|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Thursday, September 30, 2004
San Jose Mercury-News 9-30-04
SACRAMENTO - Ominous messengers prowl the Capitol hallways this time of year.
Their victims are legislators whose beloved bills the governor has deemed unworthy of his signature.
Their calling card is the veto message.
They are known as the Angels of Death, a darkly humorous nickname for the governor's aides tasked with an unenviable job: telling lawmakers their bills are kaput.
Each administration has had its own crew of messengers and adopted a distinctive style. Gray Davis' envoys were known for slipping veto letters under office doors late at night. A Pete Wilson aide was nicknamed ``the grim reaper,'' despite her sunny disposition.
As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrapped up his first round of bill signings and vetoes today, his administration was still working out the kinks in its approach.
The governor's office was highly protective of its official protocol and the identity of its main angel -- a former Senate aide who lurked the halls Wednesday dressed in black, with a hot-pink belt.
Press secretary Margita Thompson said the administration was too busy to comment. But interviews with aides in a half-dozen legislative offices revealed that Schwarzenegger has tried to give lawmakers a heads-up by dropping off veto letters at least one hour before making his verdict public.
There are several Schwarzenegger messengers, who are aides from his legislative office. But the primary person charged with delivering the bad news is Nanette Madsen, the former aide to Sen. Jeffrey Denham, R-Modesto.
Madsen, 26, has a sense of humor about her grim nickname, saying it could be worse. Those who know her say the tag certainly does not fit her bubbly personality.
``She's the Angel of Sunshine, floating up there, telling people how to present their ideas differently,'' said Cynthia Bryant, chief deputy legislative affairs secretary.
The style of Schwarzenegger's angels has been dubbed the ``silent, quick draw.'' The messenger barely steps foot inside the door and then slips a hand in and out of the office mailbox within seconds.
Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-El Cerrito, has had five such visits from one of the male angels.
``I said, `Is this good news or bad news?' But he was out the door too quickly,'' said Hancock's legislative aide Armando Viramontes, adding with a smile, ``I thought about chasing him down the hall and tackling him.''
Being an angel is a thankless task -- the proverbial messenger who is shot. Veto letters are typically short, sometimes glib and can betray a misunderstanding about the legislator's intentions.
Casey Elliott, now a legislative assistant for the secretary of state, handed out vetoes for Davis for three years. ``To maintain friendships in the Capitol, you'd rather not be delivering vetoes,'' he said.
Today is the last day of the 30 Schwarzenegger had to decide the fate of 844 bills. All month lawmakers and their aides have grown anxious waiting for the afternoon drop-offs. Like a deadly game of duck-duck-goose, they pray the angel won't stop at their door.
There have been some complaints. The big no-no is if a reporter calls for comment before a veto message arrives.
``It's unnerving to get your first call from the media,'' said Tracy Fairchild, communications director for Sen. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo. ``But I was happy to learn that it was an oversight and that something fell through the cracks.''
There have been some false alarms, too. Kathy Dresslar, chief of staff to Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said she nearly fainted when an aide to the governor hand-delivered a letter last week. It turned out to be a personal note to her boss on an unrelated matter.
``People have a lot of angst and hours invested in these bills,'' Dresslar said. ``So it's really sad to see it all go down the drain.''
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