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Assemblymen follow divergent paths

Gatto rewarded by Democrats, Portantino clashes with party leaders

September 02, 2012|By Mark Kellam
  • Assemblyman Mike Gatto has been named chair of the Appropriations Committee.
Assemblyman Mike Gatto has been named chair of the Appropriations… (Tim Berger/Staff…)

In politics, the trajectory of an elected official can depend on not only how they interact with their constituents, but how they get along with their peers.

And perhaps nowhere is that more apparent than the paths taken by two local assemblymen — Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) and outgoing Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), who will be termed out of office at year’s end.

In just two years, Gatto has risen through the ranks to assume the powerful chairmanship of the Assembly Appropriations Committee largely by sticking with the party agenda on high-profile issues — despite what his constituents back home lobbied for, particularly in terms of redevelopment revenues.

This is Gatto’s second prime position in the Assembly. House Speaker John Perez, who appointed Gatto chairman of the Appropriations Committee, had previously named him Assistant Speaker Pro Tempore.

On the flip side, Portantino saw his office pummeled by his own party, particularly Perez, when he bucked the leadership agenda.

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“I think the contrast between Gatto and Portantino is a fascinating one,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

“The two have taken almost completely different approaches to the roles and obligations of a state legislator,” he said. “Which approach you think is the better one is entirely in the eye of the beholder.”

As chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Gatto is in one of the most powerful positions in the state Legislature because it sees every bill that deals with spending.

“You get a job like that by being a loyal soldier,” Schnur said. “In the capitol, they put a big premium on loyalty and the fact that Gatto stood with the leadership — even on some pretty contentious issues — makes him someone who the speaker looks at as a reliable ally.”

Gatto said he feels “primarily lucky” for his quick rise in the Democratic party.

“I’ve always just believed you should work hard and be kind to everybody and the rest will sort of work itself out,” he said.

He also said that he has voted against his party’s stance several times including his opposition to SB 202, which postponed a vote on whether to amend the California Constitution to strengthen the state’s rainy day fund and he voted against several measures that tried to lessen the oversight of voting procedures.

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