While Cruz was methodically immolating himself,his opponent wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire. In the exit polling, 50 percent of voters volunteered a favorable opinion of Arnold Schwarzenegger, while 45 percent offered an unfavorable one. Arnold’s campaign was hardly a masterpiece of its kind. He won because voters were determined to dislodge Davis, because the Democrats offered an abysmal replacement candidate, and because his moderate views on social issues enabled him to pull down independent and Democratic votes. He won because Republicans concluded that Tom McClintock didn’t have a prayer of unseating Davis.
Schwarzenegger understood from the start that positioning himself as the anti-Davis meant railing against the state’s political system as such. Beyond that, his campaign really didn’t matter all that much. He took no real position on what exactly he’d do to balance the state’s next budget, and suffered little damage when a number of women — enough to file a class-action suit — came forward to charge him with sexual harassment. What he did on the campaign trail, and what his accusers said he’d done, were of no great moment to voters. For them, this election was about Gray, not Arnold.
In Sacramento, Democrats have already decided to welcome Schwarzenegger as if he’d been elected governor in a normally scheduled election. "[State Senate leader John] Burton’s office decided to be accommodating to him in everything small," one Sacramento Democrat says, "so they can oppose him on anything big."
Or perhaps not. If Sacramento is to break the gridlock occasioned by the requirement for a two-thirds vote on state budgets, Schwarzenegger will have to persuade at least some of his fellow Republicans to raise some taxes. In return, though, Democrats will have to give up something, too. Like the new governor, they’d be loath to cut spending on education, and Burton would kibosh any cutbacks in spending on health care. If the Democrats have to give someone up, that would leave trial attorneys on matters of tort reform and applicants’ attorneys on issues of workers’ comp. These groups are critical to the Democrats’ pocketbooks, but do nothing for the party’s image.
Burton remains the Democrats’ indispensable man under Schwarzenegger as he was under Davis. His relationship with Davis was famously rocky, but in an odd way the legacy of this most liberal of legislative leaders and that of this least principled of governors are profoundly intertwined. Davis acknowledged as much last Sunday at Kaiser’s Westside Hospital, as he signed Burton’s bill extending health coverage to a million hitherto uninsured workers. "John and I make an interesting pair," he said. "At the end of the day, we’ve done some great things together."
As he spoke, Davis surely sensed that the end of the day for his career was imminent. The governor who once said that the role of the Legislature was to implement his vision expressed his hope that history would remember him in good measure for implementing John Burton’s.
A version of this article has appeared in theWashington Post.