Is Steinberg Calling Oropeza, Wiggins Back?

AUG. 26, 2010

By ANTHONY PIGNATARO

With the end of the California legislative session looming (it was supposed to be this Friday, but has been pushed back to Tuesday, Aug. 30), all sorts of questions are flying around the state Capitol. The biggest of which is the most obvious: When is the budget going to get done?

It’s beginning to look like the answer to that question, at least as far as the Senate is concern, might come down to Senators Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, and Pat Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa. According to three Capitol sources, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is getting so desperate for votes to pass a budget that he’s calling them back from their respective sick leaves.

Both senators are apparently in pretty bad shape. For the last three months, Oropeza has been suffering from a stomach clot (Ray Sotero, her press secretary, denies that the cancer she sought treatment for in 2004 has resurfaced). She’s in Long Beach now, and returning to Sacramento – whether by car, train or plane – would pose significant hardship on her.

“Senator Oropeza has every intention of being here for the budget vote,” he said.*

Wiggins, who’s been sidelined for much of the year, is suffering from an undisclosed illness her staff will not discuss. Before she went on a kind of medical leave in March, she began making odd outbursts at hearings, including insulting a minister and yelling at staffers when she ran out of water.

“I heard she can’t actually come back,” a source familiar with the Senate leadership said. “She’s too far gone. And I don’t know why Steinberg didn’t get rid of her a year ago.”

David Miller, Wiggins’ press secretary, said it was his understanding that Wiggins would eventually return, but had no idea when. “She, right now, is doing what her doctors have instructed her to do,” he said. “We anticipate her coming back, but don’t know when. She doesn’t plan to be here next week, and hasn’t been asked.”

As far as Steinberg’s intentions, Alicia Trost, his spokesperson, said it was always his wish to call them back. “Both members have indicated very publicly that they want to be on the floor for a budget vote,” she said. Trost added that her boss would call them back “and as long as doctors give them clearance.”

Trost denied that Steinberg would call them back any time soon – indeed, she denied that any budget deal could possibly lead to a bill this or next week. “It’s quite a process to get a bill to the floor,” she said.

But another Senate source said that the leadership is currently asking members for “courtesy votes” – votes from legislators on bills they wouldn’t ordinarily support as a favor out of “courtesy” for a senator who can’t vote. Steinberg reportedly called for courtesy votes back in June when he brought Wiggins back for key votes.

“It’s likely a prelude to having them (Oropeza and Wiggins) come back,” the source said.

*CLARIFICATION: This paragraph originally reported that Oropeza had not yet been asked to return for a budget vote. In fact, Oropeza hasn’t given a specific day to return. CalWatchdog regrets the error.

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  1. DavidfromLosGatos
    DavidfromLosGatos 27 August, 2010, 11:55

    OK, I am ignorant and/or confused on why it matters if Oropeza or Wiggins are there. Do they give the Dems a 2/3 majority to override Arnold’s (last) veto? Don’t the Dems still have a solid majority without them?

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  2. Anthony Pignataro
    Anthony Pignataro 27 August, 2010, 13:30

    Great question, which I didn’t have time to explain in the above story. Forget about overriding vetoes — Steinberg apparently needs the votes to just pass a budget (as well as still pending bills). Of the 39 living current senators, 25 are Democrats. On paper that seems like Steinberg would have an easy job getting stuff passed, but not all Democratic senators vote the same way. The point of my story was to show that apparently so many Democratic votes are in question that Steinberg is having to rely on Wiggins and Oropeza, who have been among the Senate’s most progressive members. “There is,” one source told me yesterday, “a huge difference between 25 senators and 23 senators.”

    Anthony Pignataro

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