Changing characters

Power play: Like many Californians, Bites was devastated to see John Burton head home to San Francisco. If he wasn’t yelling at you, the universally beloved Senate leader was one of the Capitol’s most reliably entertaining and explosive personalities—followed closely by his longtime pal, Senator Ross Johnson, R-Irvine, who also termed out this year.

Bites will miss seeing the bespectacled, white-haired tempest standing in the back of the Senate chambers in a guayabera, barking orders into a cell phone. Or wandering the halls with his ice-cream cone, lavishing attention on cute young women. Or holding court in the pressroom, keeping otherwise joyless scribes rolling in the aisles.

“What I don’t understand,” the twice-divorced Democrat told reporters during the gay-marriage debate earlier this year, “is why anyone would want to get married.”

Term limits, of course, are a double-edged sword, and with the bad comes good.

Case in point: Carole Migden, Burton’s 3rd District Senate successor, is every bit as colorful—and feared. So feared, in fact, that no one dared challenge her for the seat.

Migden, a petite, over-caffeinated lesbian whose orations are still tinged with a bit of a New York accent, spent the last two years on the state Board of Equalization after she was termed out of the Assembly. In the lower house, she chaired the all-powerful Appropriations Committee and was never stingy with the gavel.

Now, before the next session is even under way, she’s scored another top spot, as chair of—what else?—the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Bites feels safe predicting that her 39 colleagues are likely to spend the next eight years carrying her around in a sedan chair, fanning her with palms and serving her cappuccinos.

The new chairwoman, who now controls the Legislature’s purse strings, said as much last week at an event for supporters.

“Anyone who wants $5,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle, “is going to have to come to this dyke and beg for it.”

Dead-letter office: Opinions vary on the administration’s war on terror and the drive to democratize Iraq, but one incontrovertible fact remains: California leads the nation in casualties. Since the military action began in Afghanistan and Iraq, through December 11 of this year, Department of Defense figures show that 167 Californians have died in combat. Texas is second, with 126.

The governor’s office sends out a new statement each time a California soldier is killed. Statements also are issued for non-Californians who had been stationed at Camp Pendleton, from which 269 Marines have been sacrificed to the war effort so far. All of this leaves someone with the unenviable task of trying to come up with a unique two- to three-sentence quote from the governor commemorating each new martyr.

The governor’s office would not comment on who actually writes the statements. However, a spokesperson said the information comes from the Department of Defense and that “it’s a way that the governor can acknowledge the ultimate sacrifice these young men and women have made for their country.”

Bites looks forward to the day when whoever’s writing those things has something less awful to work on.

Lunch thief: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s maneuvers to ease requirements for when workers get their lunches sparked controversy throughout the state. Critics say it will weaken workers’ right to take a lunch break, while supporters say it will give more flexibility to employers and even employees (particularly, Bites presumes, anorexic employees).

The folks at have added a few crucial arguments to the debate. The advocacy group points out that the governor has been taking campaign money from a number of “special interests” like Target ($240,000), the Gap ($197,400) and Wal-Mart ($210,000), the last of which just happens to have lawsuits pending over this very topic. But what really annoyed Bites was the governor’s issuance of this as an “emergency” regulation, a crass distortion designed to circumvent the public regulatory process.

“Arnold really needs to work on his definitions,” mused’s Carmen Balber. “For the past year he has defined special interests as anybody that criticizes Arnold. Now he can’t figure out the meaning of the word ’emergency.’”

On Monday, Arnold’s “emergency” regulation was rescinded the day before it would have gone into effect. Public hearings will be held in February. Maybe Wal-Mart can get a continuance.