It has been a long times since a politician representing rural California has had the confidence rookie State Sen. Jeff Denham displayed when he told the annual California Alfalfa and Forage Association (CAFA) breakfast that times are changing for the better for California agriculture.

Denham, a Salinas businessman elected to the state senate in November 2002, spoke at CAFA's annual gathering during the recent California Alfalfa Symposium in Monterey.

California's new governator is in charge, and changes are coming.

The impressive young senator who represents the agriculturally-rich areas of San Benito and Merced counties and parts of Monterey, Stanislaus and Madera did not mince words when he said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is at the helm of the ship.

Denham, a 16-year Air Force veteran with the meritorious service medal for service in Operation Desert Storm (Iraq) and Operation Restore Hope (Somalia), is a very convincing fellow. He did not have his hat in his hand, bemoaning agriculture's fate at the hands of a liberal legislature. He did grovel at how agriculture is being mistreated and cannot do anything about it. He said believe it: better days are ahead for all California.

Admittedly Denham said the new governor is in a standoff with legislative liberals who want him to raise taxes to rid California of its massive debt, created by those same liberal spenders and their former leader, Gray Davis. Schwarzenegger has told the legislature to cut spending. Denham said the new governor will win, but it may take awhile.

California agriculture and business in general have been over-regulated to near financial ruin. Schwarzenegger has frozen implementation of new government regulations, and has sent word that he will not stand for onerous interpretation of new regulations by bureaucratic regulators.

If you sit on a board or commission in California, you might consider getting a change of address card because you probably will be out of a job if the guy who appointed you was named Davis. Denham said the new governor is actively soliciting more business-friendly Californians who hate regulations as much as he does to sit on state boards and commissions which administer state laws. Denham said go to the governor's Web site and download an application if you want to serve. Denham was very serious about that.

The new governor kept his campaign promise and immediately repealed the tripled car licenses fees, but this sent cities and counties into tailspins because that is money they were counting on to survive. Schwarzenegger snatched $40 million from the state coffers as an emergency backfill for counties facing immediate financial shortfalls. Denham said the rest will be there. “Cities and counties will get their money,” said Denham.

Those were reassuring words for agencies like University of California Cooperative Extension with county offices facing 50 percent to 60 percent more budget cuts because counties are running out of money for support services for local farm advisors.

Of course, California's farmers and ranchers have been disappointed many times in the past and are a bit reluctant to believe that real change is coming. Denham believes it, and he is a reassuring breath of fresh air in California politics.

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com