California’s Legislature starts session with hugs and rituals

By Jim Wasserman The Associated Press
Tuesday January 08, 2002

SACRAMENTO — California legislators returned to their antique wooden desks in the Capitol on Monday, kicking off a new year of budget shortfalls and promising to keep the state solvent. 

Coming back after three months in their small towns, farms and big cities, 80 Assembly members and 40 senators reveled in the rituals of opening day beneath the Capitol dome. They shook hands, hugged and gossiped on the floors of their palatial-style chambers. 

Outside, the Capitol Christmas tree still stood and wet paint signs adorned a building accessible only by showing identification to security forces. 

During a 13-minute session, the Senate played host to an emotional speech by Sen. Bruce McPherson, R-Santa Cruz, asking that it adjourn in memory of his late son, Hunter. The 27-year-old McPherson was shot and killed during a Nov. 17 robbery in San Francisco. 

“He was the best son a father ever had,” said an emotion-choked McPherson as tears flowed in the Senate chamber. 

Afterward, senators hugged and offered condolences to McPherson and his wife, Mary. 

The Assembly adjourned its 40-minute session in memory of Brian Cody Prosser of Bakersfield, the 28-year-old U.S. Army staff sergeant killed in Afghanistan Dec. 5 by a U.S. bomb that missed its target. 

The Democratic-dominated Legislature faces another turbulent year, following a troubled and dramatic 2001 session that focused mainly on keeping California’s lights on. A $12 billion budget deficit leads the priorities, alongside PG&E’s bankruptcy status, a weakened economy and an array of anti-terrorism proposals. 

“The way things are happening, every year there’s something exciting,” said Assemblyman Herb Wesson, D-Culver City. “This year it’s the budget crisis. It is what it is. We will survive this.” 

Wesson expects to be elected the Assembly’s 65th Speaker on Thursday. 

He will take office Feb. 6. 

Current Speaker Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, said the Legislature hopes for quick upturn in the state’s economy. 

“Economists are telling us this is a short-term issue,” Hertzberg said. 

But many analysts believe budget cuts may be painful, especially after years of record surpluses from the mid-1990s to 2000. Most of the Legislature is also inexperienced at budget cutting. Efforts last year to craft a $103 billion budget led to weeks of impasse between ruling Democrats and Republican holdouts. 

Gov. Gray Davis will propose a 2002-2003 budget for the fiscal year beginning this July 1 on Thursday. Davis also makes the governor’s annual state of the state address at 5 p.m. Tuesday. 

Further overshadowing the session that began Monday are March 5 primary elections and a Nov. 5 general election in which, in which the entire Assembly and half the Senate seats are up for grabs.