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New boss wastes no time, calls three special sessions

Contra Costa Times (California)

SACRAMENTO — Arnold Schwarzenegger took the oath of office to become California’s 38th governor Monday and quickly wielded his newfound executive powers by slashing the car tax and moving to address the state’s woeful budget.

For the 56-year-old Austrian immigrant, world-champion bodybuilder and action-movie star, Monday’s inaugural capped a swift political ascent that hardly seemed imaginable just six months ago.

“I am humbled, I am moved, and I am honored beyond words to be your governor,” he said in his first official speech, beneath the Corinthian columns of the state Capitol.

The new Republican governor invoked the words of John F. Kennedy, saying: “I am an idealist, without illusions.’

Within minutes in office, he fulfilled his signature campaign pledge by stepping into the Capitol to sign an executive order repealing the recent tripling of state vehicle registration fees.

Three special sessions

He ordered three special legislative sessions, beginning today, to address the state’s fiscal crisis, workers’ compensation reform and repeal of SB60, the driver’s license bill for illegal immigrants that Gov. Gray Davis signed while fighting to save his job.

And, in a surprise move, he issued an executive order suspending all proposed state regulations for 180 days. In addition, the new governor called for a review of all regulations adopted, amended or repealed in the last five years.

The swearing-in was by far the largest in memory, and swelled with pageantry despite the promise of a low-key nod to the state’s blighted budget. It drew more than 8,000 invited supporters and dignitaries, and a media swarm from 14 countries.

The sun broke through a gray sky with the precision timing of a movie script as a coterie of A-list politicos, Hollywood friends and Kennedy-clan in-laws ushered Schwarzenegger into office.

Actress Jamie Lee Curtis, actor Rob Lowe and musician Kenny G mixed with former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and former Govs. Jerry Brown, George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson.

In the front row on stage sat Davis, whose political demise Schwarzenegger helped cement with a remarkable Hollywood-style run that harnessed his fame to attract an embittered and emboldened electorate.

The inaugural came just 100 days after Schwarzenegger launched his epic campaign by filing candidacy papers in the state’s historic Oct. 7 recall election.

Schwarzenegger’s wife, Maria Shriver, recited the words of Maya Angelou, in what some viewed as a foretelling of a strong First Lady role for the Kennedy-clan Democrat.

Actress Vanessa Williams, who once had nude photographs in Penthouse magazine and who co-starred with Schwarzenegger in the 1996 film “Eraser,” sang the national anthem as a color guard marched toward the stage.

Williams’ presence prompted one observer to quip: “How often do you go to an event like this where the two primary players, you’ve seen them naked?”

Schwarzenegger recited the oath with a stern gaze and upraised right hand, then quickly crossed the stage to shake hands with Davis and his wife, Sharon Davis.

New leader thanks old

In his speech, the new governor thanked Davis for a smooth transition, and sought to expunge the campaign rhetoric in which he painted the departing officeholder as a pariah bought by special interests.

“This election was not about replacing one man. It was not about one party. It was about changing the entire political climate of this state,” said Schwarzenegger in a 12-minute speech interrupted 24 times by applause.

Just which Gov. Schwarzenegger will emerge over the next three years — the conciliatory Arnold or Arnold the Strident, who campaigned on a populist pledge to slap around Sacramento — remained unclear Monday.

At a pair of postinaugural lunches, the new governor played both sides of the fence.

In the first, he sought to smooth the partisan terrain as he and Shriver met with state lawmakers in the Capitol rotunda.

“We have to work together. We have no other choice,” he said. “We have Democrats that have brilliant ideas, Republicans that have brilliant ideas. Why should we not put those brilliant ideas together?”

He added: “Let’s work together, and let’s have a good time doing it.”

Later, he struck a more discordant tone at a reception put on by the California Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed Schwarzenegger for his pro-business platform. The governor took the stage to “Happy Days are Here Again,” and pledged to slash red tape to help businesses thrive.

“I’m so happy I’m governor,” he told the crowd of 2,000. “Now I can go in there and do the things that I wanted to do: Clean house”

Democratic Party strategist Bob Mulholland dismissed Schwarzenegger’s appeal for bipartisan cooperation, suggesting it was disingenuous.

History will tell

“If you read history, even dictators start their term out that way,” said Mulholland, adding that the special budget session and the new governor’s January budget will paint a clearer picture.

“If that turns out where he’s got the kids and the elderly and immigrants on the chopping block, then we’ll see the real Schwarzenegger.”

If the past 100 days made for blockbuster material, the next 100 will help define Arnold the politician.

“It’s no secret I’m a newcomer to politics,” he said in his inaugural speech. “I realize I was elected on faith and hope, and I feel a great responsibility not to let the people down.”

The freeze on new regulations drew quick fire from a consumer advocacy group. The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights labeled it “a special-interest coup d’etat” that threatens regulations on pesticides, drinking water standards and other environmental protections.

Protests mostly ignored

A smattering of protesters gathered outside the inaugural, but were largely ignored by the invited guests.

In an odd scene for Sacramento, Curtis and graying comic Dennis Miller lingered long after the ceremony, posing for snapshots in front of the Capitol dome. Curtis, the new governor’s costar in the 1994 film “True Lies,” say they held hope that Schwarzenegger could break the bitter logjam that has come to define Sacramento politics.

“I would hate for this to result in a stalemate and a partisan bicker-fest,” said Curtis. “Everybody’s going to have to listen, including Arnold. He needs to listen to his own heart and intuition — and his wife.”

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