Politics & Government

'Sopranos' comment sparks fight on California Assembly floor

A fight broke out Wednesday on the Assembly floor as Assemblyman Warren Furutani confronted Assemblyman Don Wagner over comments deemed offensive.

The two members jawed angrily in each other's faces before Furutani, D-Gardena, appeared to give Wagner a shove, prompting several colleagues to separate them in the final minutes of the day's budget session.

The dispute brought the house to a standstill for a couple of minutes during debate over a controversial redevelopment plan.

The two-bill proposal compels redevelopment agencies to backfill state coffers and give money to local governments under threat of elimination. Wagner, R-Irvine, testified that it was comparable to a shakedown scheme and referred to the popular HBO show, "The Sopranos."

That prompted Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, to demand an apology for the Sopranos reference "as a proud Italian American."

Wagner retorted that he'd "apologize to any Italian Americans who are not in the Mafia and engaged in insurance scams," setting off a murmur among lawmakers.

Minutes later, Furutani and Wagner were in each other's faces and had to be broken up by three other lawmakers. The back of the Assembly chamber was soon flooded with legislative aides who came to see the commotion.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, an Italian American, also talked to Wagner about his comments. Gatto said he wasn't offended by the first "Sopranos" reference but that the apology was offensive.

"He came and talked with me afterward, and he still does not seem to understand why it came out so wrong," Gatto said. "I told him to watch the tape."

Furutani, who is not Italian American, didn't want to say much. "Some things were said that I don't think should have been said," he noted.

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