Local Politics

Saturday, Feb 23 2013 10:39 PM

Rubio's resignation part of trend

By STAFF AND CALIFORNIAN NEWS SERVICES

The abrupt resignation of state Sen. Michael Rubio to accept a government affairs job with Chevron Corp. sparked renewed complaints by some ethics watchdogs about the revolving door between the public and private sector in Sacramento.

As chairman of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, Rubio was leading the charge to make California's environmental laws more business-friendly and has introduced bills during his two years in office that affect the oil industry in his district in Kern County.

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Barely 24 hours after state Sen. Michael Rubio announced his resignation from the California Legislature, Candi Easter, chairwoman of the Kern County Democratic Party, shared some astounding news. Or not.

Newly elected Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez, Easter said, would run for the seat vacated by Rubio.

"Leticia Perez is a candidate," she said.

But in a statement released Saturday night, Perez said it's just too early to make that determination.

"My family and I believe that the best qualified candidate within the Democratic Party should run for Sen. Rubio's vacated seat," Perez said.

"We are deeply moved and flattered that Candi Easter and many leaders within the Democratic Party believe that I am that candidate," she continued. "Given that the governor has yet to call a special election to fill the seat, my family and I believe such a conversation about my potential candidacy is premature."

Perez, 36, represents the 5th District seat Rubio once held. She worked for Rubio prior to her election and received strong support from him during her race.

But she's new to the supervisor position, and has never run for statewide office.

Easter said she has considered the possibility that voters could react negatively to the news that a supervisor elected less than four months ago is already running for higher office.

"Yes, we thought about that," Easter said. "But we want the best person for the job, and we believe Leticia Perez is that person."

-- Californian staff writer Steven Mayer

Rubio on Friday announced his resignation from the Senate, effective immediately. There are two years remaining in his term of office, and a special election will be held in the next few months to fill his seat.

"The concern is that legislators may change their behavior while in office to pave the way toward their personal future employment opportunities instead of thinking solely about the needs of their constituents," said Derek Cressman, regional director for Common Cause.

"The revolving door maintains a cozy relationship between lobbyists and legislators that makes a voter's head spin and stomach churn."

An official with the state Fair Political Practices Commission said his office will conduct a routine review of the situation to make sure there is no violation of the conflict of interest rules in the Political Reform Act.

"We will look to see if there is something to indicate that the Act was violated and, if so, we will take a look at it," said FPPC Chief of Enforcement Gary Winuk.

Winuk said a lawmaker can negotiate for a job with a corporation doing business with the state but then must avoid acting on any issue affecting that business during those talks.

Rubio said in an interview that he has complied with state law, but declined to discuss the terms of his employment, including his salary. However, Rubio said his position as manager of the company's governmental affairs will not include direct lobbying.

State law prohibits lawmakers from registering to lobby the Legislature for one year after leaving office.

Chevron described Rubio's role as "advancing the company's interests in California state politics and public policy, supervising a team of legislative and regulatory analysts and advocates in Sacramento."

Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court said Rubio takes with him cell and home phone numbers and relationships with public officeholders and state environmental officials who can impact Chevron in the future.

"This type of revolving doors shows that too many anti-consumer and anti-environment politicians are spending their time in public office auditioning for a well-paying job for the companies they are supposed to regulate," Court said.

Rubio, a moderate Democrat who has launched a high-profile quest to overhaul the state's environmental review laws, said he had "missed too many family dinners, bedtime stories and parent-teacher conferences."

"I have realized that my current professional path has left little opportunity to be home for those who are most important to me, which is why I am making a change," he said in a statement.

While legislators routinely step down to take another public office or work in governmental relations after leaving the Capitol, it is rare for a sitting lawmaker to resign to take a job in the private sector.

The last legislator to give up a seat to take another job outside politics was Assemblyman Louis Caldera, who resigned in 1997 to join a nonprofit, according to Alex Vassar, a former Capitol aide who researches California politics as editor of OneVoter.org.

Phillip Ung, policy advocate for California Common Cause, said Rubio's move illustrates some of the issues with the current "revolving door" rules for politicians.

"He's leaving the building with a whole list of contacts and inside juice on the motivations of legislators and ambitions of legislators," Ung said. "There's a premium obviously on the information that he has that doesn't really directly involve lobbying."

But Ung said he finds it "odd that Chevron would hire somebody with the skills that he has and not make him a direct advocate" eventually.

He also raised questions about the timing of the transition and whether the job talks could have influenced legislative policy for Rubio, who is regarded as an industry-friendly Democrat and received the maximum of $7,800 in campaign contributions from Chevron.

Rubio said he decided to resign Friday morning, when conversations about a job offer "got to a point where they were real," to avoid conflicts. He downplayed the advantage his ties to the Legislature could give his new employers.

"My greatest asset is that I'll outwork anybody," he said. "It's been a privilege to serve in the Senate, and I look forward to working with those folks in the future."

Rubio's announcement, which came as a surprise to many in the Capitol, also affects some of the most talked-about issues and dynamics at play in the Legislature this year.

Senate Democrats temporarily lost their supermajority status when Rubio resigned Friday, though the ability to approve taxes or put measures on the ballot without GOP votes will almost certainly be restored when two other vacant seats are filled in upcoming special elections.

There's also the question of how Rubio's departure will affect efforts to rewrite the state's environmental review laws. The Environmental Quality Committee chair has been working closely with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, on draft language this year.

Gov. Jerry Brown suggested Rubio's resignation could complicate his effort to overhaul the state's signature environmental law.

"He's a good man," Brown said as he arrived in Washington, D.C., for a conference of the National Governors Association. "I was kind of counting on him for this year."

The Silicon Valley Leadership Group's chief executive officer, Carl Guardino, co-chair of a coalition advocating for CEQA changes, said he remains confident the effort will move forward. He said Steinberg, who introduced framework legislation on the issue Friday, called him personally to reiterate his intent to work out an agreement.

Family considerations sidelined Rubio's plans to run for a competitive congressional district in 2012. The 35-year-old former Kern County supervisor dropped his campaign for the open seat to focus on a daughter with Down syndrome.

Rubio said his wife and two daughters were the driving forces behind his latest decision as well.

His family began splitting time between Shafter and Sacramento last year, when they purchased a $680,000 house in El Dorado Hills. The arrangement, intended to give him more time with his wife and children, also allowed his younger daughter to seek treatment for her developmental disabilities at the University of California, Davis, MIND Institute.

But he said balancing family commitments and the demands of traveling to the district still proved difficult. Over the holidays, he decided to apply for the open job with Chevron.

"Even after that drastic of a move, it still wasn't working," he said in an interview. "When this opportunity presented itself, it was really a moment I wanted to seize."

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