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No Clean Sweep in the Capitol

Holdover Davis appointees will slow Schwarzenegger's plans to reshape state panels.

November 12, 2003|Gregg Jones | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — In his winning campaign for governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger promised to "clean house" at the state Capitol. But when he takes office next week, Schwarzenegger won't be able to bring that kind of change to hundreds of boards and commissions dominated by appointees of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.

The new governor may be able to quickly reshape some important boards, such as the state Board of Education. But in other areas, he may have to live with Davis appointees for years, making it more difficult to deliver on campaign promises.

Late Tuesday, Davis announced another 187 appointments to various state boards and commissions, some so obscure they haven't met in years.

Schwarzenegger, a Republican, will be able to immediately replace about 1,200 of the 2,700 gubernatorial appointees, including many but not all of those Davis named Tuesday. But about 1,500 others -- including members of powerful bodies such as the University of California Board of Regents, which spends billions of dollars in revenue, and the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, which can affect the cost of doing business -- cannot be touched until their fixed terms expire, in some cases years from now. Many appointees also require approval by the state Senate, where Democrats hold 25 of the 40 seats.

Living with a predecessor's appointees has long been a fact of life for new governors. But in the case of Schwarzenegger, supporters say this political reality runs counter to the desire for change symbolized by the recall.

"I think you can make the argument that the public would like a change in direction," said Alan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce.

Schwarzenegger could quickly gain control of some important bodies. For example, a combination of unfilled vacancies, unconfirmed Davis appointees and expired terms would enable the new governor to gain a majority on the 11-member state Board of Education as early as January. And that could help Schwarzenegger move quickly on campaign promises to reduce school district bureaucracies and promote charter schools -- or to weigh in on the debate over the growing gap in test scores between Asian and white students and Latino and African American students.

In other areas, though, Schwarzenegger may have to be patient if he's intent on a dramatic change of direction.

Davis appointees, for example, could control the five-member Agricultural Labor Relations Board -- which oversees labor issues in the $30-billion industry -- until 2005.

It's not a given that Davis holdovers would try to thwart changes proposed by Schwarzenegger. In some cases, they could embrace his goals. For example, a majority of the Public Utilities Commission, the panel that oversees California's electric utilities, supports Schwarzenegger's plan to again deregulate the commercial power market -- a proposal that could be a difficult sell with the Legislature's Democratic majority.

Davis retained scores of appointees made by his predecessor, Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, with sometimes surprising results, said Daniel Zingale, Davis' cabinet secretary.

"These are generally people who take their board service seriously and make their decision based on the merits," said Zingale. "It's not been all the Wilson appointees versus all the Davis appointees."

But, as Davis discovered, gaining a majority on a board can sometimes tip the balance in struggles over state policy. Davis once filled a vacancy on the California Pharmacy Board to win a close vote and thwart federal efforts to restrict access to low-cost drugs from Canada.

In tacit recognition of the importance of the boards and commissions, Davis has nominated nearly 100 people for unfilled positions since his recall on Oct. 7. Senate Democrats and Schwarzenegger aides said late last month that they had agreed to reject all but about 17 of these appointments, some of which are aimed at preserving Democratic majorities on the agricultural labor board and regional water quality boards.

But Senate President Pro Tem John L. Burton (D-San Francisco) told The Times last week that the final number of Davis appointments approved by Schwarzenegger could change.

Some Schwarzenegger supporters would like to see the governor-elect reject any last-minute appointees chosen by the outgoing governor.

"It could slow the work of a new administration on the budget, on the business climate and economic growth," said Larry McCarthy of the California Taxpayers Assn.

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