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Fabian Nunez joins Republican-dominated consulting firm

November 26, 2008 |  4:16 pm

Fabian Nunez Former state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez of Los Angeles has found a new job: He will become the Democratic face in California of a Republican-dominated consulting firm, Mercury Public Affairs, after being forced by term limits to leave the Legislature at the end of this month.

After six years in the Legislature, including four as the most influential Assembly leader in recent history, Nunez suggested in a letter to supporters that he would be a valuable asset for clients who deal with state government.

“As I prepare to leave office, it is becoming increasingly clear that what is best about the Legislature are the people you work with and the relationships you build,” he wrote. Known for a youthful charm, Nunez’s ability to build those relationships led to legislative successes and made him a prodigious fundraiser. But he was criticized for using poor judgment in spending tens of thousands of dollars in campaign money on foreign travel, fine wines, expensive meals and luxurious hotel stays.

His new firm has offices nationwide and is run in Sacramento by Republicans tied to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a consistent Nunez ally. Steve Schmidt, its chief in California, was the consultant at the helm of John McCain’s losing presidential campaign and Schwarzenegger’s successful reelection in 2006. Adam Mendelsohn, another partner, is the governor’s former communications director. Along with former corporate executives, Mercury’s top echelon also features onetime advisers to former Republican Gov. George Pataki of New York.

With a Democrat taking office in the White House and the potential for a Democrat to step into the California statehouse in two years, Nunez, 41, brings Mercury a different kind of background. A gardener’s son who grew up in San Diego, he was political director for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and a lobbyist for the Los Angeles Unified School District. He won the speaker’s post in 2004, two years after his election to the Assembly.

Working with Schwarzenegger, Nunez helped write the nation’s first law restricting greenhouse gas emissions and passed a measure discounting prescription drugs for low-income Californians, among other achievements. His losses were notable as well: A proposal he and the governor championed to broadly extend health insurance to Californians was rejected in January after a year of work. A ballot measure that would have changed the state term limits law and extended his speakership was voted down soon thereafter, leading to Nunez’s replacement as Assembly leader in May by another Angeleno Democrat, Karen Bass.

--Michael Rothfeld

Photo: Nunez, left (with aide Steve Maviglio, right), leaves a January '08 committee meeting.  Robert Durell/Los Angeles Times.