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Many Expect Less Partisanship

Republicans say Schwarzenegger's popularity with voters will strengthen their hand in Sacramento and reduce legislative bickering.

October 26, 2003|Nancy Vogel and Gregg Jones | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Hundreds of times in the five-year reign of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, Ray Haynes has stood on the Assembly floor and spoken like the true conservative he is.

Assemblyman Haynes has beseeched Democrats who dominate the Legislature to cut spending and free business from government's tentacles. More than 95% of the time, Haynes says, Democrats did the opposite.

But as Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger prepares to be sworn in next month as California's governor, Haynes (R-Murietta) is practically giddy, predicting the dynamics of the Legislature are about to change.

At last, he and others say, the Legislature will be forced to move beyond the partisan bickering, ideological deadlocks and Democratic arrogance that have so often stymied or silenced the minority party and led to damaging delays in passing budgets.

"I'd resigned myself that I was going to be irrelevant until the day I left the Legislature," Haynes said, "and this is like a new lease on life for me."

In separate interviews with 34 lawmakers this week, a consensus emerged that Sacramento Republicans will soon have a stronger hand in the legislative horse-trading over how bills get amended, which ones advance and which are left to die quietly.

With Schwarzenegger able to veto legislation, Democrats will have to compromise to win Republican support, even for bills they could pass easily alone. Hanging over their heads is a warning Schwarzenegger had made repeatedly: If the Legislature bucks his wishes, the Republican governor will go directly to voters with an initiative -- and his movie star popularity.

"Things will be very different. It will be much more balanced," said Assemblyman John Campbell (R-Irvine). "Republicans will have more power, even though they didn't win any more seats."

Or, as Democratic Assemblyman Joe Simitian of Palo Alto said, "Come the new year, every Democratic legislator in Sacramento has to start asking himself: What will Arnold Schwarzenegger sign or not."

Since Schwarzenegger ousted Davis in the Oct. 7 recall, Democrats have sounded a conciliatory refrain. They promise to work with the new governor because, they say, that's what voters want. Polls during the campaign showed voters held the Legislature in as low esteem as they did the governor, and blamed both for the fiscal crisis that had helped precipitate the unprecedented election.

"Anybody who doesn't listen to the message of the recall election does so at their own peril," said Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). "People expect us to solve problems and not engage in needless partisanship."

Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) called Schwarzenegger's transition team -- which includes many Democrats -- "good news for Californians."

"What we've heard from the electorate is: They're sick of the old, they're sick of politics as usual and they want to get their money's worth out of government," she said.

Democrats hold a strong majority in both houses, with 48 of 80 seats in the Assembly and 25 of 40 seats in the Senate. They have repeatedly passed bills on strictly partisan lines, overriding Republican concerns.

Many bills that passed with this kind of lopsided support were signed this month by Davis, including one to allow illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses. The bill got no Republican support in its final votes in the Assembly and Senate. Schwarzenegger has said he will ask the Legislature to overturn it in a special session he has called for next month. Republicans have begun a referendum campaign to ask voters to repeal the law.

"If you're the Democrats, you don't want to look irrelevant," said Assemblyman Tim Leslie (R-Tahoe City). "If one of these key issues like workers' compensation or driver's licenses gets put up on the ballot and passes, you're going to say, maybe we don't want to go through that bloodbath again."

One of only three members of the Assembly to have served under a Republican governor, Leslie said he hoped Schwarzenegger would follow former governors Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian in considering how Republicans had voted on a bill before deciding its fate.

Many Democrats said they simply don't know what to expect from Schwarzenegger, a Republican who married into a Democratic dynasty but has no political experience beyond his support of a 2002 initiative to pay for after-school programs.

"The election was long on glitz and short on substance," said Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara). "So, it's really hard to know what he's planning beyond the platitudes that he's going to clean up government and make it work better."

Some Democrats insist they won't be star-struck by the incoming governor's global celebrity. "I don't think so," snickered Assemblywoman Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park). But others confess that they may ask Schwarzenegger for his autograph on more than their bills.

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