Lawmakers Spar Over "Sopranos" Comment

A reference to a Hollywood Mafia stereotype ignites a dispute between lawmakers from Irvine and La Canada-Flintridge

By Jonathan Lloyd
|  Thursday, Jun 16, 2011  |  Updated 11:39 AM PDT
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Lawmakers Spar Over "Sopranos" Comment

CalChannel

Assemblymember Don Wagner, District 70, Irvine-R

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A reference to "The Sopranos" set off a debate over decency during a debate about community redevelopment agencies in Sacramento.

Lawmakers were discussing the fate of community redevelopment agencies when Assemblyman Donald Wagner, R-Irvine, said the way Democrats had framed the bills resembled the intimidation techniques of Tony Soprano's crew.

"My friends, I think I saw this on an episode of "The Sopranos," Wagner said as he criticized the redevelopment agency plan. "Send the signal that RDAs need a good, hard solid look. We need to make sure these agencies don't continue to violate liberties, don't continue to unnecessarily tax. Let's not go for the bait and switch. Let's not buy the insurance policy that Tony Soprano is selling us."

Immediately after Wagner explained his opposition to the bill, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, demanded an apology to Italian-Americans for the reference to the Hollywood Mafia stereotype.

"As a proud Italian-American, I resent that," Portantino said.

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

"My apology, if one is needed, is sincere... This is not an attack on anyone. This bill is a bait and switch."

Assemblyman Warren Furutani, a Lakewood Democrat, then called for Wagner to be cut off. Wagner demanded to know how Furutani thought his words were out of order.

The two men approached each other, talking heatedly, the Associated Press reported. One put a hand on the other's arm before other members and Assembly staff separated them, according to the AP.

A Sacramento Bee photographer captured the confrontation.

The San Francisco Chronicle asked Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) whether he was offended by Wagner's comments.

"The first comment, absolutely not," Gatto said. "The second, absolutely."

As for the bill AB1x 26, introduced by Assemblyman Robert Blumenfield (D-Van Nuys),  passed on the Assembly floor.

Wagner abstained.

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