A veteran lawmaker who gained statewide prominence by running for governor two years ago brought his 2006 campaign for lieutenant governor to Orange County on Saturday, becoming the first Republican to announce his candidacy.

State Sen. Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks is seen as a hero by many conservatives for his austere approach to tackling California's record debt. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who held a fundraiser for McClintock's reelection last year, has praised what he called McClintock's fiscal sanity.

Taking the state's No. 2 job is appealing, McClintock told a crowd of 175 at the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach, because it is the only office other than that of governor with a legislative role. The lieutenant governor sits as president of the state Senate, and is chief executive when the governor is away.

"It places the office in the position of being a great generator of reforms," McClintock said.

The senator outlined his campaign before Principles Over Politics, a group of political junkies organized by former GOP Assemblyman Gil Ferguson that has met for two decades under his leadership.

McClintock disagreed with members of the audience who contended that Schwarzenegger in recent weeks has backed off reforms intended for the ballot in a special as-yet unscheduled election this year, including creating a new state pension system and instituting tighter budget controls. "We have to bear in mind that political battles aren't tidy affairs. What the governor has proposed "moves us dramatically in the right direction."

Many of the campaign's weighty issues, he added, could be resolved before the June 2006 primary if the governor prevails on the initiatives he favors. They include changes in teacher tenure, budget reforms and a proposal for retired judges to compose new legislative districts more evenly divided between the two major parties.

This will be McClintock's fourth race for statewide office; he previously lost twice for controller, most recently in 2002. Three Democrats have said they'll run for lieutenant governor in their party's June 2006 primary: state Sens. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) and Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont), as well as state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi.

Not all of the views expressed Saturday were compatible with McClintock's. One attendee, who asked to be identified only as Don, raised a question about the governor's controversial pension proposal, which would have ended death and disability benefits for public-safety workers. Schwarzenegger recently retreated from the proposal, saying it would be rewritten to restore the benefits.

McClintock said it was "absolute nonsense" to allege that the governor would abandon the families of dead and disabled workers. "It's a lie, sir, and you should know it's a lie," he said, launching into a critique of the pension system, the cost of which has gone from $160 million in 2000 to $2.6 billion this year.

"You can't fill a broken bucket by pouring more water into it," McClintock said. "Once we've won on our principles, the other reforms will fall into place."