Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, paid dearly Monday for his April 6 vote against a measure expected to increase gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees to fund road repairs and transit improvements.
Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Rendon stripped Salas of his seat as chairman of the influential Business and Professions Committee.
That committee oversees the creation and elimination of regulatory agencies, licensing for health care professionals and veterinarians and has jurisdiction over a host of other business issues including non-agricultural product labeling and vocational education.
Salas was removed from the committee altogether and placed on the Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over the rules and business of the Assembly. Salas no longer chairs any committee.
Salas joins a long line of moderate Valley Democrats who have bucked their party and paid a political price.
“I kept my commitment to the families in the valley and across the state,” he said in an interview Monday. “I didn’t set out to be a martyr. If there are repercussions, there are repercussions.”
Salas was the only Democrat in the Assembly who voted against SB 1 on April 6. The bill passed by the barest of margins and Salas’ “no” vote nearly derailed it.
According to the Sacramento Bee, Salas was accosted by fellow Democrats in the chamber after his vote threatened passage of the bill.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, “stormed over to Salas’ desk, jabbed a finger in his face and berated him for voting no while his colleagues face tougher re-election fights than his,” the Bee reported.
Democrats finally rallied their support and passed SB 1 despite Salas’ opposition.
But on Monday Salas paid the price.
Salas said he has to assume the loss of his chairmanship was directly related to his vote on SB 1.
That vote was the last the legislature made before it went on spring break, he said, and the committee reassignment was the first thing that happened when the Assembly came back into session Monday.
Salas said he still feels proud of the vote on the transportation bill.
“I promised in my first election, ‘No new taxes without a vote of the people,’” Salas said. “I feel good about keeping my promise.”
The bill, if signed as expected by Gov. Jerry Brown, will increase the state gas tax by 12 cents a gallon and increase vehicle license fees by between $25 and $175 a year depending on the value of the vehicle.
Still, losing the chairmanship of the Business and Professions Committee was a blow for Salas and for Kern County’s political influence in Sacramento. Salas is the only Democrat in Kern’s legislative delegation and Democrats hold super-majority control over legislation.
The committee has broad impact in Sacramento and touches on a large range of business interests. Anything with a license, Salas said, comes through the committee.
“It’s sought-after by many members of the Assembly,” he said.
Vic Pollard, who was The Californian’s Sacramento bureau chief for years, said the Business and Professions Committee is courted by the state’s business interests.
“Business and Professions is one of the most powerful committees in the Assembly because it handles bills that deal with regulations that affect the income and expenses of a wide variety of businesses and professions,” Pollard wrote in an email. “That makes it a magnet for heavy-duty lobbying efforts — and of course campaign contributions from the lobbyist’s employers.”
Salas is not the first Democratic Assembly member from the area that now makes up the 32nd Assembly District to lose favor with the Democratic leadership in Sacramento for going against the party.
In 2008, then-30th District Assemblywoman Nicole Parra abstained from a vote on the budget in an effort to rally support for a water bond.
She was moved out of her offices in the state Capitol building and into a legislative office building across the street — making her the only legislator without a Capitol office at the time.
Former state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, said he lost a committee assignment because he was too aggressive in investigating a $95 million sweetheart software deal between the state and Oracle.
On Monday, Florez indicated the Salas punishment was just another example of an independent legislator paying for a principled vote.
Florez tweeted a picture of Salas with the note: “There’s a history to the seat. What can I say other than the long held valley motto: ‘Always do right (by) the constituents, not the leadership.’”