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Senate GOP power shift could come in middle of budget fight

August 11, 2010 | 12:43 pm

The old adage about changing horses in mid-stream apparently doesn't apply to the Senate Republican Caucus.

Among the issues complicated by the ongoing budget stalemate is the Republican leadership transition that is scheduled for the start of September. In May, a memo from the Senate GOP leadership to the caucus announced that current Senate GOP leader Dennis Hollingsworth (R-Murrieta) would hand over power to incoming GOP leader Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga) on Sept 1.

The date made sense at the time; It was one day after the end of the legislative year. But with each passing day without a budget deal – or even substantive progress – there is a growing likelihood that the overdue spending plan will interfere with the hand-off of power.

Dutton, who as budget vice-chair has been involved in negotiations, downplayed any tensions with Hollingsworth, his Senate seat-mate. “This isn’t a hostile-type thing,” he said Wednesday. “We’ll do whatever is necessary to maintain continuity.” 

Already, Dutton has been waiting an unusually long time to assume the reins of the caucus since Republicans selected him as their leader in January.

“We’ll see what happens,” Dutton said, adding that he hoped for a budget breakthrough this month. “Obviously, it depends; if we’re right in the throes of some heated, very serious negotiations, the world won’t come to an end on Sept. 1st.”

Glancing at his BlackBerry calendar in the back of the Senate chamber, Dutton said he would be willing to give negotiators until Sept. 3 a chance to finalize an agreement.

Any new blood in budget negotiations invariably changes the tenor of the talks. The additions of Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) and Assembly Republican leader Martin Garrick (R-Solana Beach) this year have, by all accounts, shifted the dynamics of the negotiations. 

 Dutton has long focused on unwinding state regulations on businesses and is one of the Legislature’s most strident critics of AB 32, the state’s global warming law.

“If they think they’re going to find it any easier dealing with me,” Dutton said of Democrats, “they’re not.”

-- Shane Goldmacher in Sacramento