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Monday, Feb 25 2013 11:00 PM

Rubio threw away a lot by quitting Senate

By The Bakersfield Californian

Michael Rubio is a dedicated family man -- of that we have no doubt. But some who believe his abrupt resignation from the California State Senate on Feb. 22 was based on more than just the desire to spend more time with his wife and daughters are sensing a likelier motivation.

And it isn't the money he will be earning with Chevron Corp., his new employer. To be sure, the money is probably pretty good. Rubio won't reveal his new salary but it has to far exceed the $95,291 annual pay of a state senator. But that's not why Rubio -- widely regarded as a new-generation star of California's Democratic Party -- jumped ship midterm to help run an oil company's Sacramento lobbying team.

The timing of Rubio's resignation says this all comes down to his frustration with party leadership for failing to help him achieve his top goal: reform of state environmental laws.

Rubio was one of the state Democrats' leading moderate voices. That made him the ideal legislator to pursue major revisions to the California Environmental Quality Act, which many in Sacramento -- Republicans especially, but also Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown -- see as an impediment to growth and competitiveness.

Rubio aggressively pursued a major rewrite of CEQA even as environmentalists and unions fought him. And Rubio didn't just encounter opposition from those lobbies; he faced challenges from inside the Capitol, too. Just a few weeks ago, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg named him to head up the Senate's Environmental Quality Committee -- a committee populated with tough-minded environmentalists like Fran Pavley and Mark Leno.

Last week, Steinberg and Rubio finally immersed themselves in the task of hammering out the details of a package of CEQA reforms, with a final result expected Friday. Tellingly, Rubio announced his resignation Friday morning, and that afternoon Steinberg announced exactly what these long-awaited CEQA reforms would include.

To summarize: Not much. Steinberg's reforms, designed to "reduce urban sprawl" and "preserve local control," will encourage "clean energy, bike lanes and transportation projects that help California meet its renewable energy, clean air, jobs and transit goals." Pretty words all. It's easy to see why Rubio would be upset. Meaningful reform had been his objective throughout his two years in Sacramento. His efforts have apparently been largely for naught.

But the 16th District sent Rubio to Sacramento with a sort of sacred charge: Make our voice count. For half a term he tried, but now the people who elected him have no voice at all -- and the 16th is one of those rural, high-poverty districts that has precious little influence even when that seat is occupied. Rubio didn't just let down his district, he let down Kern County Democrats who looked to him for leadership in many ways. He's just 35, but Rubio was the one local Democrat who commanded respect statewide, from both parties.

Soon enough, state Democrats will get back the supermajority that Rubio's resignation unexpectedly cost them, and Kern County Democrats will eventually develop new leaders. But if Rubio ever plans to get back into public service -- and some who profess to know him well expect he may -- he'll have to work hard to overcome the bitter taste of what seems to have been an impetuous move.

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