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Denham ramps up to fight red ink, job recall
Jeff Denham has two fights on his hands: saving his state Senate job from a recall effort and battling for state budget reforms.

The 12th Senate District representative shared his thoughts about the direction of his career and the state when he popped into the Courier office on March 7.

Denham said he is ramping up for the recall effort.

"It's politics at its worst," said Denham, who represents Ceres. "It's frustrating. But I'm going to fight it - and I will win. I'm very confident."

The Republican lawmaker expected the recall effort to lose steam before now. Organizers have collected enough signatures to put it on the ballot this year. Insiders agree that Denham is targeted for recall by Senate Pro Tem Don Perata as punishment for voting against the 2007-08 state budget awash with red ink.

"If they want to launch a recall against me just because they didn't like my vote I think is not only ridiculous, I think it's very dishonest and politics at its worst."

Denham said his own constituents have not expressed outrage over his holding out for a balanced budget. He said it's telling that the CTA is supporting Denham against the recall.

The Salinas based Republican believes many who signed petitions for his recall were simply duped.

"You know when you start offering $3 to $5 per signature, I think people have been inticed to do whatever means they can to make a quick buck."

One petition signature gatherer was asking persons to sign the recall petition by saying, "If you want more money for Highway 99, sign on this line."

Turlock Mayor John Lazar, a staunch Democrat, told Denham he was approached to sign a recall petition in Turlock after being told it was to save children's hospitals.

Denham assumes that once signatures are counted and verified that there will be enough to trigger a recall election. With his eyes on a run for California lieutenant governor, Denham is prepared to fight for his political life.

"We're planning our campaign right now and expect it to be on the June ballot," said Denham, who is being termed out of the Senate in 2010. "I'm out there working hard right now to raise the necessary funds to fight this."

A team has been assembled, an office opened and a website up ( That website has messages to Perata, saying "don't shoot the messenger" about the budget woes in California.

"This is one of those things about being a leader. I did not take the easy decision last year. The easy and popular decision would have been to vote for that budget ... but I didn't feel it was the right thing to do and I took a courageous stand."

Even Arnold Schwarzenegger told the media to "turn up the heat" on Denham to vote on the budget.

Time has proven he was right, Denham said; the state has a gaping $14 billion budget deficit.

"Everything that I have said at the time has already come true already. I said if we voted for last year's budget not only would we have a huge deficit but the pro tem was going to call for mid-year cuts and cut education first. They've done that already. Now we're in a situation this year where they want to cut education again. I'm not going to stand for it. I'm going to fight back and make sure we come up with priorities in this state."

He disagrees with the governor's 10 percent across the board cuts and he is opposed to new tax increases. Sensible cuts are needed. He would like to work towards removing the debt payments, which are 10 percent of the budget, by selling off assets like San Quentin Prison, the Cow Palace, the LA coliseum and state-owned golf courses.

As far as Denham knows, this is the first time in California history that a party has bankrolled a recall to take out another member.

"There has been a couple of grudge matches that have ensued over different things but never pushed this far and certainly never been pushed in the history of California because you didn't like somebody's vote. If you don't like somebody's vote you work in the next election to get somebody who does agree with your vote."

Denham's legislative plate has been less crowded than in year's past. He decided last year to not carry bills in 2008 that would result in more state spending, saying the state can't afford it.

"Anything that I am carrying is either a cost savings measure, other than the budget reform package. I would like to change the way our state budgets its dollars."

A package of six Denham bills starts with the governor presenting the initial budget on time in January, but with verifiable forecasts of revenue.

"Last year nobody believed those numbers were good numbers, including the Legislative Analyst's office."

He wants a non-partisan person, such as the legislative analyst, to pore over the budget numbers.

Last year the budget was built on a number of revenue projections, including Indian gaming revenue, that were less than realistic.

The second Denham bill calls for the governor's advanced budget proposal to be brought into the Budget Committee to address it earlier. He also wants to increase the Budget Committee from six to 10 members.

"Each party and each house should be able to pick who they put on there," said Denham. "The majority party's still going to have six members."

Thirdly, Denham wants the Budget Committee to pass a budget proposal by a two-thirds vote.

"We've got a Constitution that says we've got to have a two-thirds vote on the budget. Why wait until July or August or September to decide whether or not we're going to pass a budget by two-thirds majority? If we pass it as a Budget Committee on a two-thirds vote, you would at least know where your sticking points are."

Denham proposes another tact that is unpopular with members on both sides of the aisle: Don't pay legislators for the days they fail to pass a state budget passed the deadline of June 15.

"Right now our pay gets suspended while we're going through the (late) budget process. If we're not on time, we don't get paid for a while. But every legislator knows we're going to get our money eventually. But I believe if you don't get your job done, you shouldn't get paid."

Such an action would motivate most legislators, even the wealthy ones, who depend on their pay, he said.

He also wants to physically lock members into the Capitol until they come up with a budget passed June 15, if it comes to it.

"I guarantee you it wouldn't take too many days until you got both parties to agree. And you wouldn't have to lose that money either. It's kind of a sales pitch for the other bill."

Denham says the odds of his bills being passed to be the same as the state passing a budget on time.

"They are common sense measures. I think they will certainly be difficult to pass but I want to generate dialogue about getting to a better process."