Vote-switching: A sampling of lawmaker explanations

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – A look at the reasons some lawmakers in the Assembly give for their after-the-fact vote changing and additions:

Beth Gaines, R-Rocklin

Gaines blamed the pervasiveness of mobile technology for her vote switches. “Now we have cellphones, we’re able to communicate with our district and with our staff as the bills are being navigated through,” she said. “I can get text messages from my staff saying someone called in.”

The Rocklin Republican switched votes nine times last year, usually to reflect a more conservative stance. She had a total of 36 vote changes and additions during the 2012 session.

“Sometimes you do flip-flop, but it’s because people from your district are calling and saying, ‘Wait a minute, that could really hurt my businesses,”‘ she said.

Gaines used vote changing to strip her “yes” vote from bills that will keep laid-off teachers on employment lists longer, reinstate state benefits to gay veterans and add religious dress to the observances covered by the protections against workplace discrimination.

Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles

He pointed to a single lawmaker’s mistake to explain seven vote switches on a bill he wrote to provide traffic school sentences for commercial truckers.

Gatto said four Republican lawmakers stepped off the floor before the vote on AB1888, which was backed by the trucking industry and the Teamsters union, and asked a colleague to push their voting buttons.

The lawmaker pushed the wrong button, throwing four “no” votes onto the screen at the front of the chamber and leading other GOP members to also vote no or hold off. That day, seven GOP members changed their votes from “no” to “yes,” and 15 lawmakers from both parties added their “yes” votes, leaving a record showing that AB1888 passed 80-0.

Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga

He had among the highest number of vote reversals last year. Of his 105 vote changes, 89 were adds and 16 were switches, in which he amended a vote he had cast earlier that day, in most cases from “yes” to “no.”

“We each make decisions based on the best information that is available,” he said. “I want to cast the right vote for our community. Sometimes I catch a provision of a bill that raises concerns, and I need to change my vote to best represent the citizens.”

Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert

He began switching votes on hot-button issues after he was ousted from the GOP party leadership after casting the lone Republican “yes” vote on a bill that would have ended a tax break for out-of-state businesses.

Nestande made eight vote changes in the two weeks that followed that vote, mostly changing from “yes” on issues such as immigrant rights and health care reform to “no.” He had made no vote reversals until Aug. 21. His office did not return calls seeking comment.

Chris Norby, R-Fullerton

He had the third highest rate of vote changes and additions, sometimes using changes to make political points. “Some of these Democrat bills I like, and sometimes I want to make a statement that this is actually good,” said Norby, who changed his vote 180 times this year. “You want to be on record with the right vote.”

Norby said he does not like to support symbolic resolutions but sometimes alters the official record even on those.

For example, he voted against one resolution celebrating “California Business Women’s Day” and another urging the federal government to maintain a patents office in California, but in both cases changed the record to say that he had abstained from voting.

“Sometimes you look at it and you have a change of mood and think, ‘Is it really going to offend anyone?”‘ he said. “A lot of these things are close calls.”

Richard Pan, D-Sacramento

Pan was among the least frequent vote-changers. He added his vote 21 times and said he only uses the procedure when he cannot return to his voting station fast enough.

“While everyone envisions that you’re at your desk focused on what’s happening, because we’re trying to move our own bills you’re going around the floor talking to people,” he said.

Pan acknowledged that his colleagues sometimes use the practice for more calculated reasons.

“There’s maybe some people who prefer to stay off, see how the bill goes and then add on to it,” he said.

Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita

He said the option to change or add his vote later allows him to follow the injunction of former President Ronald Reagan to “trust, but verify.”

Smyth said some of his 122 vote additions this year were because he did not want to cross the party line to support a bill unless he was sure it had enough support to reach the governor’s desk.

Many Republican critics “want to call for your head if you support something that even looks like a tax increase,” said Smyth’s chief of staff, Sean Hoffman. “There’s no reason to go out of on limb unless you know thing is going to pass.”

Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont

He was among the lawmakers who blamed their own empathy for their mistaken votes. Wieckowski said he got “caught up with the passion of the moment” when he voted “yes” on a hotly debated bill to allow farmworkers to sue their employers for failing to provide shade and water.

Once the legislation squeaked out of the Assembly with one more vote than the simple majority needed, Wieckowski replaced his “yes” with a “no” in the official record. He said he correctly anticipated that Gov. Jerry Brown, a fellow Democrat, would veto the bill and did not want to “walk the plank” for no reason.

“It was drama city,” he said.

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