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Freshmen start with red ink

By Jim Sanders
Sacramento Bee
Tuesday, Dec. 02, 2008

First there was prayer Monday as California's newest Legislature was sworn in.

With the state facing a massive shortfall, it might not be the last heavenly appeal at the Capitol.

Twenty-five new Assembly members bowed their heads, then opened them to plenty of red – the red carpet treatment followed by dire warnings of red ink.

"It's an incredible honor and a tremendous responsibility," said Democrat Joan Buchanan, a freshman from Alamo.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass warned their houses that time is of the essence.

Steinberg vowed to tackle four key issues in 120 days: an economic stimulus package, water infrastructure bonds, health care for all children, and setting stiffer goals for renewable energy.

"People do not expect miracle fixes for these or other challenges," said Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat who was sworn in as Senate leader. "But they do expect us to get going."

Bass, D-Los Angeles, urged the new Assembly to be "very mindful that the clock is ticking" as the state wrestles with a projected $27.8 billion shortfall over two years.

The Legislature, which normally does not begin until Jan. 1, was ordered into special session Monday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Assembly greeted 28 new members, including three former senators – Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch; Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata; and Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber. The Senate welcomed 11 newcomers, all of them former Assembly members.

During Monday's Assembly prayer, the Rev. Ivan L. Williams, of the Seventh-day Adventist faith, sought divine help for the new class.

"Bless each of them with insight, foresight, wisdom and discernment," he prayed.

Monday also was a day for Capitol celebrations and optimism.

Freshman Assemblyman Isadore Hall, D-Compton, said that several children sought his autograph.

"I will not let them down," he vowed.

Chesbro, who was termed out of the Senate two years ago, was denied entrance into the Capitol garage temporarily because an attendant did not recognize him.

Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, carried his nearly 6-month-old son, Zach, to the Assembly floor in natty attire – a brown corduroy coat, white shirt and red tie.

"In freshman orientation, I was told that all gentlemen on the floor must have a jacket – so we went out and found a jacket for him," Fletcher said, smiling.

Freshman Connie Conway, R-Tulare, said that friends jokingly asked if she expected to end up like outgoing Assemblywoman Nicole Parra, D-Hanford, who was banished to an office across the street from the Capitol after angering Bass.

"I said, 'No, it gets worse than that,'" Conway quipped. "'I'll probably be banned to Elk Grove.'"

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