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Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton said today he will step down in January, and Sen. Bob Huff expects to replace him as the legislative session kicks back into gear.

Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said this morning that the minority caucus must still vote, but that he has enough commitments from colleagues to take over the job.

"I have the signatures for that, which signifies intent, so I anticipate that happening," Huff said in a phone interview.

Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, officially assumed the post last October and served as Senate GOP leader during Gov. Jerry Brown's first year back in office. In a departure from recent Capitol protocol, Brown mostly negotiated with five members of Dutton's caucus rather than the GOP leader himself on the budget.

In a statement today, Dutton said, "It makes sense that we have a new leader in place before the governor announces the new budget, so he or she can begin to negotiate immediately with the majority party on a budget solution that ends California's fiscal crisis and the state's economic uncertainty."

But Brown has shown little desire to reopen budget talks with Republicans. Under a 2010 voter-approved law, Democrats can pass the budget on their own, while the governor is going straight to the voters to ask for higher taxes. He said recently that he'd be willing to talk with Republicans over drinks - if they buy, he mused - but didn't expect serious negotiations to take place.

Huff, who served as his caucus' point man on the budget, said, "There's always a role, even if we're outside the door banging on it. We're willing to work with him if he's willing to."



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