SACRAMENTO — As lawmakers wrangled last week over how to plug California's giant deficit, the governor who once called them "girlie men" sent the state Senate leader a package that has some Capitol insiders tsk-tsking over what they see as an ill-timed display of machismo.
The gag gift from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a metal sculpture of bull testicles, came with a note suggesting the lawmaker would need them to make some tough budget choices, said legislative sources who were not authorized to speak publicly.
An annoyed Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) returned the sculpture with a sober note on the fortitude needed to protect society's vulnerable from the budget ax. That prompted a verbal apology from the governor, the sources said.
Still, "we're not going to be upset" about a practical joke, said Steinberg's spokeswoman, Alicia Trost. In fact, she said, the Senate leader and Schwarzenegger "send each other gag gifts all the time."
Steinberg had earlier sent the governor a basket of garden-variety mushrooms, Trost said, after Schwarzenegger called Senate budget proposals "hallucinatory."
Gubernatorial spokesman Aaron McLear, who declined to discuss the nature of Schwarzenegger's gift, concurred that the two men "have a great relationship."
One lawmaker said the governor's gift was inappropriate and unhelpful at a time when he and legislators are clashing over keeping the state solvent.
"It's juvenile," the lawmaker said. "The timing is bad."
Times staff writers Shane Goldmacher and Michael Rothfeld contributed to this report.