Clouds and sun

State Sen. Noreen Evans exercising new-found stature in Legislature

State Sen. Noreen Evans is back in a high-profile leadership role and taking on some of California's most powerful interests with her legislative agenda, only a month after the Santa Rosa Democrat appeared to be losing political steam in Sacramento.

In a surprise move, Senate President Darrell Steinberg appointed Evans chairwoman of the Senate's Banking and Financial Institutions Committee, giving the 58-year-old senator a platform to push a consumer advocacy agenda as she prepares to leave office in January.

Evans is pitching controversial legislation to create a severance tax on oil and to require labeling of foods containing genetically-modified organisms. As a whole, she's positioned herself as a force to be reckoned with in what otherwise could have been a lame-duck year.

"I don't know if I'm going to win them all," Evans said Tuesday from her capitol office. "I fight the fight because it moves the agenda forward."

Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, a political ally and close friend of the senator's, said Evans has been given the opportunity to shine in her final year because Democratic Party leadership recognizes she still has clout, and because Evans is freed from having to worry about winning re-election.

Evans has said she is not seeking another four-year term because she wants to return to a private law practice. "She has nothing to fear and nothing to lose. She's going for it," Zane said Tuesday from the nation's capital.

Still, Evans expressed some wonderment Tuesday over her situation, saying her appointment to the Senate finance committee came "out of the blue."

Steinberg last month stripped Evans of her beloved post as chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a move Evans' advisors suggested was in retaliation for the senator asking her colleagues to hold off endorsing Chris Lehman for her seat.

Lehman, an Arcata resident who has since dropped out of the race, is a Democratic Party consultant who helps raise money for state senators, including Steinberg.

Evans said she doesn't know why Steinberg awarded her oversight of the finance committee. She said she'd "like to think it was because of my qualifications," citing as an example her tenure as chairwoman of the Assembly's Budget Committee in 2009-2010.

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