IT WAS CALIFORNIA'S golden age. No new taxes and only negligible growth in the deficit. Lawmakers stayed home. Crime was down. Freeway traffic was light, the shopping malls full, the air clean. The skies were overcast but bright. The sun never set on the last acting governorship of Cruz Bustamante.
And then, around 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, about 90 minutes after it began, the Bustamante Era was over. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger emerged from anesthesia, orthopedic surgeon Kevin Ehrhart cleared him to resume his duties and Bustamante was again lieutenant governor without portfolio. His tenure in charge of the state was brief but memorable.
Or not. Californians, to be honest, haven't noticed the numerous times over the last eight years that Bustamante -- in theory, at least -- ran the state. It's not just when Schwarzenegger breaks his leg on the ski slopes, as he did Saturday, or when he gets in a motorcycle wreck, as he did earlier this year, that the lieutenant governor leads California. Bustamante takes over whenever the governor physically leaves the state.
So when Schwarzenegger was at the Republican National Convention in New York two years ago to help reelect President Bush, Bustamante was in charge back home. And when the governor was in Mexico last month, cooking California spinach on TV with Chef Lulu to convince Mexicans that the crop was no longer unsafe, Bustamante was in control here. And when Schwarzenegger, even before breaking his leg, took off to Idaho with his family to ski, he was leaving California in the hands of the lieutenant governor.