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An Encouraging Start

October 09, 2003

Arnold Schwarzenegger moved quickly and astutely Wednesday to get his transition machinery running. One of his first calls was to prickly and often profane state Senate President John Burton (D-San Francisco), who had not minced words during the campaign about his opposition to Schwarzenegger.

Burton, a liberal leader who has jousted with governors for 36 years, said Wednesday, "I believe I will have a very good personal relationship with the governor-elect." If Schwarzenegger can achieve that, something Gov. Gray Davis could not do, he can blunt -- or perhaps even woo -- the power of the left end of the Legislature.

Schwarzenegger also picked Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), a conservative high-tech industry supporter who's good at prying money for California from Washington, to head his formal transition team. Schwarzenegger needs plenty of experienced help to install an administration in half the time a governor-elect usually gets.

The magnitude of Schwarzenegger's victory and the force of his personality and celebrity may give him a decent honeymoon period, especially if he can put accusations about his treatment of women behind him. What mandate he has is less certain because his campaign was so short on details.

On Wednesday, Schwarzenegger said an audit of state books might reveal "billions of dollars" of waste that could be eliminated. Gov. Ronald Reagan advanced the same idea, but the savings turned out to be small. The state's budget problems won't be solved by audits.

There was some Democratic talk of calling the Legislature back into session, in part to confirm a slew of last-minute Davis appointments and possibly to try to slip last-minute bills into law. That would be a huge, needlessly divisive mistake. The people's annoyed message was: no more politics as usual.

Davis should also exercise restraint in acting on the remaining 282 bills the Legislature sent him in the closing days of the session. Few are considered major; some are of dubious value. Davis can now feel free to veto any bills strictly on their merits since he no longer needs to appeal to the bankrollers of his no-on-recall campaign.

One example is SB 796, by Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana), to establish a "private attorney general" system to enforce labor laws, encouraging "bounty-hunting" by lawyers representing aggrieved workers. Existing state enforcement measures should be sufficient.

Another by Dunn, SB 933, would cost the city of Los Angeles a lot in attorneys' fees by reopening the statute of limitations on lawsuits by people forced back to Mexico from L.A. during and after the Depression.

Schwarzenegger was reassuring on another point Wednesday during a press conference: that he will be a full-time governor and spend much time in Sacramento. It's a measure of the strangeness of the time that the question even had to be asked.

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