Could underdog upset Assembly GOP Caucus?

Could underdog upset Assembly GOP Caucus?

MosesTwenty years ago, Jim Brulte was all set to be elected speaker of the Assembly.

“I am absolutely confident that I’ll be elected speaker,” Brulte told the San Jose Mercury News in Dec. 1994, shortly after the GOP claimed a majority in the lower house in the November election. “Whether it takes a day or a week or a month, we’ll just keep coming back until we elect a speaker.”

But Brulte was never to be speaker. Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, perhaps the only California political strategist more skilled than Brulte, maneuvered to retain the speakership.

“Brulte is like Moses,” consultant Harvey Englander said at the time, according to Dick Rosengarten’s CalPeek. “He leads his people to the promised land, but won’t be allowed to enter.”

Assembly Republican Leader-Elect Kristin Olsen

The stakes are much lower, but Kristin Olsen might be heading down the same path as “Speaker” Brulte.

In July, Assembly Republicans selected Olsen as their next leader — but delayed the transition until after the November election. In the interim, she’s been referring to herself as leader. “Assembly Republican Leader-Elect Kristin Olsen was first elected to the California State Assembly in November 2010 and overwhelmingly re-elected to her second term in November 2012,” the first sentence of the Modesto Republican’s biography reads.

There’s just one problem: The position doesn’t exist.

Non-existent position: Leader-Elect

Scan the Standing Rules of the State Assembly and you won’t find the position of “Assembly Republican Leader-Elect” anywhere. (Minority Floor Leader only rates seven mentions.)

From the Standing Rules of the California State Assembly:

“Organization of Party Caucuses

“13.1. Within two days after the general election held in November of each even-numbered year, the caucus of the political party having the greatest number of Members in the Assembly, and the caucus of the political party having the second greatest number of Members, each shall meet for the purpose of selecting their officers for the next regular session. The rules and procedures of each caucus shall be determined by that caucus, but may not be inconsistent with these rules.”

Only the speaker of the Assembly is presumed to retain office and act as “the senior member elect” for the body’s organizational session.

There’s a good reason “leader-elect” positions don’t exist. A minority leader for the next session can’t be chosen by a previous Legislature. Moreover, the member could lose reelection — however unlikely — or leave office for some other reason before the next Legislature convenes.

Why this matters: Olsen can’t get comfortable

Why does any of this matter? Isn’t Olsen’s coronation in November a mere formality?

First, it’s a reminder that Olsen can’t get too comfortable. Come November, Olsen’s legislative class could be the smallest group within the Assembly GOP Caucus. In 2012, as reported by, Assembly GOP Leader Connie Conway skipped town for a special interest junket to Maui, while Republicans lost a swing seat during the late absentee and provisional ballot phase. Olsen and the GOP Caucus are now desperately working to reclaim the 36th Assembly seat from Assemblyman Steve Fox, D-Palmdale.

Olsen’s unlikely to repeat that mistake. To her credit, the well-liked lawmaker has been aggressively campaigning on behalf of her caucus, much like Brulte did in 1994. This month, she released a Spanish-language radio ad on the state’s water crisis. And she’s refined her pitch to California voters who’ve long given up on the GOP.

“We need to unify our party and all Californians around core principles that will re-energize our state,” Olsen said last month, in a sit-down with Editor-in-Chief Brian Calle.

Assembly District 44: Potential Caucus Disruption

But for all of her hard work, the Assembly GOP Caucus has basically written off an important target in Ventura County.

In July, VC Star reporter Timm Herdt first theorized Olsen’s selection as “leader-elect” was a bad sign for Pastor Rob McCoy, a well-liked community leader running in the 44th Assembly District against moderate Democrat Jacqui Irwin, a Thousand Oaks councilwoman and two-time mayor:

“[Olsen’s selection as leader] could bode ill for 44th Assembly District Rob McCoy, who will no doubt be looking for as much financial assistance as he can get from Sacramento as he competes in that battleground district. But it remains to be seen whether a Conway-led leadership team will give the race a high priority.

“During the primary, Conway took the unusual step for a caucus leader of contributing funds to McCoy’s Republican opponent, businessman Mario de la Piedra. That suggests she may have had some doubts about McCoy’s viability as a general-election candidate. The fact that Conway is still going to call the shots on allocating election resources probably means that McCoy is going to have to persuade the outgoing leader that he can beat Democrat Jacqui Irwin with the help of Republican allies in Sacramento.”

Based on campaign reports, Herdt’s assessment is proving true. Olsen hasn’t given a penny to McCoy, who could use help if Republicans are to retain Assemblyman Jeff Gorell’s seat. According to, Irwin has raised $823,887 since the June 30 report, compared to $375,441 for McCoy.

McCoy’s message resonates with McClintock country

In the past year, Democrats have posted sizable registration gains in the Ventura County-based 44th Assembly District. According to the Secretary of State’s 60-Day Voter Registration report, Democrats hold a 5 percentage-point advantage in voter registration.

However, the district’s registration figures gloss over the fiscally conservative tendencies of this area. For years, the district sent to Sacramento anti-tax icon Tom McClintock, now a U.S. congressman.

McCoy has tapped into that fiscally conservative soul of the district by proposing to eliminate “boondoggles like high-speed rail.” While Irwin’s been up on the air with a positive spot, McCoy’s been working the ground with community coffees and precinct walks. He’s also made an issue of new taxes. According to the Los Angeles Register, McCoy “rules out the new taxes Ms. Irwin proposes, declaring that Californians are ‘taxed enough already.'”

In June, the two Republican candidates combined for 55 percent of the vote. The November election is expected to be a similarly low turnout affair. That gives the Calvary Chapel minister a chance and brings us back to “Assembly Republican Leader-Elect” Olsen.

If McCoy pulls an upset in November, in the process he could upset Olsen’s caucus.

Related Articles

Does Budget Forum Portend Tax Hikes?

DEC. 9, 2010 By KATY GRIMES In what appeared to be an event designed to prepare California for tax increases,

Medi-Cal boom squeezes CA health care

Although California officials insisted that expanding Medi-Cal coverage has been an economic boon, critics and Sacramento Republicans warned that the program’s

Loretta Sanchez: Don’t touch the filibuster

SAN JOSE, CA- Loretta Sanchez, a candidate for U.S. Senate, says she does not support reforming or eliminating the filibuster, a