Opinion: Walking The Political Plank


It may not be an extreme sport, but political payback is a well-established tradition in Sacramento.

We saw another reminder of that this week with two-term Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert.

Just a day after Nestande broke ranks with his fellow Republicans and cast a vote for Democratic Speaker John Perez's AB 1500, a bill that raises corporate taxes to pay for college scholarships, Nestande stepped down from his post as Republican Caucus Chair.

Did he jump, or was he pushed?  No matter.  The end result was the same.  As Nestande told the Sacramento Bee's Jim Sanders: " I understood the ramifications when I took the vote."

Nestande's fatalistic walk on the political plank would have been shared by the other non-Democrat who voted for the bill, San Diego's Nathan Fletcher -- except that Fletcher bolted the GOP and became an independent earlier this year during his failed run for mayor of San Diego.

What's interesting about this is that most political disagreements are handled behind closed doors in Sacramento. But when a lawmaker breaks ranks publicly, there's a well-known history of political retribution.

In 1994, Assemblyman Paul Horcher, R-Diamon Bar, famously shocked the GOP with his surprise vote to retain Willie Brown as Assembly Speaker.  Condemned as a turncoat, he was recalled from office the following spring.

In 2007, Senate President pro Tem Don Perata locked three lawmakers out of their offices to express displeasure for a meeting they held to discuss electing more moderates.

In 2008, Assemblywoman Nicole Parra, D-Hanford, was booted not just from her office, but from the Capitol building altogether for casting a budget vote that angered Speaker Karen Bass.

And in 2009, six Republican legislators endured scathing criticism for voting for a package of temporary taxes.  One of them, Senate Republican Leader Dave Cogdill of Modesto was deposed in an overnight coup.

There are other means of punishment, such as assignment of office and garage space.  In fact, there is an actual "doghouse" at the Capitol.  No, not the one that Gov. Jerry Brown's dog, Sutter, occupies.  It's a 391 square foot office on the fifth floor that frequently is assigned to a lawmaker who has displeased leadership.

As for Brian Nestande?  Although only in office three years, he is no neophyte.  His father, Bruce Nestande, was an aide to Gov. Ronald Reagan, then served in both the Assembly and on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

So he knew what was coming when he cast a vote that Assembly Democrats loved.

Author Kevin Riggs, an Emmy-winning former TV reporter in Sacramento, is Senior Vice President at Randle Communications.

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