By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Democratic State Sen. Noreen Evans’ increasingly bare-knuckles political style is earning her blowback from members of her own party, some of whom nearly derailed two of the senator’s bills that affect fishing interests on the North Coast.
The rift stems from an Aug. 31 email Evans circulated to female members of the Legislature in which the Santa Rosan pointedly criticized an assemblyman for allegedly “hijacking” her legislation and included a link to a story about a 2007 police action at the man’s home.
Evans was further outraged that Assemblyman Roger Hernández, D-West Covina, had hosted what her email referred to as a “Hooters luncheon” at the Capitol, a reference to the restaurant chain that features waitresses dressed in revealing clothes.
“Not only is it demeaning to women on the Capitol grounds, but this is the same Assemblymember that hijacked my maternal health care bill and to whom the speaker is forcing me to give half of the bill,” Evans wrote in the email, which was obtained by The Press Democrat.
Even by Sacramento’s rough-and-tumble standards, Evans’ missive caused a stir, leading to a mini-revolt on the Assembly floor last week when several Democratic lawmakers withheld votes on Evans’ two bills related to salmon and crab fishing.
Only a last-minute intervention by other lawmakers salvaged the bills. But the political fallout could be longer-lasting.
“The email was personal and attacking,” Sonoma State University political scientist David McCuan said. “If you’re going to cast stones within your caucus, you better be prepared for those to come back.”
Neither Evans nor her chief of staff, Tom Roth, responded to several phone calls and emails left over two days this week seeking comment.
Political observers say Evans is playing a risky political game with her bruising style amid speculation that she will enter the race to replace outgoing Sonoma County Supervisor Valerie Brown.
Evans faced withering public criticism earlier this year when she complained about having to give up her taxpayer-funded vehicle and about nearly having her pay docked because of the state’s delayed budget.
McCuan said the public criticism and battles Evans is having with members of her own party could trail her to Sonoma County should she decide to seek Brown’s seat.
“Could she run down and win? Sure. I think she’s a favorite,” McCuan said. “But these things hurt her in that regard, and they don’t go away.”
Mark Bramfitt, who also is a candidate for Brown’s seat, confirmed this week that he has split with Santa Rosa political consultant Terry Price, who for years has worked with Evans.
“He indicated that he had some loyalty to Evans and that she was thinking about a run,” Bramfitt said. “So clearly we had to part ways.”
But Price on Wednesday insisted he does not know if Evans will enter the supervisor’s race. He said Bramfitt had heard those rumors and asked Price whether he would be able to run a campaign against Evans should she decide to run.
“I said I’m not going to run a campaign against Noreen Evans. Are you kidding me? We go back 20 years,” Price said.
The email that sparked the latest controversy involving Evans was sent from her official Senate account to about 25 female legislators, mostly to their private accounts.
In the email, Evans included a post from a Capitol blogger who said Hernández had hosted a “Hooters catered lunch,” which the blog author found ironic because Hernández was the sponsor of a bill dealing with maternity leave rights.
But Yong Eo, Hernández’s press aide, called suggestions that the assemblyman hosted a Hooters luncheon “an unfortunate example of a situation taken out of context and getting blown out of proportion.”
She said that he left the food choices for the potluck to his staff and that, in hindsight, “clearly it was bad judgment on our part to serve Hooters chicken wings that we picked up to go, with ranch sauce.”
She called it “absurd to think that our office would serve a luncheon in the Capitol with staff from the Hooters franchise.”
The blog post also included a link to a news story about a 2007 incident in which West Covina police responded to Hernández’ home for a reported argument between the then-West Covina councilman and his campaign manager.
Hernández, through his staff, declined comment Wednesday on the case. No charges were filed against him related to those events, said a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Evans, chairwoman of the state Legislative Women’s Caucus, has not been shy about criticizing colleagues who she believes have demeaned women. In May, she took such concerns public when she formally demanded an apology from Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, after Calderon referred to the physical appearance and personality of the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.
McCuan said female legislators long have had to battle discrimination in Sacramento.
“Noreen has been consistently front and center battling for women’s issues for a long time now,” he said.
But some of Evans’ colleagues privately lament her approach to tackling these concerns, saying it can be counterproductive to getting things done in what already is a poisonous political atmosphere.
Hernández also declined comment Wednesday on his reaction to Evans’ email, which apparently was forwarded to him. Capitol sources, however, said he was livid and he shared that outrage with other members of the Latino caucus, leading to last week’s drama on the Assembly floor.
Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said it became “evident pretty quickly” that something was amiss when Evans’ bills came up for a vote.
One of the bills would extend the Salmon Stamp Program. The other would follow recommendations from the Dungeness Crab Task Force to address safety and sustainability concerns in California’s crab fishery.
Huffman said the bills were not controversial, hence everyone’s puzzlement when they appeared to be falling short of the necessary votes for passage.
“Both bills were way off,” Huffman said.
He characterized the problem as “a dispute between some members and the author” and said, “thankfully, it got worked out at the last minute.”
Huffman lamented the practice of lawmakers holding bills hostage for reasons unrelated to the contents of the proposed legislation.
“I think it’s unfortunate when there are votes being cast or withheld for reasons unrelated to the merits of the bill,” he said. “I don’t think it reflects well on the institution.”
Hernández ultimately voted for the fishing bills, according to his staff.
He and Evans also are splitting legislation that would widen insurance coverage for pregnant women.
Evans apparently is not happy with that outcome, writing in her email that the deal was “forced” on her by Assembly Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles, who did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Both bills passed the Legislature and are now on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.
“We hope that the governor will sign them so that women can receive maternity services as a form of basic coverage,” Hernández’s aide Eo said.