SACRAMENTO – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has dropped the legal fight against one of his most vocal critics, deciding to stop battling the California Nurses Association over hospital staffing ratios. Attorney General Bill Lockyer filed a motion late Thursday on behalf of the governor’s office withdrawing the state’s appeal of an earlier court ruling. “The governor is going to stop going after registered nurses and patient ratios. For us, it is an enormous victory,” nurses union executive director Rose Ann DeMoro said Friday, after the motion was made public. In June, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge ruled that the Schwarzenegger administration erred when it issued an emergency order a year ago seeking to delay a first-in-the-nation law requiring hospitals to provide more nurses. The law limited nursing coverage to no more than five patients at a time. Shortly after the November 2004 elections, Schwarzenegger sided with the hospital industry and at- tempted to continue the existing six-to-one ratio, citing a statewide nursing shortage and the financial burden to hospitals. “We think the governor’s in a strategic retreat,” said DeMoro. “Of course we’re pleased with that decision, but in other ways we’re a little bit dubious” about his intentions. Tensions between the governor and the nurses union escalated in December when he labeled the union a special interest and said he was “kicking their butts.” Since then, union officials have attacked Schwarzenegger at public events, in television commercials and on freeway billboards throughout the state. It has been a constant nemesis of the governor’s, even sending members cross country to protest at his fundraisers in New York and Boston. In a September interview with The Associated Press, Schwarzenegger said his comment was a mistake and called the reaction to it a learning experience. The decision to drop the appeal seems to be more “waving of the white flag” after the governor’s failed election, said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior scholar in USC’s School of Policy, Planning and Development. “It appears to me that he’s come to the conclusion that an `action hero’ image is wearing thin. But he’s moved over to where the perception is that he’s a girly-man,” she said. “The perception will be that he blinked, that he didn’t want to go head-to-head with the nurses union.” In July, Superior Court Judge Judy Holzer Hersher briefly considered holding Schwarzenegger and two top aides in contempt of court for their repeated attempts to suspend the nurse ratio law. The administration denied it was trying to violate the judge’s orders. California is the only state with a law requiring a mandatory staffing level for hospitals. The 1999 law, signed by then-Gov. Gray Davis, set the ratio at one nurse for every six patients by Jan. 1, 2004, and one nurse for every five patients by Jan. 1, 2005. Schwarzenegger sought to delay the lower ratio until 2008. The administration said it needed further study, particularly considering a statewide shortage of nurses. “Our issue was never with the ratio. It was with the fact that there aren’t enough nurses to make it work. That hasn’t changed,” said Jan Emerson, spokeswoman for the California Hospitals Association.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week The governor’s office filed an appeal shortly afterward with the state 3rd District Court of Appeal. “Throughout this process, our decisions have been guided by our efforts to ensure patient safety,” said Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Sabrina Demayo Lockhart. “In 10 months with the lower ratios the court mandated, it seems as though patient safety is not in jeopardy. So we’re going to move forward with the one-to-five ratio.” The governor’s action came two days after voters rejected all his proposed initiatives during the special election and on the same day he took “full responsibility” for the election debacle. Lockhart said the timing of the decision was related to a regulatory deadline that expires today, forcing the administration to decide whether to continue the court battle over the staffing ratios. “It wasn’t dictated by the outcome of the election at all,” Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Julie Soderlund said. The lower patient-to-nurse staffing ratio was not among the issues decided at the ballot box Tuesday but has been a long-sought goal of the 60,000-member nurses union. Its members were incensed about Schwarzenegger’s challenge to the 1999 law establishing the lower ratios.