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California Senate President Sues Governor Schwarzenegger

Audio

Aired 8/11/09

There have been reports California's state senate leader was planning to file a lawsuit against Governor Schwarzenegger. We asked non-partisan Sacramento Political Consultant Leo McElroy what Democratic Leader Darrell Steinberg is trying to do.

There have been reports California's state senate leader was planning to file a lawsuit against Governor Schwarzenegger. We asked non-partisan Sacramento Political Consultant Leo McElroy what Democratic Leader Darrell Steinberg is trying to do.

Leo McElroy: Well, what he's doing is trying to undo the cuts. What he's stating, basically, is that the Governor didn't have the authority to do line-item vetoes because this was not the appropriation of money; this was actually a series of cuts that was voted by the legislature. And he says only the legislature has the ability to vary that or make changes in that. The Governor on the other hand says, come on, it's an appropriation, and the Governor has the right to change appropriations so the legal battle is on. It was filed yesterday in San Francisco which is where the law firm that's representing Darrell Steinberg - who's paying privately for this by the way - it's where that law firm is located and that's where the trial will be.

John Decker: Now you say he's paying privately, this is coming out of his campaign fund, but the question I think more basic is, is this as personal an issue as it looks?

McElroy: Well, it's personal in several ways. There's a very strong political component to this. Darrell Steinberg's been under fire from some Democrats for caving in too easily on issues and for giving in to a series of cuts that Democrats are not happy with. This is a way for him to strengthen his credentials by being the guy who stands up to the Governor. Interestingly, it was Darrell's Senate that went along with the package that was negotiated in the Big Five meetings with the Governor. It was the assembly that undid the package by dropping out a couple of the items and eliminating $1.1 billion in savings. So up to this point Darrell has looked like the compliant one, and the assembly has looked the ones who were restive about the whole thing. Darrell is now drawing some lines that say, no, I'm not that easy a pushover, I'm gonna fight, too.

Decker: Is there a chance the assembly might become a party to this lawsuit?

McElroy: I don't think so. I don't think they need to at this point. I think they're going to stand back and applaud. They might have somebody file an amicus brief but I haven't heard of anybody ponying up the checkbook to hire a firm to do that. In all probability they will just go along with the firm that he's hired. Robin Johansen, out of San Francisco, is a traditional, long-time Democrat, political attorney firm that is going ahead with this. They've been around the track a number of times and my bet would be that you're going to see the other Democrats standing there and cheering, go get 'em, pal, go get 'em, pal.

Decker: And now the next obvious question, how might this lawsuit affect Steinberg's political career?

McElroy: Well, it may shore it up in terms of his strength among Democrats. It's probably not going to hurt him on that side of the aisle. Whether it does anything with his relationship with the Governor is another thing but at least it gives him some credibility if he wants to say no, I'm not a pushover, I stood up and fought the fight. The other question is, of course, whether the lawsuit's going to succeed. In these cases the questions usually asked of attorneys is not can we win in court, the question asked of attorneys is can we make a case. And in both sides, the Governor's people and Steinberg's people are both saying yes, we can make a case. Nobody, I think, wants to really predict what the judge is going to rule. This is pretty unchartered territory.

Decker: Do you have any idea what you might expect from this legal action?

McElroy: Yeah, a lot of angst, a lot of growling, a lot of griping and, in the end, probably not much change in what happens at the government level. However, what it does is increasingly point the way for those who want to influence the California budget that maybe the way to do it is by hiring an attorney rather than hiring a lobbyist.

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