Ted Lieu (D)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-A Democratic candidate for California attorney general is publicly punishing -- and embarrassing -- Japanese automaker Toyota over its decision to close a manufacturing plant.

Attorney general candidate Ted Lieu, chairman of the state Assembly's powerful Rules Committee, successfully pushed this week for a ban on the state's lower house purchasing of vehicles that are not at least 50 percent assembled in the United States.

On Thursday, the Assembly Rules Committee reinstated the so-called buy American policy the state Legislature had in place before 2003. The rule was modified to allow for the purchase of more environmentally friendly foreign-made hybrid vehicles.

The move is a slap at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., which is located in Lieu's Southern California district.

In addition to drawing Lieu's criticism for moving to close a Bay Area manufacturing plant, Toyota has also drawn the powerful Democrat's ire over its response to publicized safety problems related sudden acceleration in some models and problems with brakes in its Prius hybrid model.

"The state of California has been good to Toyota as a customer and provides one of the largest marketplaces for their vehicles, but I feel Toyota has gone back on their commitment to their customers," Lieu said. "That is why we are halting the purchase of Toyota vehicles in the state Assembly and re-instituting our 'Buy American' policy."

Lieu is pressuring Toyota to rethink its decision to stop buying Toyota Corolla sedans and Toyota Tacoma pickup trucks from New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., an independently owned company in Fremont, Calif., that produces the models in the San Francisco-Bay Area.

Toyota's decision will idle some-4,700 workers beginning next month.

New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. was established in 1994 as a joint venture between General Motors Corp. and Toyota. Cash-strapped GM pulled out of the venture last year as it reorganized.

Lieu is vying -- along with a crowded field of others -- to succeed Democrat Jerry Brown as the state's chief legal officer.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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