Senate Rejects Gov.’s Choice

Backers of industry lobbyist Cindy Tuck, picked to run the state clean-air board, blame Democrats’ dispute with GOP’s Schwarzenegger.

Source of this article – Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2005.

By Dan Morain
Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — In a rare move, an increasingly partisan state Senate on Thursday rejected Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s choice to head the California Air Resources Board, underscoring the governor’s tattered relations with Democratic lawmakers and infuriating the nominee’s backers.

On a strict party-line vote, the Democratic-controlled upper house rejected Cindy Tuck, an attorney and engineer who long had worked for the California Council for Environmental and Economic Balance, a lobbying group backed by industry and building trades unions.

Appointees often are allowed to serve at least a year before facing confirmation proceedings. But with Tuck fiercely opposed by environmentalists, Senate Democrats had sought an early vote on her.

The governor’s aides and Tuck’s allies lobbied hard on her behalf and the governor met with Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) to urge him to help her win confirmation.

“It’s indicative of what the governor is not getting about the Legislature,” said Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter), who led the floor fight against Tuck. “The governor has a tendency to believe he is king.”

Rob Stutzman, the governor’s communications director, said the administration considered the Democrats’ “action completely political.” He said the governor would nominate “another well-qualified person” shortly after the Legislature’s adjournment later this month.

Tuck must leave office within 60 days, though she probably will leave sooner.

The vote was 14 in favor of confirmation to 24 against in the 40-seat Senate, with minority Republicans siding with Tuck’s business and labor supporters and Democrats lining up with environmentalists who had lobbied hard for her defeat.

Tuck’s rejection suggests that “the governor may very well find himself in difficulty with high-profile candidates,” said Sen. Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks). Cox added that Tuck’s rejection was “all about politics — not merit, not qualifications, just politics, with a capital P.”

The governor’s appointments generally have been more bipartisan than those of other recent governors. According to a tally by the state Senate, Schwarzenegger has appointed 197 Republicans to positions requiring Senate confirmation, 117 Democrats and 34 who have declined to state their party affiliation.

Since Schwarzenegger took office, the Senate has rejected two of his nominees; two others were withdrawn when it became clear that they would not win confirmation.

But relations between the governor and Democrats in the Legislature have soured over an array of issues, most prominently the Nov. 8 special election the governor has called.

Tuck amassed a long list of backers, primarily from business and industry and also from the building trades unions.

Victor Weisser, president of the San Francisco-based California Council for Environmental and Economic Balance, said he was “sickened and disheartened” by Tuck’s defeat.

“I’m just really wondering how we hope to make progress if the political process rejects a woman who represents the best,” Weisser said. “This is a triumph of ‘I win-you lose’ politics. Collaboration has been rejected.”

In Weisser’s view, Tuck’s rejection “has everything to do with the governor’s relationship with the Senate. This had everything to do with special-election politics.”

Jack Coffey, who heads governmental affairs for Chevron in Sacramento and is on the council’s board, called Tuck a moderate who would have bridged gaps between industry and environmentalists over clean-air issues.

“For them to beat up on her was unforgivable,” Coffey said. “The message the environmental groups have sent to people who might try to work with them is that it doesn’t really matter.”

But Tuck’s critics said that although they liked her personally, they disliked her opposition to various environmental measures as a lobbyist and lawyer for the California Council for Environmental and Economic Balance. Early in the group’s history, it supported nuclear power plant construction. Since then, it has opposed or worked to weaken several clean-air bills over the years, environmentalists said.

Oil companies, utilities and agribusiness are among its biggest funders, though its members also include building trades unions.

The Air Resources Board sets air quality standards affecting everything from oil refineries to vehicle tailpipe emissions. Through the standards established by the board, the chairman wields significant influence over industry and manufacturing.

Given the board’s power over air standards, the chairman — the one paid position on the 11-member board — may be “the premier environmental regulatory job in the country,” said V. John White, a longtime lobbyist for environmental issues who worked against Tuck’s confirmation.

Schwarzenegger long has portrayed himself as having a green agenda and has pushed for several environmentalist-backed bills. But White said the administration “has lost its bearings on this one.”

“This is not just any job. This is a very important position,” White said.

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