 2012 before term limits will end his Assembly tenure.

When asked about the possibility of leading the party, Smyth demurred, preferring to reflect on his current post and the prospects of representing his constituents through the troubles that currently addle California.

“Right now, I’m just really happy to be No. 2,” he said.

“I’ll continue to be a strong representative for my district. That’s what I was elected to do.”

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