By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
TRUE-BLUE FANSof Arnold Schwarzenegger could hardly forget the touching and memorable end of Terminator 3, when the actor’s lovable lunk of a cyborg saves the day by blowing up both himself and the evil, seemingly unstoppable rival cyborg. That’s the moment when Schwarzenegger once again promises he’ll be back for a sequel.
It’s a sentiment that state Senator Gil Cedillo can easily identify with. Three times, he’s shepherded through laws that would have given California’s illegal immigrants the right to drive legally. And three times, he’s been shot down, more or less at the door of the governor’s office. The last time, last fall, it was Schwarzenegger, the state’s new celebrity governor, who muscled through a repeal of Cedillo’s bill, but also promised that he would sign a “better” version in the future. Now, close to a year later, Schwarzenegger says the driver’s-license bill before him just isn’t safe enough, and that it deserves his veto.
Critics say he has out-and-out broken his promise, especially because of the bill’s safeguards. “This version has background checks and security measures second to none,” said state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nu√Īez, a Los Angeles Democrat. “This is a driver’s license with the highest level of security we’ve seen anywhere in the world.”
That’s not enough, said Schwarzenegger spokesman Vince Sollitto: “The governor has been clear since the campaign that he would like to find a way to allow undocumented immigrants to drive legally in California. The governor believes the legislation sent to him doesn’t contain sufficient security standards.”
It isn’t clear, however, that any safeguards would suffice, given the political security risk that may be driving Schwarzenegger’s actions. Improving highway safety and giving working-class immigrants a break just doesn’t rate on that priority scale.
It all goes back to a November 2003 meeting in Schwarzenegger’s personal office, upstairs from Schatzi on Main, the Santa Monica restaurant he started in 1991 with wife Maria Shriver. Schwarzenegger’s guest, Senator Cedillo, arrived as restaurant patrons were finishing their swordfish medallions, their vegetarian spaghettini and their kaiserschmarrn, an Austrian-style pancake made with eggs and raisins. When Cedillo entered Schwarzenegger’s office, he found the governor snacking on the restaurant’s apple strudel, made according to his mother’s recipe. Cedillo accepted a fruit drink while gazing about a room that reminded him of a museum, filled with Schwarzenegger movie posters and memorabilia.
Cedillo, who’s made the driver’s-license issue a personal crusade, arrived ready to deal. For several years, he’d responded to vetoes from Governor Gray Davis by trying to address Davis’ objections. Then, last fall, Davis signed the Cedillo bill under the pressure of the recall election. If anything, the move backfired for Davis. It made him seem overly opportunistic in pandering to the Latino Democratic base.
Schwarzenegger had campaigned against the driver’s-license bill. If necessary, the popular new governor was ready to support a voter initiative to undo the law. Instead, Cedillo agreed to a bipartisan, no-mess repeal in the Legislature, as long as Schwarzenegger would later support a “better” license bill.
Cedillo, a Los Angeles Democrat, was willing to do almost anything to win the support of Republican Schwarzenegger — except to settle for an immigrant driver’s license that looked different.
As Cedillo tells it, Schwarzenegger understood. “I’m an immigrant,” the governor reportedly said. He pointed to his own wrist, emphasizing personal experience. “I know if policeman see license, see that mark, that you’re undocumented, they don’t have to bother with you. I know sometimes people treat immigrants differently. You don’t have to tell me about discrimination.”
The governor remembers things differently. “I’m not saying that [Cedillo’s] lying,” said Schwarzenegger at a press conference last week. “I’m just saying that he’s overly enthusiastic when he makes those things. Let’s be kind.”
That sort of remark, delivered with trademark Schwarzenegger charm, makes the other side’s blood boil. But even if Cedillo’s version is correct, Schwarzenegger still could simply have changed his mind. At that same meeting, said Cedillo, two members of the governor’s staff also were present. And they were not as encouraging as the governor himself. It is not unlike Schwarzenegger to be overcome by the good will of the moment, and then reconfigure his political calculus upon later reflection. It wasn’t long before Cedillo recognized worrisome signs.
At the staff level, the Governor’s Office was concerned about “pressure from AM radio,” said Cedillo. “They would bring it to our attention.” These were the usual suspects, the right-wing talkers and shock jocks, including John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou of the John & Ken Showon KFI AM 640. They’d done so much for Schwarzenegger’s candidacy by repeatedly putting him on the air and by relentlessly attacking Gray Davis. These radio hosts were not only a tribune for Schwarzenegger’s right-wing base, but also for other disaffected voters. And they shrilly opposed any notion of a driver’s license for illegal immigrants. Why should the state provide a driver’s license to people living in the country illegally?