“I have the utmost respect for Mike Villines and think he did a tremendous job in some difficult times,” Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, D-Newark, told me this morning, noting even tougher times are ahead.
“We are headed into some very difficult economic times here in Sacramento over the next few months, no matter what happens with the initiatives,” he said, facing one of the worst cash crises in California history, even worse than the one we narrowly escaped a few months ago.
Blakeslee, he said, is “a great choice because he’s a problem-solver and he understands, as many of us do, that the solutions aren’t Democratic or Republican, the decisions have to be tough choices that move California forward, that are largely bipartisan or nonpartisan. I think Mr. Blakeslee brings that to the job.”
Torrico said he has watched Blakeslee’s work as the Assembly Republican Floor Manager and credits his “demeanor and thoughtfulness in running a very smooth operation over the last year and a half.”
Conservatives had blasted Villines for agreeing to $12 billion in new taxes as part of the budget deal legislative leaders hammered out in February, but Torrico insists he believes Villines stepped down voluntarily “because he didn’t want to be a distraction for this initiative vote;” to spend more time with his family; and to give Blakeslee a head-start on leadership before budget negotiations start in earnest later this month.
More (or less) from the Bay Area Assembly delegation, after the jump…
Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, issued a statement last night:
“I am saddened with Assemblymember Mike Villines’ decision to vacate his leadership role. I found him to be a member who clearly understood that given our current economic crisis, doing nothing was not an option. I see Assemblymember Sam Blakeslees’ ascension to the leadership role as a positive. I think he is an intelligent and balanced member of our house. I have confidence he will also seek real solutions to our current crisis.”
And hey! The rest of the East Bay’s delegation either declined comment or didn’t return my messages.
UPDATE @ 1 P.M.: Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, just got back to me.
“I think it’s unfortunate that some of the right wing of the (Republican) party doesn’t appreciate the constructive role Villines played in trying to solve our budget crisis,” she said – that is, his recognition that the massive deficit couldn’t be fixed with spending cuts alone. “I respected him for that.”
As for Blakeslee, Skinner said, “I like him very much, and I am a little saddened by already the expression that whatever next budget negotiations we go in, he would oppose any revenue increases.” But all in all, she said, Blakeslee seems apt to take “a pretty balanced approach, he’s not an anti-government Republican. I both look forward to working with him and wish him well.”