A Republican and a Democrat almost come to blows on the Assembly floor during the big budget debate yesterday. So what was the crux of the conflict? Taxes? Education cuts? The slashing of the judicial budget?

Nope. Ethnic identity.

Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine, was speaking about the Democratic bill to effectively abolish local redevelopment agencies. At around 1:45 of the video above, he says, “my friends I think I saw this in an episode of The Sopranos. ‘Nice little RDA you’ve got there. It would be a shame if anything happens to it. And that’s what’s being asked of us here.” Later, at 3:10, he says, “let’s not go for the bait and switch, let’s not buy the insurance policy that Tony Soprano is selling us.”

Immediately, Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) rises to object to that characterization.

“I just rise because I take offense at the reference to ‘The Sopranos.’ As a proud Italian-American, I resent that and i would respectfully ask the commenter to make an apology to Italian-Americans in California.

Assembly Speaker: Mr. Wagner do you want to apologize?

Wagner: I will apologize to any Italian-Americans who are not in the Mafia and engaged in insurance scams.

A disruption on the floor occurs, which we can’t see.

Wagner: My apology, if one is needed, is sincere. My reference is certainly not…to suggest, and I think my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, especially one who seems to be extraordinarily outraged over this for reasons I don’t understand — my reference is not lost on anyone here. This is not an attack on anyone. This bill is a bait and switch…

Beth Gaines (R-Roseville) then speaks about the bill again, but at 5:12 Wagner and Warren Furutani (D-Gardena) go toe to toe. Someone, maybe Furutani, can be heard saying ‘You stepped in it, and it got even worse. You stepped in it, and it got even worse.” (Yes he said it twice.)

Local angle: Tom Ammiano is one of the legislators who hurries over to the confrontation to play peacemaker.

From the Chronicle’s Politics Blog:

As you can imagine, there was a lot of chatter about the interaction in the Assembly chambers. One of the Italian-American members, Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, told us he had spoken with Wagner. When asked if he was offended by the comments, he said, “the first comment, absolutely not, the second, absolutely.”

Gatto said the second comment seemed to insinuate that all Italians are in the mafia.

“He came and talked to me, but he still doesn’t seem to understand,” Gatto said. “I told him to watch the tape.”

Video: Legislators Wagner, Furutani Go Toe to Toe on Assembly Floor Over “Sopranos” Comment 16 June,2011Jon Brooks


Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks is the host and editor of KQED’s health and technology blog, Future of You. He is the former editor of KQED’s daily news blog, News Fix. A veteran blogger, he previously worked for Yahoo! in various news writing and editing roles. He was also the editor of EconomyBeat.org, which documented user-generated content about the financial crisis and recession. Jon is also a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S. He has written about film for his own blog and studied film at Boston University. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College.

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