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The return of the Angel of Death

Ray Sotero said he wasn’t terribly surprised when he came to work Friday morning to find the piece of paper that had been slipped underneath the door. Sometime during the previous night, his office had been visited by the Angel of Death.

Also known as the grim reaper, this title goes to whichever legislative unit or communications staffer is tasked with slipping printed veto messages into inboxes and under doorways, often after business hours. This time, the victim was Sotero’s boss, Jenny Oropeza, and her clean campaigns bill, AB 2386
Overnight veto drops are a longtime Capitol tradition. Numerous other legislators got similar announcements over the last couple weeks, with the largest number going out the last couple days before the Sept. 30 signing deadline.

This year, there was much Capitol speculation about the identity of Schwarzenegger’s Angel of Death. Casey Elliott, a staffer in Gray Davis’ legislative unit who now works for Assemblyman Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana, held the role for long enough that people started to keep an eye out for him every September, he said. The drops usually took place in the evening because that’s when he had time, he added, and it had nothing to do with the screaming and crying that sometimes took place when there was someone there to receive the veto message.

“To the Governor’s credit, this time of year people are pulling out at 5 p.m.,” Elliott said. “It’s kind of the only way to do it, because you don’t want to have a phone conversation.”

Nanette Madsen held the informal title for Schwarzenegger during the 2004 signing season. Madsen has since gone to work at the Department of Consumer Affairs. The Governor’s office has gone to a Reaper “by committee” system, said spokesman Darrel Ng said. Leg unit staffer Mikhael Skvarla handled many of the vetoes that came early in the week, when there was enough time to deliver most messages during business hours.

“Usually I’d go in and hand it to whoever was there,” Skvarla said. “Reactions would come as you were leaving. Some people yelled ‘No!'”

Of course, this year most of the public attention went to the big bill signing ceremonies. Between Tony Blair and George Clooney–and a side appearance with the Dalai Lama during signing season–these proceedings could hardly have gotten more star-studded unless the Pope and Paris Hilton had shown up. Overall, the Governor held 20 signing ceremonies for 32 bills. This number is “about average,” according to Steve Maviglio, press secretary for Davis and now deputy chief of staff for Assembly Speaker Fabian N


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