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The Rundown

Arnold hands in his transition lineup card. It's got a few surprises . . .

1:00 PM, Oct 10, 2003 • By BILL WHALEN
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FOR THE FIRST TIME in a long time, California isn't the crazy aunt of the western states: not as dysfunctional as last night's presidential debate in Arizona; nor as anxiety-ridden as those Oregon Democrats huddling this weekend to figure how to keep the state from acting Bush league in 2004.

As for Nevada, all that's happening there is a recall against the governor. Conservatives have until the end of November to collect 128,109 signatures and trigger a referendum on Republican governor Kenny Guinn. (Guinn proposed a bigger tax increase than the $836 million version passed by the state legislature; anti-taxers want him gone.) It's worth noting, by the way, that replacement candidates likewise need 128,000-plus signatures to qualify for the recall ballot. Not that it should deter Arianna Huffington, the perfect replacement candidate for . . . Siegfried & Roy.

Back in California, Thursday's big recall news was Arnold Schwarzenegger rolling out his transition team, which has been tasked with figuring out the scope of the state's budget mess. "One of the first things we have to do is audit. Open up the books and let the people look inside. Let the sun shine in," Arnold explained at a news conference in Santa Monica.

Schwarzenegger tapped more than five dozen Californians to help him prepare for the journey north to Sacramento. Here's the rundown. And he reveled in the eclectic nature of his group. "When you look at this list . . . you will see a very diversified team of people on this list. You will see people that are to the left, people that are to the right, and people that are to the center," he said. "I want to have the best and the brightest people to work in my administration," he added.

"The best and the brightest?" Wonder where he got that.

Arnold also called on Governor Gray Davis to stop signing bills and making appointments before he leaves office at a date yet to be decided--but about this he's wrong. Davis has to act on legislation between now and October 13. It's his responsibility, even if he is a lame duck, because otherwise the bills automatically become law. Besides, Davis' predecessor, Republican Pete Wilson, made appointments late in his administration (this practice is why Ronald Reagan took office after midnight on the day of his inaugural, back in January 1967, to stop Pat Brown from making last-minute appointments). By the way, if you need a Gray fix, he's reading the Top 10 List on tonight's Letterman's show.

I CAN THINK of fewer than 10 reasons why Arnold went this route with transition. Perhaps he wanted to flex the size and scope of his Rolodex. Or perhaps he wanted to dazzle the media with his ability to be a uniter, not a divider. Or maybe, just maybe, he wants to show that he understands how to play the game in Sacramento. Some of these picks didn't vote for him, nor do they attend Lincoln Day dinners. But they could be useful when the time comes to work with--and around--the loyal opposition. How else to explain the presence of San Francisco mayor Willie Brown?

It also gives California politicos a new game to play: degrees of Governator separation. You play it by looking at the name of the Schwarzenegger appointee, then guessing the connection. Some examples:

Rep. David Dreier: Arnold's lead surrogate during recall now chairs his transition team. Dreier chairs the House Rules Committee, which decides what legislation goes to the floor. In Washington, he'll escort Arnold on the hunt for money. Degrees of separation: zero, as they're personal friends (by the way, Arnold owes Dreier big for defending him so skillfully on the cable talk circuit).

Eli Broad: Arnold also named the chairman of AIG SunAmerica and KB Home, which will surprise some, since Broad's a big-name Southern California Democrat (he was a driving force behind bringing the 2000 Democratic National Convention to Los Angeles). Degrees of Governator separation: zero, as he knows Arnold on a personal basis, having asked for his past support on L.A. education reform measures.

Willie Brown: He's the soon-to-retire mayor of San Francisco and the longest-serving Assembly speaker ("the Ayatollah of the Assembly"). Degree of separation: zero. Arnold called Willie personally to bring him on board? Why? Willie's about to be out of a job but wants to remain a player; Arnold could use him as a back channel to Democratic lawmakers.