Committee approves Schwarzenegger’s consumer affairs pick

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Associated Press

SACRAMENTO — A Senate committee Wednesday approved Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger choice of former legislator Charlene Zettel to be the state’s top consumer advocate despite protests from consumer groups that she had favored businesses over consumer interests.

Zettel, 56, won a 4-0 vote from the Senate Rules Committee to head a department with 2,500 employees and a $337 million budget. The agency, which licenses and regulates more than 230 professions, received nearly 85,000 complaints from Californians last year that resulted in more than 11,000 investigations.

Zettel, appointed by Schwarzenegger to the $123,000-a-year post last March, came to Wednesday’s hearing with support from San Diego-area elected officials, state nurses and laborers unions and the Legislature’s influential Latino Caucus.

“I am committed to the Department of Consumer Affairs mission of consumer enforcement and will serve with dedication and integrity,” promised Zettel, an Assembly member from 1998 to 2002, and the Legislature’s first Hispanic Republican. A former Poway school board member, she lost a Republican primary race for a state Senate seat in 2002.

Zettel received the unanimous vote after two of the state’s major consumer rights groups, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, questioned how Zettel could enforce laws that she opposed as a state legislator.

“We believe the record shows Ms. Zettel is not right for this job,” said FTCR director Doug Heller. “As an Assembly member, Ms. Zettel’s positions sided too often with the needs of business and against the needs of consumer Californians.”

Heller and CARS director Rosemary Shahan cited Zettel’s Assembly votes against four Democrat-sponsored bills, including one requiring funeral homes to tell survivors if the deceased person made earlier arrangements and already paid. She also opposed legislation to ban “excessive” loan fees, toughen rules for mortgage lenders and make landlords give 60 days notice to move out tenants with more than one year in a rental. Zettel also voted against a bill with stricter rules against auto defects.

Consumer activists cited a bill Zettel carried in 1999, which would have made it harder to sue pharmaceutical drug makers for design defects. Democrats never gave the bill a committee hearing. Activists also pointed out low marks Zettel received from groups for opposing consumer-friendly legislation.

But Zettel’s supporters noted the differences in her role as an Assembly member representing a conservative San Diego County district and her new job representing all Californians.

“She now has statewide responsibilities,” said Sen. Dede Alpert, D-San Diego. “She recognizes that she represents the consumers of California. “

Senators also confirmed Schwarzenegger appointees Victoria Bradshaw to head the Labor and Work Force Development Agency and Jose Millan as the agency’s deputy secretary. Two other confirmations included Thomas M. Johnson to head the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs and Michael J. Hersek as the state’s public defender.

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