By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com The Sacramento Bee
Published: Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

Consider this factoid of California political history: In the last 70 years, just one governor finished his term of office and handed it off to someone of the same party.

Voters’ habit of switching parties in gubernatorial elections has created a cycle. While governors must work with the Legislature to achieve their policy goals, they can unilaterally veto bills and appropriations.

Thus, while liberal interest groups can usually achieve their aims in a reliably Democratic Legislature, they are often thwarted by a Republican governor’s vetoes, creating a pent-up agenda that bursts forth when a Democratic governor is installed.

We saw that when Jerry Brown followed Ronald Reagan in 1975. He signed landmark legislation granting collective bargaining rights to farmworker and public employee unions, decriminalizing marijuana, legalizing consensual homosexual acts, and imposing strict controls on coastal land development, to mention only a few examples.

We saw it again in 1999, when Brown’s former chief of staff, Gray Davis, succeeded Pete Wilson as governor and repaid public employee unions for helping him win.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has not been a particularly conservative Republican, especially on environmental issues, but has wielded his veto prodigiously on legislation the business community has opposed.

His vetoes have frustrated unions, personal injury lawyers, consumer advocates and even environmentalists on occasion, and they have a huge agenda awaiting Brown’s second stint as governor.

However, Brown is not easily pigeonholed. He’s likely to support more environmental laws, especially those tied to global warming, but has criticized regulation that discourages investment and is seemingly wary of expanding lawsuit liability. Brown, after all, signed the 1975 legislation that lawyers love to hate, limiting pain-and-suffering damages in medical malpractice cases to just $250,000.

A big test will be the system of compensating workers for job-related illnesses and injuries.

Brown tried – and failed – to reform workers’ compensation himself 30-plus years ago, then signed a multibillion-dollar boost in benefits, over objections of employers, as one of his last gubernatorial acts in 1982.

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