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Sacramento twins

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez make quite a pair in the state capital.

January 15, 2007

IF GOV. ARNOLD Schwarzenegger is the celebrity author of California post-partisanship, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez is certainly his principal ghostwriter.

The Republican governor unveiled post-partisanship as a central theme Jan. 5 while delivering his second inaugural address, beginning a marathon week of speeches and policy directives that had the Assembly's top Democrat grinning from ear to ear.

The term turns out to be code for Sacramento's two most powerful men continuing the cheerful, co-dependent relationship they began more than a year ago. The governor parlayed their pairing into a landmark bond package, an astonishing political recovery, a cruise to reelection and a playbook for his own business-friendly, pro-growth agenda.

Meanwhile, Nunez once on a path toward mortal political combat with the governor, finds his own agenda falling neatly into his lap, at least while a booming economy continues to make budgeting fairly simple.

With the bond package, Nunez got funding for schools and housing for working families. With approval of the governor's budget -- passed in advance of the deadline last year for the first time in six years -- he got funding for higher education, not to mention an increase in the minimum wage and a cutting-edge program to control greenhouse gas emissions, plus the school reform bill championed by Nunez's friend and political ally, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Nunez, a scrappy labor organizer from San Diego and Tijuana, turned out to be a gifted politician who quickly learned to game Schwarzenegger's chief need: to get big things done. You could say that he has finessed the governor, or even manipulated him, into following a Nunezian path toward that goal. There are plenty of unhappy Republican lawmakers who see the physically slight Assembly speaker as a Democratic body snatcher, inhabiting the governor's ample political frame.

But Schwarzenegger is no victim. He knows that Nunez has figured him out, and he doesn't seem to mind a bit. In turn, he has helped Nunez, who represents Los Angeles' 46th Assembly District, to become an astonishingly successful speaker -- the most successful, Sacramento watchers now agree, of the term-limits era.

Elected to the Assembly in 2002, Nunez became speaker while still a freshman. In those early days, Schwarzenegger was the brash Governator, Senate President Pro Tem John Burton dominated Democratic politics and Nunez was an out-of-place street kid, wandering in the political wilderness. But Burton got termed out, and Nunez, rapidly maturing, helped defeat every ballot item in Schwarzenegger's union-baiting 2005 special election.

In his second inaugural address, the governor compared himself to Paul on the road to Damascus. Paul, a persecutor of Christians, was blinded by a bright light, heard the voice of Jesus and became his apostle.

Schwarzenegger, when his political vision cleared, didn't exactly see Nunez. But he saw in the speaker an opportunity to cooperate on matters of mutual interest. California has benefited from that cooperation and will likely continue to do so, as long as good budget times remain.

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