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The Recall Election

World Is Watching Transition Team

Schwarzenegger faces a lack of time and money, a hostile Legislature and a frustrated public.

October 08, 2003|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — The transfer of power between Gov. Gray Davis and his successor Arnold Schwarzenegger could be one of the most difficult in California history.

Not only is this a hostile takeover, with voters tossing Davis out of office three years ahead of schedule in the only successful recall of a governor in the state's history, it also allows just weeks, not the usual months, for the administrative transition.

Thousands of pressing details face the team of Gov.-elect Schwarzenegger. The world will be watching to see whether a Gov. Schwarzenegger measures up to candidate Schwarzenegger, whose "10-step" plan for his first 100 days in office promises many things the Davis administration has been unable to extract from the Legislature, Indian casinos and unions.

Schwarzenegger's transition team will be led by Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), chairman of the state's Republican congressional delegation.

Those who know Davis say they expect a professional passing of the torch.

On Tuesday, as he conceded his defeat, Davis pledged "the full cooperation of my administration during the transition."

"We want to let the new governor know what the challenges are, what the status is of various issues in Sacramento. We will do that just as Gov. Wilson did it for me," he said. "That's an obligation of one governor to the next; we're going to do it."

Schwarzenegger, speaking to supporters late Tuesday night, said he had received a "gracious phone call" from Davis.

"He told me he will work hard to make this transition smooth. And I really appreciated that phone call," Schwarzenegger said. "I believe very strongly that a smooth transition is very important for California. And this is why I told my transition team to treat their counterparts with utmost respect."

Nonetheless, California has never seen such an abrupt disposal of a governor. Only three times since 1902 has a sitting governor been defeated by an opponent of another political party.

Experts say they wouldn't be surprised if Davis' appointees and loyal followers -- whose government careers have been turned upside down -- defied a California tradition and made themselves less than helpful to the incoming administration.

"I would hope that they would conduct themselves professionally, and I would have every reason to believe that they will," said Steve Merksamer, a Sacramento attorney who led Republican Gov. George Deukmejian's transition team in 1982, when he replaced Democrat Jerry Brown. "But this is an extraordinary circumstance, and you simply don't know."

State Librarian Kevin Starr, appointed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and reappointed by Democrat Davis, said he was confident the administration would conduct its exit with "elegance, fairness and panache," but he called the transition a "key test" of democracy.

"If you look at democracies and would-be democracies around the world," said Starr, "the most delicate point is the voluntary transfer of power."

In a cordial transfer, said those who have been involved in administration changes, the outgoing staff briefs the incoming staff about pending issues and litigation.

In a not-so-amiable departure, the outgoing governor could make a spate of last-minute appointments or have agencies issue a rash of regulations -- anything that keeps the new administration mopping up rather than moving on to its agenda.

Davis Press Secretary Steven Maviglio said the governor has no plans to issue administrative rulings and that only 240 appointments remain open of the roughly 2,700 positions a governor can fill.

But, said Maviglio, the abrupt change will inevitably lead to chaos. "What you're trying to do is compact what typically happens in 2 1/2 months to as little as two weeks."

Most transitions in recent California history have been smooth, said those involved, even during a change of parties.

In one such shift, Davis worked for the winner. In 1974, he and J. Anthony Kline led the transition team for Jerry Brown, who replaced Republican Ronald Reagan.

Usually a newly elected governor has from election day in early November until inauguration in early January to screen and appoint a new staff and Cabinet, begin drafting a budget -- which must be presented to the Legislature by Jan. 10 -- and pick up work on the hundreds of issues pending before state agencies and commissions.

Schwarzenegger has at most half that time to find his footing. He is expected to take office as soon as the vote is certified. The law allows the secretary of state 39 days to do so, but certification could come more quickly.

"He's going to be asking people on a few days' notice or a few weeks' notice to come to Sacramento," said Assemblyman Dario Frommer (D-Los Feliz), a deputy director of Davis' transition team in 1998. "It's tough to find people who are going to want to do that."

A compressed timeline also increases the risk that Schwarzenegger's early appointments will not be fully vetted -- both in terms of their background and loyalty.

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