The New Kid

Despite crossing party leadership during the campaign, new state Senator gets plum posts.

Political etiquette in the state capitol dictates that you don't take on an incumbent in your own party. Even if said incumbent re-enacts scenes from Mad Max on the freeway; treats her employees in a manner even Naomi Campbell would decry as brutal; and, in general, makes enemies at a Bernie Madoff–like pace, you do not run against her. In the name of party unity, whoever works in Sacramento stays in Sacramento.

So when then-Assemblyman Mark Leno set his sights on state Senator Carole Migden last year, it didn't make him a popular man with the movers and shakers within the Democratic Party. Former Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata insisted that other senators' staffers campaign for Migden on their own time. " This is not an optional activity," is how his letters put it. Also, Leno's bills in the Assembly — even uncontested ones that would shower our financially emaciated city with cash — suspiciously found themselves floating in limbo thanks to Perata.

Now that Leno is Senator Leno, you might expect the cold shoulder to continue. But that isn't happening. In fact, it's the opposite. Leno was recently named chairman of the state Senate's committee on public safety and health and human services budgets by current President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg — a notable accomplishment for a rookie senator.

"That's very good, actually," said Professor Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Sacramento State University. "That means Darrell Steinberg trusts [Leno] enough to put him there. He could not do that with all the freshmen coming in, and most of them do not get chairmanships."

Why is this happening? A movie analogy may be in order. When Dorothy Gale crashed her house on top of the Wicked Witch of the East, she didn't endear herself to the Wicked Witch of the West. But the Munchkins — they were stoked.

"Had it been someone other than Carole, Mark would have been punished," said a Sacramento political insider, speaking on condition of anonymity. "If he had challenged another member who hadn't had so many altercations with leadership, Mark wouldn't receive such favorable treatment."

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