As state fire emergency fades, it’s a return to politics as usual |

As state fire emergency fades, it’s a return to politics as usual

SACRAMENTO (AP) ” The sense of emergency caused by the devastating fires in Southern California created an initial state of suspended political animation in which Gov. Schwarzenegger could reign without opposition.

Now the goodwill is ending, and second-guessing the state’s emergency response is fair game.

Conservative Republican congressmen like Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, have criticized the fire response, forcing Schwarzenegger to answer tough questions about how effectively firefighting equipment was deployed.

On Friday, the governor convened a meeting of his cabinet in front of television cameras at the state’s emergency operations nerve center outside Sacramento.

“Of course, after this, we’re going to go and analyze everything ” how perfect of a job we have done,” the governor said, looking tired.

Schwarzenegger has been at his best this week, racing across the state in his private plane to comfort fire victims and cheer on their rescuers. He was a ubiquitous presence on television, conveying such compassion and concern that political analysts on CNN said it was a pity Schwarzenegger couldn’t run for president.

He appeared with Democrats like Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who lauded Schwarzenegger in a statement for being “on the scene virtually around the clock.”

He spent a day with his frequent political nemesis, President Bush, whose conservatism the far more popular Schwarzenegger often uses to set off his own moderate political positioning on the environment.

But none of that was in evidence as Schwarzenegger toured charred neighborhoods with the president in tow. The governor praised Bush “for his tremendous support and for his immediate help in this terrible disaster, and for taking the time out to come here to California to see firsthand what the people of our state are going through.”

Bush returned the favor, saying what a difference it made to have a governor who knew what he was doing in a natural disaster, an apparent reference to the disorganized state and local response in New Orleans to Hurricane Katrina, which, along with what was perceived as a botched federal effort, scarred Bush’s presidency.

But Schwarzenegger’s rapprochement with the president is likely to come to an end next week, when California files an environmental lawsuit against the feds that it had delayed because of the fires.

“Arnold may be making nice right now with George W. Bush, because there’s federal money at stake,” said Garry South, a Democrat who advised former Gov. Gray Davis. “But you can bet the minute Bush leaves California, that lawsuit is going to be filed.”

Schwarzenegger put off the lawsuit this week because of the fire. But Attorney General Jerry Brown is expected to go to court next week to force the Environmental Protection Agency to decide whether California and 11 other states can impose stricter vehicle standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

California has been waiting for almost two years for a response.

The end of the fire emergency means Schwarzenegger will also have to return to everyday business in Sacramento, where his proposals to reform health care and address the state’s critical water needs have been stalled.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.

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