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California and the West

New California Legislators Sworn In at Capitol

Ceremony: Thirty-one of them are Assembly or Senate rookies, a result of term limits. A spirit of bipartisanship does not last long.


SACRAMENTO — In what has become a typical changing of the guard under term limits, more than a third of the California lawmakers sworn into the Assembly on Monday were Capitol rookies.

The state Senate also saw significant term limit-spurred change as 10 former lawmakers from the lower house moved to the 40-member upper chamber, after November victories assured them continued employment.

In all, 31 newcomers raised their right hand as Ronald M. George, California's chief justice, gave Assembly members their oath of office. Of those, 28 were new to the Legislature, and three were either moving down from the Senate or resuming political careers after hiatuses.

"I have to keep reminding myself that this is real," said Assemblywoman Fran Pavley of Agoura Hills, who in a former career as an eighth-grade teacher shepherded her students up to the balcony of the gilded Assembly chamber, where they would gaze in wonderment at lawmakers in action.

Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) has created the Capitol Institute to give the greenhorns a crash course in Sacramento politics, complete with three-ring binders of papers that serve as legislative Cliff Notes.

But other than Legislation 101, new lawmakers have little to lean on as they tackle momentous issues such as redrawing the state's legislative and congressional districts and heading off a looming energy crisis. Under term limits, which restricts tenure to six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate, many of their most experienced peers in the lower house were themselves rookies just four years ago.

"I feel grizzled, but not like a veteran," said Assemblyman John Longville (D-Rialto), who in his second term is entering his political prime in the lower house. "With term limits, it does not take long to get seniority."

Grandiloquent speeches and promises to smooth over partisan spats were the order of the day Monday as lawmakers accepted their new positions while friends and family proudly watched. One newly minted lawmaker, Gloria Negrete McLeod of Chino, brought 44 relatives to the Capitol.

But amid the pomp there was controversy. One newly elected legislator from the Inland Empire, Republican Jan Leja, has agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor campaign finance charges and announced that she will not take office. A vacancy was formally declared Monday and a special election to fill her seat will take place next year, at a date called by Gov. Gray Davis.

Leja's fall was the last thing the GOP needed after an election that saw its ranks drop to 30 in the Assembly and 14 in the Senate. New Assembly Republican Leader Bill Campbell of Orange pledged to work peacefully with Hertzberg and other Democrats, but made it clear that his party will seek to define its differences on issues such as paying for new schools and roads.

"I remember four years ago, coming off this floor" after being sworn in, Campbell said to the new members, "though I think I was six inches off it the entire time."

Displaying a spirit of bipartisanship, Senate President Pro Tem John L. Burton (D-San Francisco) appointed Sen. Ray Haynes (R-Riverside) to preside over the floor session. Haynes is one of the GOP's most hard-nosed partisans.

But the bipartisan mood quickly evaporated when it came to approving Davis' appointment to the state Board of Prison Terms, Alfred R. Angele, a former executive director of the California Organization of Police and Sheriffs.

Angele won confirmation to the board 23 to 8, but not before several Republicans cast no votes at the urging of Sen. Ross Johnson (R-Irvine), who tangled with Angele last week at a hearing of the Rules Committee.

Another Davis appointee to the parole board, Sharon L. Lawin, of Los Angeles, was confirmed by a 36-0 vote. If either Lawin or Angele had been defeated, the parole board would have been without a quorum to do business.

The Senate also adopted a new rule that will prohibit the esoteric ritual of naming new state laws after their legislative sponsors. Known as "tombstoning," the practice flourishes in election years, when incumbents seek to get as much publicity as they can wring out of a bill.

However, over recent years the practice became excessive, even in a Capitol tolerant of excesses. Assemblyman Lou Papan (D-Millbrae) brought the issue to the public's attention last year when he won passage of a bill that eliminated the name of former Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys) from the title of every law that carried it.

Robbins was a central figure in the Sacramento legislative scandals of a decade ago. He pleaded guilty to felony crimes and served almost two years in federal prison.

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