By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
AFTER A STRING OF SUCCESSES earlier this year, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is beset by political disarray and ideological confusion. While his polling numbers remain high, there are signs that this is affecting his standing and creating long-term problems for him.
In some public and private polls, Schwarzenegger has dropped 10 to 14 points in job approval among Democrats and three to seven points among independents, and those were taken before a string of vetoes of popular Democratic bills. Since then, while Republicans say he remains very strong, Democrats say their polls show problems for the governor. “He’s on the wrong side of the big things he vetoed,” says Democratic spokesman Steve Maviglio, “minimum wage, off-shoring jobs, cheaper prescription drugs, car consumers bill.” Democrats, counting on a big turnout in a presidential election year, say they don’t expect Schwarzenegger’s backing for Republican legislative candidates, several of whom have embarrassing problems, to cost them control of the Legislature.
While his senior staff spends a lot of time in meetings and elsewhere kvetching about newspaper articles and attempting to plug leaks — almost always a waste of time in politics unless you’re covering up Watergate, and look how well that went — disarray has emerged in the development of policy.
Behind the glittering faÃ§ade, questions are raised by a series of unnecessary and generally unsuccessful partisan fights, a now chronic problem with the state budget, a certain tardiness in the development of some key programs, a lack of clarity about other key programs, the ongoing amusement about Schwarzenegger’s ever changing definition of what constitutes a special interest from which he won’t raise money, and a sense among Capitol lobbyists that, tough rhetoric notwithstanding, “He can be rolled,” as one puts it, by state workers and prison guards on the one hand and anti-tax Republicans on the other.
AN AUGUST MEETING of top political consultants who guided his largely mistake-free campaign and the senior staff in the Governor’s Office discussed various ups and downs of the Schwarzenegger governorship. No resolution was reached on whether the group would again hold regular conference calls and meetings, as past governors have done, and which the group had been doing, as I reported in the spring. When there are initiative campaigns being waged, the overall group works together. In between times, things are tightly controlled by the gubernatorial staff. Chief of staff Patricia Clarey, a former HMO lobbyist described by her colleagues from the Pete Wilson days as one of the more controlling personalities they have encountered, is no fan of the broader meetings and conference calls that have marked other governorships.
This came after an unnecessary partisan fight over the budget. With Schwarzenegger agreeing with Democrats on some key welfare and education issues, a sharp fight suddenly flared up over an issue inexplicable to most of the public outside “The Building,” as the Capitol is known among its cloistered cognoscenti.
Should two-thirds of the Legislature be required to approve any future raid on local government funds to bail out the state, or should it be three-fourths? Voters saw little difference, yet the governor held contentious rallies and privately even considered radio ads criticizing reluctant Democratic legislators in their home districts. All this activity generated little pressure on legislators, making Schwarzenegger look like a possible paper tiger, very popular with the public but not able to generate much pressure to move legislative votes. In the end, Democrats prevailed.
MEANWHILE, MOST OUTSIDEexperts say that this year’s combination of borrowing, no new taxes and fewer cuts than touted by conservatives will leave the state with big deficits for the next few years. Says a hopeful top Republican who backs Schwarzenegger and is a realist about the budget and taxes: “He will have another chance at getting the budget done right.”
The California Performance Review, a massive and still rather amorphous undertaking that could end up as a thoughtful overhaul of governmental inefficiency or as a front for corporate special interests, is the biggest programmatic idea yet for Schwarzenegger. But it was oddly launched with a leak to the two most anti-Schwarzenegger newspapers during the recall campaign, the L.A. Timesand the San Francisco Chronicle, which proceeded to sharpshoot areas of vulnerability in the 2,700-page report for days before anyone else had a copy.
Despite the fact that it is actually Schwarzenegger’s much promised budget audit, most experts don’t expect the California Performance Review to solve the budget shortfall. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst scored its savings as perhaps half those claimed in the report, and those won’t be easy to get through the Legislature.
Finance director Donna Arduin says the state needs more revenues. Not from new taxes, of course. But unless there is a much bigger than expected economic recovery — California job growth lags behind the nation’s unimpressive numbers — or Indian casinos yield amazing new revenues beyond even the administration’s claims, there won’t be many alternatives to a combination of spending cuts and temporary tax increases.
Schwarzenegger is fostering a sense of ideological confusion among many politicos by seemingly lurching between partisan Republicanism and the bipartisan ideal he has talked up since announcing his candidacy last year.
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