Willie Brown, the charismatic Democrat who ruled the California Assembly for nearly 15 years, engineered the election Monday of a little-known female Republican as his successor.
Assemblywoman Doris Allen was elected 40-38 by receiving all 39 Democratic votes, plus her own. She becomes the Assembly’s first woman speaker.
The other 38 Republicans voted for GOP Leader Jim Brulte, whose speaker ambitions have been repeatedly thwarted by Brown this year.
Angry Republicans immediately denounced Allen, saying she would be controlled by Brown, who becomes “speaker emeritus,” a new title with uncertain powers.
But the sudden turn of events left the Republicans fuming once again at Brown, who earlier this year had reinforced his reputation as a parliamentary magician when he maintained power after Republicans made big gains in the Assembly.
Brown, who must leave the Assembly by the end of 1996 because of term limits, is running for mayor of San Francisco, although he plans to remain in the Assembly for now. He said last week he would step down as speaker as soon as any other Assembly member put together a majority to succeed him.
In lining up Allen for the speakership, Brown’s strategy was simple. Keep his 39 Democratic votes in line and find a Republican who wanted to be speaker badly enough to be elected with only Democratic votes.
In stepping aside as speaker, he gives up a job he has held for 15 years, one that is considered the second most powerful in California politics behind that of governor. The job has made Brown, 61, one of the nation’s most powerful black political officials as well.
Allen, 59, who was elected to the Assembly in 1982, also must leave in 1996 because of the state’s termlimits law. She is best known for leading efforts to require all motorcycle riders to wear helmets.
Her election gave the Assembly its first GOP speaker in 24 years, but left Democrats with much of the real power.
Under new rules lawmakers adopted Monday, the Democrats have veto authority over every appointment Allen makes as speaker.
She was sworn in just moments after the vote was announced, flanked by Brown and other lawmakers. Republicans stared grimly as she took the oath and did not join in the applause.
She called for “a new era of bipartisan cooperation.”
“That’s why I sought the speakership,” she said, “to change the debate from politics to policy.”
The 80-member house contained 39 Democrats, 39 Republicans and two vacancies when voting took place Monday.
Special elections are scheduled Tuesday and July 18 to fill the vacancies, both in strongly Republican districts. Even if Republicans win both they will not have the 41 votes needed to replace Allen as speaker unless she votes against herself.