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Assemblyman cuts his own path

Observers say Portantino walks political tightrope.

March 30, 2011|By Joe Piasecki, joe.piasecki@latimes.com

If the state Legislature were a high school cafeteria, you wouldn’t find Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D- La Cañada Flintridge) sitting with the popular kids.

But that’s just fine by him.

During his five years in Sacramento, Portantino — now fundraising for a congressional bid in 2012 — has clashed with the Assembly’s Democratic leadership on a number of occasions.

When many Democrats cried foul over legislative pay cuts ordered by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Portantino argued lawmakers should also give up their state-provided cars. He’s pushed a salary freeze for the state’s highestpaid employees that Assembly leaders have withheld from discussion eight times, and another Portantino bill to reign in state spending has been left to languish for years in committee.

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Furthermore, Portantino was the only Democratic Assembly member to oppose the early release of state prisoners as a cost-cutting measure. Two weeks ago, he was also alone among Sacramento Democrats in withholding support for the dismantling of state-funded local redevelopment agencies, a stance that earned him a stern public talking-to, complete with finger-pointing, from Assembly Speaker John Pérez — the legislative body’s star quarterback.

Though friction with his party’s leadership has not prevented Portantino, a former mayor of La Cañada Flintridge, from achieving significant legislative victories — the creation of a potentially lifesaving public umbilical cord blood collection program, a ban on truck traffic on Angeles Crest Highway, legal immunity for minors who report underage drinking injuries, regulation of for-profit colleges and emergency tax relief for residents impacted by the Station fire — there have been repercussions.

At the start of this year’s legislative session, Pérez removed Portantino as chair of the Assembly’s Revenue and Taxation Committee. It was the second committee chairmanship Portantino has lost, having been stripped his chairmanship of the Higher Education Committee three years ago after opposing then-Speaker Fabian Nuñez in his ultimately successful bid to pass the torch to Karen Bass, who preceded Pérez as speaker.

That Portantino had also signed up as a candidate challenging both Bass and Pérez for the speaker role couldn’t have helped.

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