The wisenheimer's last day
Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, perhaps the Legislature's last truly authentic character, departed the Capitol today with a farewell news conference at which he expounded on subjects ranging from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's capacity for b.s., the importance of being true to one's political point of view and his own reputation for being at once crusty and witty.
"I always have been, as they say in Milwaukee, a wisenheimer," he said.
To those whose German is lacking, the term roughly translates to "wiseacre," although probably one more mischievous than irritating.
Among Burton's parting gems:
* Asked if he had any advice for Schwarzenegger: "Arnold's charm is that he doesn't listen to anybody... He is who he is."
* Asked why he got along better personally with Republican Schwarzenegger than with Democrat Gray Davis: "Arnold's more fun. Arnold is a bullshitter. I say things to Arnold that Gray would have thought was an insult. Arnold will laugh it off and throw it right back at me."
* Asked what motivates him most: "What's more fun than helping someone who can't help himself?"
* Asked whether Democrats, for fear of political consequences, should back off on the issue of gay marriages: "I remember when we were all supposed to go slow on civil rights for blacks. If something's right, it's right."
* Asked what he'd like a plaque to say if someone mounted one in his honor at the Capitol: "He did his best as he saw it. He gave his best shot."
* Asked if Proposition 13 would ever be changed, he said he doubted it: "It's become one of those Holy Grails... Even people who are getting screwed by it are for it."
Burton's only apparent regret on his last day was that, with Schwarzenegger in Texas, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante didn't also decide to leave the state. When both the governor and lieutenant governor are out of California, the Senate president pro tem becomes acting governor. "Cruz could have left the state... I could have gone out in a blaze of glory."