10:51 PM PST on Sunday, December 5, 2010

By JIM MILLER
Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – They will join a shrunken Republican caucus that has lost influence on annual budget bills, but the newest members of Inland Southern California’s legislative delegation look forward to getting to work.

Mike Morrell and Tim Donnelly, avowed anti-tax conservatives from adjoining Assembly districts, will be sworn in today amid massive budget problems for the state.

Departing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will call lawmakers into special session to deal with a $6 billion hole in the budget approved less than two months ago. Unaddressed, the gap would grow to an estimated $25.4 billion over the next 19 months.

The widespread expectation is that, after a flurry of procedural votes and glad-handing today, the Democrat-controlled Legislature will await the Jan. 3 arrival of Gov.-elect Jerry Brown to begin serious budget moves. Wednesday, Brown will host a capital forum on the state’s fiscal problems, with two others planned around the state.

Brown has some 40 years of government experience, including two previous terms as governor. At the other end of the scale are term-limited state lawmakers and dozens of Capitol newbies such as Morrell and Donnelly.

The two began attending budget briefings, ethics training and other seminars on the ways of legislating within days of their easy victories in the November election.

There also have been more mundane activities, such as finding a place to live in Sacramento and interviewing potential staff.

“It was overwhelming. I haven’t been in that deep of a classroom discussion in something like 35 years,” Morrell, a Rancho Cucamonga mortgage broker, said of the training, adding, “I think our state is in a lot more trouble than some of the electeds have let on.”

Donnelly, a businessman from Twin Peaks in the San Bernardino Mountains, said he has learned a lot since the election.

“There are all kinds of things I’ve never thought of that they talked about,” said Donnelly, who said he was surprised at the sheer volume of rules that “assume everybody is corrupt.”

“It was astounding to me that if you have a cup of coffee with a lobbyist, you have to report it,” he said.

Donnelly pulled off a major upset last June when he topped a GOP primary field of better-funded candidates with help from tea party activists and conservative talk radio.

Donnelly is an ardent critic of illegal immigration and founded a local chapter of the Minuteman movement that advocates securing the border with Mexico. The state, he said, could save at least $11 billion by eliminating services for people in the country illegally.

Today, Donnelly plans to introduce legislation modeled closely on the Arizona law that makes illegal immigration a crime and lets police check immigration status. His bill would toughen penalties on smugglers who engage in sex trafficking and sex slavery.

Morrell also emerged the winner from a crowded GOP primary field after claiming the tea party mantle.

Several members of Congress recently formed a tea party caucus. So far, though, no one has proposed such a caucus in the Legislature, Donnelly and Morrell said.

“There are a bunch of us who are like-minded. We’re all really take-no-prisoners type of people,” he said.

Donnelly dismisses concerns about global warming as a “mythical unicorn” and said he wants to make California adopt more of a laissez-faire approach to business.

“We all want clean air and clean water,” he said. “But I don’t think we want perfect air and perfect water at the expense of a million jobs.”

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