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Schwarzenegger -- the action hero California voted for

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger deserves applause for his role in taking on the nurses board, but he's been inconsistent in showing such character.

July 15, 2009

If only the governor did this sort of thing more often -- and more consistently. As abrupt and extreme as his decision was, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was right to dismiss most of the state Board of Registered Nursing for taking years to decide the cases of nurses accused of egregious misconduct. Even if he didn't act for all the right reasons, we're glad he acted.

The board's failure to protect the public, detailed in an investigation by The Times and the nonprofit news organization ProPublica, was troubling, of course. Just as bad was the tepid response by board members and their executive officer, who resigned Wednesday. They defended themselves, blamed others for the delays and offered an incremental strategy to pick up their slow pace. This is precisely the sort of response that riles taxpayers and leads to the sometimes justified perception that the public sector is ineffective, inefficient and uninterested in serving the public.

It's hard to know how big a problem bad nurses are; they do not appear to be a significant threat to the health of Californians. That, however, is of little comfort to the patients they continue to treat.

Schwarzenegger's decision was an easy call, both administratively and politically. By swiftly firing four board members, he got the chance to do some high-profile flexing of power at a time when he badly needs to reclaim his image as a reformer.

From the start, the governor has had a love-hate relationship with the various boards he has appointed. This time, he acted to protect patients, but where was the gubernatorial outrage when the state Board of Chiropractic Examiners, which included several of Schwarzenegger's friends, was accused in a state audit of similar failures to put consumers first?

At other times, Schwarzenegger removed board members because they did their jobs. Those include Bobby Shriver and Clint Eastwood, who were not reappointed to the state Park and Recreation Commission after they justifiably opposed a toll road that would have bisected a state park. R. Judd Hanna was pressured into resigning from the Fish and Game Commission after he favored a limited ban on lead bullets in order to protect the California condor.

The Schwarzenegger who came to office via his vows to slice through bureaucratic ennui made good this week. If he had done so more faithfully, when it served the public's agenda and not his own, he might have been more the action hero voters expected.

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