The Speaker and the “Back-Bencher”

john perez
Speaker John Perez

Under the color of prudent fiscal management, California State Assembly Speaker John Perez recently took another swipe at fellow Democratic Assemblymember Anthony Portantino (D-La Canada/Flintridge), blocking a routine legislative procedure in a move that suggests improper legislative intimidation.

As reported in Saturday’s Pasadena Star-News, Perez had his office halt a proclamation honoring Pasadena civil rights leader Ralph McKnight, which Portantino had authored for a recently deceased district resident — something legislators routinely do to honor distinguished community members.

Denying the La Canada/Flintridge legislator funds to print proclamations is part of an ongoing campaign by the Speaker’s office to curb Portantino’s spending — either as appropriate budgetary oversight, as the Speaker’s office contends, or in retaliation for failing to fall in line with the Speaker’s wishes on certain votes, as Portantino maintains.. Earlier, working through the Assembly Rules Committee, Perez had the La Canada/Flintridge legislator’s mailing rights and staff travel reimbursement stopped and is moving to force punitive staff furloughs as well.

Ralph McKnight

Ralph McKnight

Rubbing salt into the wound, Perez spokesman John Vigna called Portantino a “back-bencher…whole career is clearly coming to an end,” maintaining that Portantino’s “budget wasn’t frozen (it) was overspent. We had to take away his checkbook because he was writing checks he couldn’t cash.”

Since this squabble began some months ago, Portantino has denied any budget irregularities, citing his long history of actually underspending his budgets in the years he has spent in Sacramento:

“They say I’ve exceeded my budget, but that’s nonsense,” Portantino responded. “I’m the Boy Scout here. I’m the one who turns down the state car, who doesn’t take a telephone at taxpayer expense, who pays my own parking at the airport, who turned down the pay raise.”

To prove his point, Portantino has requested details from the Assembly Rules Committee showing how the State Assembly’s budget is spent. So far, the responsible body, the Rules Committee, has stonewalled, even as several news organizations have filed suit for access to the information, picking up on Portantino’s point.

Rennatta Cooper, PUSD Board President

Renatta Cooper, PUSD Board President

“Sure, of course they’re seeking retribution for votes Portantino has taken,” said a well-regarded source with deep insights into both the Speaker’s office and the Rules Committee. “But you’ll never get them to admit that. How can they?”

If you’ve read California’s Constitution, you understand why Perez and his troops are all now singing from the same hymnal. Says Article 4, Section 15: “A person who seeks to influence the vote or action of a member of the Legislature in the member’s legislative capacity by bribery, promise of reward, intimidation, or other dishonest means, or a member of the Legislature so influenced, is guilty of a felony.”

That’s a lot to risk for preventing a little ink from reaching the parchment of Ralph McKnight’s proclamation or even for the $67,000 in question on Portantino’s budget, out of a $146 million State Assembly budget — all because they’ve got an Assemblymember who insists on voting as he sees best for his constituents, not as party bosses dictate.

“People have to be able to vote their conscience. Not giving them the ability to do so is no different than Republicans taking a no-tax pledge,” said Renatta Cooper, Pasadena Unitfied School District Board President, as quoted in the Star-News. “It’s not up to Mr. Perez to punish our Assemblyman, it’s up to the constituents to do so.”

Dick Price & Sharon Kyle

Published by the LA Progressive on August 7, 2011
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About Dick and Sharon

As a husband and wife team, Sharon Kyle and Dick Price publish several print and online newsletters on political and social justice issues. Sharon serves as Publisher for Dick & Sharon's LA Progressive and Dick serves as Editor.